Istanbul was one of the most memorable trips we have taken to date. Not saying it was all GOOD memories, but more on that later! Despite technically being in Europe, we felt like we were a world away.
SIGHTS TO SEE:
Church of St. Anthony of Padua: The largest Roman Catholic church in IstanbulTaksim Square: Considered the center of Istanbul and a spot known for protests, it is worth walking through. It leads into an area similar to 5th Ave in NYC with shopping, restaurants, etc. Hagia Sophia: Originally a church constructed in 537 AD, then a mosque, and now a museum. Truly spectacular!
Basilica Cistern: Probably on the coolest things I have ever seen! We escaped the summer heat by going underground to see one of the cisterns built in 532 during the Byzantine Empire to support the city’s water needs. The structure is supported by marble columns, two of which have Medusa heads at the bottom, meaning unknown. I’d like to think there’s some interesting story behind that! I highly recommend this, especially if you visit during the summer. It was also used in the filming of James Bond “From Russia With Love”. Tickets can be purchased on-site, and there will likely be a wait to get in.
Galata Tower: Located in the Northern part of Istanbul, the tower served as a landmark for us when trying to navigate. It is 9 stories high and apparently has a restaurant on top, too!Theodosian Walls of Constantinople: There are so many ways that travel impacts you, but seeing history in person cannot be topped. We took a quick train ride to the edge of the city to see the remnants of the Theodosian walls, which was the protective barricade that fortified the capital of the Roman Empire. We were the only people there, so we were able to climb up and envision what life was like back then, taking a peek into one of the most powerful empires in history. Nerd alert!
Blue Mosque: It was built in the 1600’s and is still a functional mosque. It is open to visitors except during the call to prayer (5 times a day, check the times seasonally as they vary based on sunrise and sunset). There is no admission fee, but keep in mind you must have your shoulders and legs covered (and head for the ladies), as well as remove your shoes when entering. Smells like sweaty feet in there! And some random photos from around the city:
WHAT TO BUY:
You’ll see the evil eye displayed almost everywhere. Receiving a malicious glare is thought to cause misfortune, but the evil eye talisman is supposed to protect you.
Turkish towels! Be sure to find a quality vendor, not the knock off type. Jennifer’s Hamam is a reputable store.
Turkish Delight is a tasty gelatinous treat that comes in flavors like rosewater, pistachio, pomegranate, coconut, and date.
WHAT TO EAT AND DRINK:
Let’s start with what NOT to eat. Don’t eat the street food. I REPEAT: DO NOT EAT THE STREET FOOD! This was my first experience of food poisoning while traveling. The simit and street corn looked good at the time, but the consequences were not worth it. Now I can laugh about it, but at the time…..not so much.
Turkish tea is served as a gesture of hospitality at shops around the city.
No idea what this drink was, but it tasted fruity and fizzy, and very refreshing!
Raki, the Turkish National Drink, is an anise flavored liquor made with grapes. It translates to ‘Lion’s Milk’. The spirit is clear, but when cold water is added, it turns a milky color. I love anise, but this was a strange taste.
Turkish coffee is different than your standard cup of joe. The ground beans are simmered and unfiltered, and left to settle at the bottom of the cup.
WHERE TO EAT:
Karabatak: This little coffee shop is nestled in Karaköy, Beyoğlu district. There are a number of seats outside in a shade covered side street. The name Karabatak is a type of bird common in Istanbul.
Journey: Probably my favorite food in Istanbul! Google Maps took us the wrong way, so it felt like we literally climbed a mountain to get there. As in at least 10 flights of stairs in the blazing sun. It was worth the hike, since we were rewarded with a quiet, shady patio, fresh figs, spreads, and Turkish coffee.
WHERE TO STAY:Our hotel was located within the Sultanahmet area near all the major tourist attractions and had a nice rooftop view of the Bosphorus, which divides the European and Asian sides of Istanbul.
The tram is a quick and reliable way to get around town. It runs above ground, so you can see the city on your ride.
The call to prayer happens throughout the day, including early in the morning and late into the night on loud speakers throughout the city. Just a heads up it may wake you up.Cats everywhere! So many feline photos.
Respect the culture. The population is predominately Muslim, combined with a large number of Muslim tourists visiting the holy sites. I would suggest keeping your shoulders and knees covered when out and about town.