Last night I managed to get all my photos flipped and I uploaded a bunch of them... it's so fun to go back through them and see everything we did in just a couple of days! So with that, just a little warning... I'll try to be brief, but I think this will be a LONG post!
Our first day was really more of a half day. We spent some time getting settled in the hotel and recovering from our flights and then went down to the lobby where the hotel staff told us a bit about the area (and, of course, tried to sell us on some tours). Then our tour guide, Serkan, stopped by to meet us and offered to take us around the next afternoon after we finished the free half-day tour that came with our hotel package. We went out on the street and wandered around a bit to get a feel for the area. We were right down the street from Hagia Sophia in the Sultanamet district so we were close to all the cool sites. After that, we headed back to the hotel for dinner in the restaurant... I had a mixed kebap plate with lamb shish, beef, and chicken. I'm not normally a lamb person, but the lamb there was fantastic! I think it's the spices. After that, we hit the sack to be up and ready to play the next morning.
Saturday was our first full day. We had a really nice breakfast at the hotel (they put on a sweet breakfast buffet, Turkish style) and then the tour company picked us up at 8:30. First stop on the tour was the Hippodrome Square. As you can see, the weather was just lovely. lol.
We were very glad we had brought umbrellas, but wished that sitting by the open window at breakfast had told us how cold it was actually going to be so we could have brought warmer coats on the tour!
Next stop was the Blue Mosque (Sultan Ahmet Camii). We all took off our shoes and welcomed the warmth while walking around inside... even in our socks!
The inside was gorgeous... all of the Iznik tiles all over the walls and ceilings were incredible. I just stood in awe trying to take it all in.
We spent some time inside the mosque before moving on to our next stop, Hagia Sophia.
The inside was being renovated, but there was still plenty to see. They had some really gorgeous mosaics here that have been uncovered fairly recently from when it was a Christian church; they had been plastered over after Constantiople was conquered and Hagia Sophia became a mosque.
After this, we had our obligatory stop at a store where we could learn about a local craft and, coincidentally, have the opportunity to buy something. On this tour we learned about Turkish carpets. It was pretty interesting - they taught us about how they're made, the different types, and how Turkish carpets are different from Chinese or Moroccan, etc... They also made one of the carpets fly just so we could say we hadn't left Turkey without seeing a flying carpet. lol. We weren't interested in looking at carpets there, however, so we went ahead and moved on to see the Grand Bazaar which was just around the corner.
That place was incredible! You could shop for an entire day and not see everything. We spent some time wandering up and down the aisles and hallways, looking at all the different types of shops but none of us were in the mood for any serious bargaining so, shockingly, we all left without buying a single thing! If I ever get a chance to go back to Istanbul, though, I definitely want to make sure I have plenty of time (and money!) to spend at the Grand Bazaar.
From there we found our way back to the hotel where we met up with Serkan. He took us to a restaurant up the street where we had lunch. Lentil soup (soooo good!), Nicole and Brian had different types of Turkish pizza, and I had Dürüm (döner kebab wrapped in flatbread) which was delicious! For dessert, we had künefe which is a kind of cheese that's baked and covered with a sweet syrup and some grated pistacios. To.Die.For. So good!
After that, we walked up to the Topkapi Palace where we went through and saw the Spoonmakers Diamond (86 carats and incredible!), and Topkapi dagger, and lots of other treasures. We went into libraries and lots of other rooms where we were able to admire more of the famous Iznik tiles. According to Serkan the Harem was being renovated so we were only able to see a bit from the outside.
There was a great view from the palace - you could see the New City on the European side (across the estuary) as well as the Asian side of Istanbul across the Bosphorus Strait. Serkan had us pose here so you can see the European side behind Nicole and Brian and the Asian side behind me:
And after that, we just managed to make it over to the Basilica Cistern or, as the Turks say, Yerebatan Serayi before it closed. This is where a scene from From Russian with Love with Sean Connery was filmed and it was so cool!
Also, a view of one of the famous Medusa heads:
And after that, as I'm sure you can imagine, we were done! We had thought about going over to Taksim square to look around that part of the New City and maybe do some shopping, but the weather was yucky and we were exhausted and we had to get up super early the next day for our flight to Cappadocia, so we just went back to the hotel, had a light dinner, and crashed!
So that's part 1... more to come!