Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Istanbul

It's been a while since my last post, and I really can't believe where the time has gone! It's mid April and we are just back from my annual birthday trip abroad. This year my birthday fell over Easter, so we decided to start our trip in Germany to celebrate the holiday with family, and from there we traveled on to Istanbul, Turkey. I had always wanted to visit Istanbul, mostly because of what I had heard about the Grand Bazaar, and for a city trip it really was fantastic.  We decided not to have a set itinerary, just a list of places we wanted to see in our 4 days in the city, which made for a very relaxing trip! 

After flying in from Frankfurt, we checked into our hotel and got our bearings. We stayed right downtown in the middle of the action which was great for easy logistics. Both of us wanted to be able to walk to everything, and we wanted to avoid renting a car. After a great first night meal (we seriously couldn't get enough of the Turkish cuisine) we had an early one which allowed us to be up and ready for a full day of exploring. The first stop on our list was the Blue Mosque. I had always been fascinated by this landmark when I saw it in films. It was located in a really nice park directly opposite of another famous landmakr- the Hagia Sofia



Even though it was colder than we hoped, the sun was out and made for great photos! 

You can see me standing in front of the Hagia Sophia and opposite me is Chris in front of the Blue Mosque.  




Since it was Easter Holidays, the city was pretty crowded. A lot of attractions had long ques to get in, so we were excited when we walked right into the Mosque. 


 All women visitors are required to be covered in order to enter. They hand out scarves to tourists which I was happy to take so I could see inside the building. I had never been inside a Mosque, and it was not what I expected it to be like. Basically, inside it's a gigantic room with carpet and lights, and that's about it! 
 They also had separate praying areas for women and men. 
Muslim's pray 5 times a day, and you hear the call to prayer from all over the city as the mosques blast it over loud speakers. It is a very unique thing to experience, but at 5am it can be a bit overwhelming! 

 The houses below were in the old quarter next to the Mosque. Most of Istanbul burned to the ground so the original style of buildings doesn't exist as it once did, but these houses gave a glimpse into the past. 

 It was also tulip festival season in Istanbul. Did you know that Holland originally got it's famous tulips from Turkey? Neither did I. But apparently they traded for them and now Holland claims to be the best tulips in the world- but they were originally from Turkey! 


 Istanbul is also neat because it's one country sitting on two continents. There is a European side and an Asian side. You can see Asia in the distance of the picture below. 
 Istanbul is currently the 6th largest city in the world. We decided to head up the Galata Tower to get some good views of the city- and it did not disappoint. 14 million people live in Istanbul and it feels never ending.


 Istanbul is also famous for it's street food. You couldn't walk 5 minutes without running into a vendor of some kind. Chris decided to try some fresh fish rolls- which he said were great! I stuck to kebabs and humus for most of the trip, and we were really sad to leave the food behind when we left.  
 We did have 1 rainy day during our stay, so we decided to hit up the world famous Grand Bazaar. Inside are 3,000 shops and it's listed among worlds top tourist attractions. To be honest, there are only about 10 different items to buy inside the Bazaar. Tea, hookas, lanterns, silver, dried fruits/ nuts, ceramics, leather, slippers, scarves, and tourist knick-knacks.  But I think the thrill of the place is finding and bargaining a good deal. 



 It's really easy to get lost inside the bazaar, but that's also the fun of it! We wandered around for a few hours before deciding on what we wanted to bargain for. My favorite purchase from the trip as this genie lamp. It was funny because the guy originally was asking 250 Turkish lira and I was able to knock it down 45%. I really take pride in my bargaining skills- although Christian said I went soft since our trip to Capetown! 

Thankfully we only had 1 day of rain, so we headed back to see a few more sights when the weather improved. We toured the Hagia Sophia- what was once a Mosque, then a Christian Church, and now a museum. It is over 1400 years old- how crazy is that?!

 Considering how old it is, the inside is still in great shape. It's a huge space with multiple levels to explore. We spent about an hour wandering around which was plenty of time before heading on to our next event- a boat cruise. 





 A few friends who had been to Istanbul before recommended we take a Bosphorus Boat Cruise.

The Bosphorus Straight is the boundary in between the European and Asian continent. It was so great to see Istanbul from the water- and it really made us realize how massive the city is!  


 




We even saw a family of porpoise during the cruise- they came really close to the boat. 






 After the cruise we were hungry so we decided to find a place for food. We stumbled up on a 360 restaurant which provided amazing views during the sunset. 





 


 On our last day we opted for an adventure and took the public ferry two hours to one of the Princess Islands. On the island, they only have horse and carriage and bikes. We took a tour around the island which took about an hour, and was a very unique experience. 
 Although we discovered that Christian is allergic to horses, so he was sneezy the whole way around the island. 



 At one point we had to pull over and change horses. A whole new meaning to a pit stop! 




We headed back to the mainland after the day trip for a final dinner and packing. The views of Istanbul at night are stunning- and I would recommend having a walk around the famous landmarks in the evening if you ever visit. It was a great week away, and now we are back in Edinburgh until our next trip to Barcelona at the end of May. 
Until next time, we will see you on the internet.