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August 9th 2019
Published: August 13th 2019
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We arrived into the new Istanbul Airport (one word HUGE) late Monday evening from Seoul. We were swiftly picked up by our pre-arranged pick up service by a nice young man in flash BMW and taken to our hotel in the old city. We love staying around the Sirkeci/Fatih area of Istanbul – close enough the Sultanahmet and all of the old city attractions, and only a short walk over the Galata bridge to the shopping/hip district of Beyoğlu. My 6th visit to Turkey, and Bill's 5th. This city will never grow old for us – indeed this country sparks something special for us.

Early the next morning (which is a great time as not too many people are out) we walked up the winding street dodging trams and cars to Sultanahmet. As we've done the major attractions Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Palace, Basilica Cistern (and the list goes on) many many times over, we didn't feel the need to do it again and decided to just enjoy the city for the next 3 days. We did line up though to go into the Blue Mosque, as we enjoy do enjoy the architectural work. Unfortunately , most of the interior of the Mosque, including the dome is undergoing restoration work, so its unfortunate for tourists for whom Istanbul is their first and only time here, however for us we've seen it in its full glory many times over. Afterward, we took a slow walk through the Hippodrome (where chariot races took place in the Byzantine period ) and stopped for a Turkish coffee on our way to the Grand Bazaar. It was our quickest walk through the Grand Bazaar as we used it as a shortcut to the Süleymaniye Cami (Mosque). Built in 1557, the Süleymaniye Mosque has always been under reconstruction every time we've come to Istanbul so we finally get to see this architectural marvel. The grounds of the 70 000m2 complex has breathtaking views of the Bosphorus – the gorgeous blue water stretching for miles and seagulls flocking above. We got carried away with photographing the wonderful views when we entered the mosque we only had a minute until prayer time so we decided to come back another day and spend more time. We then wound our way back down through the backstreets and through more local markets and gad lunch at one of our favourite little streets in Sirkeci. An afternoon siesta back at the hotel turned into a big big jet-lag induced sleep for rest of the afternoon and night!

The next day, really refreshed after a good sleep, we headed out over the Galata bridge up the Tünel (a funicular railway) up the hill to the Istiklal Caddesi – a wide boulevard in the Beyoğlu district famed for shopping reaching all the way up to Taksim square. We did a bit of shopping, the timing was perfect as we have never seen the Istiklal with so few people, ending at Taksim square. We caught the underground metro to Şişli, where I went to the famous belly dance costume designer Bella. It was a wonderful experience to meet the woman behind the brand (I think she is the daughter in law of the original ‘Bella' as I met her husband at the Belgium shop who said his mother was Bella and his wife ran the Istanbul shop). After trying on a few costumes I settled on having one made and sent to me. As we were near to a shopping mall we took a quick look around before heading back to Taksim square. A quick walk through the Istiklal, we stopped for a late lunch and a spot of more shopping before taking the Tünel back down the hill. We went back to the hotel and I decided to go a Turkish hammam. I had wanted to go to a new one – Cağaloğlu Hammam near our hotel which was a bit dearer but rated the best in Istanbul. Unfortunately I didn't have a booking and the next booking was at 8.30pm so I wasn’t able to experience the luxuriousness of this hammam. I instead walked to my usual hammam, the Çemberlitaş hammam towards the Grand Bazaar. As I wanted to get back in time for our sunset plans, I spent just under an hour there, steaming, getting scrubbed and soaked at this centuries old bathhouse. Next time I will definitely try something new and book the Cağaloğlu Hammam! I caught the tram back to the hotel and we headed out for the (supposedly) 8.14pm sunset however the sun was already going down by the time we got to the Eminönü pier. We walked back to the Galata bridge to soak in the atmosphere and watch the old men fish before running the gauntlet of fish restaurants under the bridge and settling for an overpriced seafood dinner. The next day, our final full day in Istanbul we walked up through the backstreets of Sultanahmet and had a coffee at a funky café before continuing on to the Grand Bazaar. We stopped at the Nuruosmaniye Mosque. Built in the 18th century, this Mosque mixes Baroque architecture with Ottoman style architecture. What sets Istanbul’s mosques apart from others we have visited around the region is the history and Ottoman architecture we just love it. A quick walk through the Grand Bazaar again to the Süleymaniye Mosque where we spent an adequate amount of time inside marveling at the architecture and taking photos. The beauty of these mosques too is even though they attract tourists it is no where near as crowded nor is there a line up like the Blue Mosque, but yet they are more spectacular in my opinion. After more photos of the skyline, we headed up to one of the many café terraces we saw and had a cool lemonade and soaked up more views of the Bosphorus. Then it was finally time for a shop at the Grand Bazaar. We limited ourselves on how much shopping we were to do as we have been through here many times and we still have 7 weeks of travel to go! After an adequate time walking around, we found a little restaurant in the backstreets for lunch and headed to the Spice Bazaar to pick up some Lokum (Turkish Delight) and back to the hotel for a brief rest before going out again up the Tünel to the Istiklal Caddesi. After a quick stop for my shopping benefit, we walked down the hill through the backstreets of the funky Beyoğlu neighbourhood, saying hi to the many cats of Istanbul (well cared for, Istanbul cats are everywhere usually snoozing in the front of shops looking cute!) Our original plan was to go up the Galata tower for sunset views, however the line to get in was so long and not moving very much we opted to have a beer at a nearby bar, walk down the hill and wait for sunset on the Galata bridge. We got a good position on the bridge and watched the sun go down over the horizon behind one of the many Ottoman-era mosques the dot the skyline while fisherman and fisherwomen go about their daily business catching fish from the Bosphorus. It was a wonderful last day in our favourite city. To dinner, an interesting, less than delicious dinner we've had, still entertaining and we were on a balcony so we could people watch late into the evening. For now, we are on a ferry crossing the sea of Marmara to our next stop, Bursa.

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