The ultimate Turkey travelogue is here!
After Cappa, we were all set to catch a flight to Istanbulllllll baby! I was mad excited about that one and I did not let the late flight play spoilsport. We reached Istanbul around 2 hours late than my expected timing. The craziness of Istanbul and the men started right away. Men in Istanbul are flirts and that’s just an understatement. The shuttle driver while going tour hotel, called me to sit in the front, asked me if I was ‘Hindistani’, said mashallah to me a few times and made me take my sunglasses off because he wanted to see my face! I tolerated all that only because he was giving me a legit tour of all the places we were passing.
We got to the hotel, and met the 15 yr old daughter of the AirBnB owner, Ecenoor, to be called Ej, who made Moo and me fall in love with her. She had a funny way of doing Umm-hmm when we asked her anything, had the most beautiful golden brown straight hair, and milky skin, and, err,….. so on. After chilling in the room for a bit and re-arranging the space to ensure we could open our bags and walk around, we left for the Sultanahmet square. It was barely a 10 min walk for us and the most important places in Istanbul are located here. We had the Sultanahmet mosque on our agenda for that day, also popularly known as the Blue Mosque, the reason being the intricate mosaic work with blue tiles. It was stunning! Just, stunning! Such a huge mosque, high ceilings, intricate art work! It was so beautiful. We went crazy clicking pictures there. On our way out we had a crazy encounter with this creepiest person who touched me inappropriately and had suggestions to party at night with him and his cousin. Ewww. The string of crazy encounters continued with shop-keepers, restaurant servers, random security guards, taxi drivers.
Day 2 in Istanbul, started with an itchy throat. I did not pay much attention to it and moved on. We had planned on seeing the Topkapi palace early in the morning and the city’s main mosques after. We had breakfast and started to walk towards Topkapi palace. Like I mentioned before, most important locations are at a stone’s throw from each other in the Sultanahmet square. But at one point, I decided to ask this seemingly normal looking old man of around 60-65 who told us to follow him and that he will lead us to where we had to be. After a quick glance to ensure enough people in the surrounding areas for safety, we started following him. He spoke to us about ‘Hindistan’, Hema Malini, about him being from Iran and other random things, seemingly jovially. While walking, we came across a junction where Moo spotted a park and a sign that said Topkapi palace. So we stopped there and told the man that err, we have reached. He said ok ok and held out his hand for Moo to shake. As soon as she took it, he lunged towards her with the weirdest pouty kissy face to give her a kiss! She leaned back horrified and I wrenched his arm away from her and both of us pushed him away. It was awful!!! In order to not make a scene, we said bye to him and I tolerated a hand shake where again I had to pull my hand away from him. We ended up having a big laugh about it later. The side view of his pout is burnt into my memory now. Arrrgghh. We have had the strangest encounters ever in Istanbul with the men.
Topkapi Palace was beautiful but very tiring! The palace was home to the Sultans of Ottoman Empire and their queens. My dad told me later that he had seen the movie Topkapi from 1960s which is about a diamond robbery. Indeed, Topkapi palace had a jewelery collection with huge diamonds. But to be honest, some of them did not have the facets that make a diamond shiny and I felt rather under-whelmed on seeing them. But, I will not mind if you decide to gift me one of those. I will adjust.
After Topkapi, we checked out some mosques in the Eminonu area which were walking distances from each other. While walking to the mosques we crossed the Egyptian market, Spice Bazar and the small internal Istanbul bylanes. It really felt like we were walking in the old town area of Pune. The activity, street food, hustle and bustle is so similar to home.
The last stop was Grand Bazar. On the way to GB, Moo and I took a cab and turned on Google Maps for good measure. That led us to realize that our cab was cheating us and we ended up yelling big time at him and paid only 20 lira vs the 40 he was demanding. By then, my itchy throat was feeling like a cat’s scratch post and was full-fledged hurting. We shopped, bargained, felt cheated, felt glorious, and felt extremely drained out by the end of our Grand Bazar experience. It is huge, people! There are so many shops, so many trinkets, sweets, lamps, it is unbelievable! Of course the shop keepers flirt big time! In order to get magnets for cheap I had to endure getting propositioned for marriage, being told weird things about my lips and being questioned about my v*rg*nity. Goodbye self-respect. Going back to the hotel from GB also involved yelling royally at 2 cab drivers.
Day 3 in Istanbul started with a visit to Hagia Sophia or the Ayasofya. That place made me feel like I was a part of Dan Brown’s book. It is a huge museum which was a church in the 500s and then a mosque in 1400s and finally restored and converted into a museum by Ataturk in 1930s after secularization. It is the only place I have seen which has Christian mosaics and frescos along with verses from the Holy Quran, side by side. The chapel was H-U-G-E! It was impossible for us to capture the entire ceiling in one go. The domes were decorated so beautifully! It was all just visually so stunning.
The next stop was the Basilica Cistern. The cisterns were used to provide water to the city during the Roman period. It was eerily creepy yet so strangely fascinating. There was water still in there with these giant fat fishes floating around. Somehow I had the chills the whole time we were down there. There are two pillars in there with Medusa’s heads that were not discovered until restoration in the 1980s.
One big surprise was that Vince texted that he and Proctor had just reached Istanbul last night and they would be free to hang out. Moo and I were planning to do the Bosporus cruise after lunch and we asked them to join us. Like every other water body in Turkey, the Bosporus is also a very striking shade of blue! The cruise was so relaxing! We had a pretty good time clicking tons of pictures, and generally enjoying the views. We even sneaked in a nap towards the end of the cruise on their comfy benches inside the boat. Yep.
We had dinner after in one of the many street restaurants over there which involved a huge confusion over the bill and the money we paid and tax and tips. But we chugged along.
Day 4 was our last day in Istanbul and we decided to take the train and check out the other side of the town and Dolmabahce palace. That is the palace which later also became Ataturk’s part time residence in Istanbul and where he eventually passed away after battling Cancer. The palace has been converted into a museum. As with other historical buildings in Turkey, even Dolmabahce features exquisite decoration and intricately painted ceilings and walls. It houses gifts exchanged with other empires and countries in form of Baccarat crystals, chandeliers, carpets, and paintings. A lot of political diplomacy could be seen at play in the pictures and paintings and the gifts. The grounds were lush green, well-manicured and looked out to the gorgeous Bosporus. I would not mind living there at all!
While we were there, the weather decided to play spoil sport and it started raining. But I really, really wanted to have this local street food Kumpir(a loaded baked potato) and Turkish waffles in the Ortokoy area and so we headed out over there, braving the storms, err, the drizzle. The Kumpir was heaven, but the waffle, was O-M-G! It was beyond delicious! So rich, and so yummy! All for 15 lira each which is like $5.
We headed back to our familiar Sultanahmet area back after and spent the evening strolling here and there and rounding it off with our last dinner of Lentil soup.
The next day, I said bye to Moo early in the morning to catch my shuttle to the airport. I felt bitter-sweet leaving Istanbul. They say that you feel sadness about leaving a place, not just because you will miss the place, but you will miss the person you were, the age you were at and the state of mind you had. I couldn’t agree more.
Turkiye, it’s been real. And it would be a real pleasure if I get to see you again. Till then, hello new lands!
- 3 days in Istanbul are not enough if you get tired easily. 4 days should be good to be able to space out all places of historical importance.
- Go to the Spice Bazaar to buy most of your Turkish Delights(sweets) and spices. Rest of the goods are similarly priced in Grand Bazaar.
- Your bargaining must be at its A-game. Otherwise you are going to kick yourself. There shouldn’t be room for hesitance in your voice. I think I am good at it. Always offer 1/3rd of the price they quote.
- Do go for a Tukish Bath/Hamam. I missed that and I feel bad about it. Don’t feel shy. Who knows you there? 🙂
- The cabs are expensive if you are alone or 2 people. For 3-5 persons, it is a better deal than public transport wrt to costs and comfort.
- I will not suggest Istanbul as a part of a leisurely vacation unless you don’t care about historical sites.
- Try and stay in the Sultanahmet area if you are touristy, and stay in the Beyoglu area if you like street cafes, bars and nightlife. You will have access to train stations from both places.
- Vegetarian food is available but not the greatest variety. Don’t expect a royal meal and don’t get fussy. Do try the desserts.
- Have the Turkish tea and coffee if they offer it in stores and such. It is a nice experience to sit and chat over tea. I am not too fond of tea, but I rolled with it. Like they say, When in Rome,
do the Romans, do as the Romans do.
- Keep your eyes, ears and nose open. Take in ALL the sensory delights. 🙂 Turkey is amazing.