After spending Thanksgiving in Selcuk, we were headed to our last stop in Turkey – Istanbul. Upon our arrival to Istanbul, we checked into our Air Bnb apartment in the Beyoglu district.
We dropped off our bags and headed straight to Durumzade, a Kebap place that has been made famous by Anthony Bourdain. This meal was exactly what we were craving and it totally hit the spot.
We headed off to the Grand Bazaar in Eminonu, also known as the Spice Market. Seeing as we’d just come from Morocco, this was a much more commercialized and tourist-heavy marketplace version to us. It’s great to check out all the different vendors and take in all the sights, sounds, and smells. I’m sure there’s lots of shopping and bargaining that can be done here, but, since we had no space in our luggage, we didn’t spend much time shopping for anything (which is a good thing for travelers like us who need to stay within budget!).
After checking out the Bazaar, we hopped on a bus back to the apartment. Minh was tracking where we were on google maps, and he quickly instructed us last minute to get off the bus. Minh and I managed to get off the bus, but Connie got trapped at a window seat with another passenger blocking her way out and she made it to the door just as the door closed in her face and the bus moved along. Connie and I both made the same shocked and semi-panicked expression to each other through the glass door of the bus as she was driven away from us. There was no way for us to contact her (I had the pocket wifi with me so she wouldn’t be able to receive my messages) and we weren’t sure if she knew how to get back to our apartment! The next bus stop would stop near the kabob place we visited earlier during the day, so we figured maybe she would go there because it’s a familiar landmark. Halfway walking there, I got a text from her saying she made it back to the apartment. Turns out, she managed to hop off the bus and run back to the stop that we got off at, but by then, we were already gone looking for her. Luckily, she found her way back to the apartment. Once we found out she was safe, and met up back at the apartment, we all had a good laugh about it! Oh the funny adventures that happen while traveling…
The next day we went to the famous Hagia Sophia mosque. It was originally a Christian church that was later converted into a Mosque, and is now a museum. It is considered one of the greatest surviving examples of Byzantine architecture, which consists of plenty of domes, mosaics, and marble pillars.
The next stop was the the famous Basilica Cistern that was built during the Byzantine empire. Upon entering you can see how large of a place this is and is quite amazing to know it has the ability to hold up to 100,000 tons of water. The symmetric columns and red lighting give it a distinct look and is one of the must-see’s on any tourist’s checklist.
Toward the back are two Medusa heads, and is unknown why there were used or why they were placed in those positions.
The last stop of our tourist circuit for the day was to visit the gorgeous Sultan Ahmed Mosque, also known as the Blue Mosque.
Because this is a working mosque, there is a dress code and women are required to cover their heads with a scarf. If you do not have one with you, you can borrow one, at no charge, before you enter.
In addition, it is closed to non-worshippers 45 minutes before call to prayer and 30 minutes afterward, so make sure you time your visit accordingly, as there are multiple call to prayers a day. Everyone is also required to take their shoes off. I don’t know if it was because it was raining that day, but upon stepping inside, it really smelled like feet everywhere!
The combination of large domes, chandelier lights, stained glass, and mosaic tiles make for a a really beautiful and breathtaking interior.
The center of the mosque is the prayer area, and only males are permitted in that area, so Minh was able to enter and get a better point of view of the domes.
After a long day of site-seeing, we headed back to our apartment. Connie went to meet with her friend, Duygu, that night, while Minh and I walked around the lively Istiklal street. It’s a very lively pedestrian street with plenty of restaurants, shopping, and bars.
While walking along the avenue, we discovered a street vendor that sells Mussels – ( 2 small or 1 large for 1 Turkish Lira ~$0.27 USD!).
Seafood from a street vendor probably isn’t the safest thing to eat, but we just can’t resist street food and had to try. The shells are re-stuffed with rice and mussel meat, and you’re given a lemon slice to squeeze over the rice (lemon kills the germs right? lol). It was super yummy, and we were now always on the lookout for one of these vendors for the remainder of our time in Istanbul!
We reached the end of the avenue, which ends at Taksim square.
Taksim square is a big hub for public transportation and because of this, has been a place of many political demonstrations and violent protests. All forms of group protest were eventually banned from the square and police units maintain watch at all times of the day.
While on our way back from Taksim square, we noticed a bunch of people gathered around some food stalls selling kabobs and Islak hamburgers.
Minh mentioned he remembered seeing the hamburger spot on the Anthony Bourdain episode, so, of course, we got one of those too. I would describe it similar to a reheated frozen White Castle sloppy joe style cheeseburger. There’s nothing really super special about it, but it’s a deliciously greasy “drunk food” burger. I’m sure if we had tried it after a long night of drinking, it would have been even more tasty.
We made our way back to the apartment and checked out all the fun and quirky street art and fancy baklava shops along the way.
It was a long day of exploring, and we still had many more sites left to see the next day. Part 2 of our time in Istanbul coming up next!