Istanbul (Not Constantinople)

Istanbul is a peninsula bordered by the Bosphorus Strait, Sea of Marmara, and Black Sea.

The Bosphorus runs through the city and forms part of the continental boundary between Europe and Asia. It’s fun to cross the bridges several times a day knowing you’re flipping back and forth between two continents. Yes, I’m that easily amused.

The Sultanahmet area of Istanbul (named after Sultan Ahmed) is home to most of the historic sites including Topkapi Palace, the Blue Mosque, the Grand Bazaar, and the Basilica Cistern.

Grand Bazaar

Grand Bazaar

Istanbul's largest surviving Byzantine cistern (underground)

Istanbul’s largest surviving Byzantine cistern (underground)

First built by Mehmet the Conqueror in the 15th century, Topkapi Palace is where sultans of the Ottoman Empire ruled until the 19th century.

The vast indoor/ outdoor complex is a dazzling display of Islamic art with massive courtyards lined with intricate hand-painted tiles and ornate interior living quarters, all surrounded by battlement walls. Craig proved to be not only an excellent travel partner but also a perfect second set of eyes. I break out my readers a thousand times each day, so when I have someone who can read to me I put them to work. I also don’t meander through museums; I get the gist of things and move on. We’d walk up to a display at Topkapi and instead of reading the plaque, Craig would say, “Staff” (instead of Moses’ staff, as it turned out to be) and move on. “Dagger…. Picture… Saucepan…” and so on. Good enough for me. Check that off the list and move on.

As Istanbul is 99% Muslim, there are thousands of mosques scattered throughout the city. We learned that mosques with more than one minaret are royal mosques; the Blue Mosque was built by order of Sultan Ahmed about 400 years ago and has six minarets.

More important, this mosque is where we met our first Turkish friend, Arend. Arend’s uncle owns a rug shop, as do millions of other Turks. It’s his job to lure tourists into the store, so he first offered us a tour of the Blue Mosque and then invited us to have coffee/tea with his uncle. We obliged out of curiosity and it turned out to be a good decision. We spent about a half hour or so with this guy (nicknamed John Travolta by his friends because he has sold Turkish rugs to many famous people). He asked about our lives, told us about his shop and answered every question we could think of about rugs. Because Turkish rugs are made using a double-knot, they appear to be a particular color from one direction and another shade from the opposite. He had two employees bring out more than a dozen rugs and they’d unfold them on the floor and turn them so we could see both hues. Even when we said we didn’t want to buy anything, he took us to the rooftop of the shop for some aerial photos.

There was some water falling from the sky (oh yeah, that’s called rain. The word slipped my mind since it’s not in my vocabulary these days) so we cut the visit short. As we left, he invited us back to the shop later for wine. We never returned because there was too much to see and do. Still, we ran into Arend every day and he’d greet us by name each time.

After realizing how much larger Istanbul is than we anticipated, we signed up for the Big Bus Tour which included a 3-hour boat ride on the Bosphorus to the Black Sea. For those planning on visiting, the red line bus tour is a much better option if you’re only choosing one. The blue line buses are set up to run every hour or so, but with the insane traffic they often fall behind and you can get stuck waiting at a pickup point forever (ok, at least over an hour). One of the redeeming stops on the blue line was the Pierre Loti coffee shop. We took a cable car up to the top of a graveyard hill and enjoyed some tea along with a beautiful view.

Even in a bustling metropolis, the people still know how to relax.

Even in a bustling metropolis, the people still know how to relax.

The second stop we made on the blue line was the Spice Market. Good thing I snapped a few photos at the entrance because the streets of the market were wall-to-wall people and there was no way I could’ve taken my camera out once we were in the thick of things.

We continued to eat and drink our way through Istanbul. Craig commented that we never had a full sit-down meal, which is true. The closest we came was this pizza, which was delicious (yay for available pork products).

You can find a food cart about every 50 feet. There are two main types with either bread items or roasted corn and chestnuts. Of course we tried everything.

I verified that roasted chestnuts still suck and taste like the acorns we used to eat from our oak tree.

I verified that roasted chestnuts still suck and taste like the acorns we used to eat from our oak tree.

Most restaurants have a takeaway section in the front; we sampled many a doner kebab, which is similar to the shawarma we eat in the UAE but without garlic sauce.

One really cool thing about Istanbul is how cats and dogs roam freely around the city. They’re not strays; most of the dogs have an ear tag. Every single one of them was well-behaved. I wasn’t sure if I should feed the cats but from their appearance it looks like many do, so I shared a tiny bit of my lunch with four feline friends.

After exhausting Sultanahmet by day, we’d head over to Taksim, where crowded streets offer a mix of modern stores/restaurants with souks and local shops.

Yep, ordered up a plate of this stuff, too.

Yep, ordered up a plate of this stuff, too.

Istiklal Street was probably the most pedestrian-packed street I’ve ever walked. Christmas decorations added to the vibrancy of the area.

Didn't eat here since Shake Shack's in Abu Dhabi, but I "may" have screamed when I saw it.

Didn’t eat here since Shake Shack’s in Abu Dhabi, but I “may” have screamed when I saw it.

Although a huge fan of Istanbul’s public transit (metro, tram, ferry, bus), at the end of the night we’d take a taxi back to our Sultanahmet hotel, the Aren Suites.

Suites, ha ha.

We all know that a $55US room isn’t really gonna be a suite, right? But it was cute, clean, and cozy. Yeah, super-cozy.

The staff was phenomenal; they oriented us upon our arrival, circled landmarks on a map, and arranged for our transfer back to the airport. Breakfast was also provided daily. Below is a pic of one of the three tables. I didn’t think to take a photo until the last day and there were too many guests eating at that time to play the “rude American,” so you can’t see the whole spread. There was also a carb table (breads, cookies, coffee cake) and a scrambled egg/sausage/coffee/tea/juice section. All delish.

As always, it’s sad to leave a place when you just got your bearings and have met some of the friendliest people in the world. But no complaints here, because I have another vacation coming on the heels of this one. In fact, I exchanged my leftover lira for euros in the airport.

Good bye, Turkish lira- such a bargain!

Good bye, Turkish lira- such a bargain!

Can’t wait to meet my sis, nephew, and daughters in Spain in two weeks! Whose life am I living anyway??

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4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. JG
    Dec 07, 2015 @ 14:53:14

    Loved the acorn memory! See you soon!

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

  2. Deb Mech
    Dec 10, 2015 @ 19:55:50

    As usual, you made me laugh out loud (oops, am I supposed to say LOL?) when you mentioned the water falling from the sky, but I’m easily amused! So glad your trip went well, and can’t wait to hear about Spain!!

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

  3. Jeanne Fitzgerald
    Dec 14, 2015 @ 03:31:46

    What a wonderful trip you had. tom and I love Constantinople. We have visited the city twice and each time loved it more. The shopping is great and the people not only speak English but they are very friendly.. The blue Mosque is beautiful, in fact I wanted to see it and that was the reason for our first trip. but after getting there I enjoyed the palace but my favorite was St. Sofia which is across from the Blue Mosque. It started as a Cathedral, turned into a mosque and now is a museum. I hope you got the chance to visit it too? Keep enjoying your travels, and I love reading the blog. You are a great writer. Have a Merry Christmas. Jeanne

    Sent from my iPad

    >

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

    • suzannainthesand
      Dec 16, 2015 @ 11:12:36

      Yes, Jeanne, can you believe I forgot to mention Hagia Sophia? And with the latest WordPress update it’s maddening to edit the post, so I’m glad you brought it up! I’m looking at one last trip at Spring Break; as a world traveler, feel free to shoot me any suggestions you have.
      Enjoy the holiday season and Merry Christmas to the whole family!

      Like

      Reply

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