As I get older (ugh, hate to admit that), I am starting to forget things. Unlike my family (Val, I mean you!) that can remember all the embarrassing things I did and stuff I said from since I was three….I need triggers sometimes (and I’ve watched The Notebook too many times!). So, I try to jot down some of my favorite memories from my travels in small journals when I have some down time during the trip, or after we get home. Later I will go back and paste in ticket stubs, restaurant cards, etc. Here are some of my favorite “Turkish Delights” that made it to the book.
Ancient Architecture and Really Really Old Stuff
The palaces, mosques, churches, and museums are gorgeous. The buildings are so old and it is amazing what you can see and touch. Every ceiling, door, window, wall, and walkway was decorated in the palaces and mosques. We saw Topkapi Palace, Archeological Museum, Hagia Sophia, Sultanahmet/Blue Mosque, Galata Tower, Yerebatan Cistern, Mosaic Museum and Dolmabahce Palace. Did I mention we were only there 5 days?!
Our first three hours in Istanbul were interesting: We got past airport security (Note: You have to buy your visa in a different line than the passport line….grrr), we checked in at our hotel (Neorion) and received an excellent personal Istanbul prebrief from the concierge while enjoying our first of many beers and Turkish mezzes. Within an hour of checking in, we walked to the Blue Mosque and got a free tour from our new friend “Charlie” who we met just outside…..conveniently the “tour” ended in his cousin’s carpet shop. Lol! Oops…tourist trap. We had even avoided some other friendly guys who wanted to help us out and check out their shop while we were taking pictures outside the mosque, I don’t know why my radar didn’t go off with Charlie. When we toured the Grand Mosque in Bahrain, we had official guides. I seriously thought Charlie was a mosque official until he started talking shop at the end. Charlie and his cousin were very friendly and gave us our first of many Turkish coffees and Apple Teas, but…we did not feel like dropping a couple thou’ or even a couple of hundreds on a carpet within three hours of arriving. Maybe if he would have given me some wine or beer instead… 🙂
So, the buildings and museums in Istanbul are amazing, but I am a HUGE nerd. Is it too much to ask for a plaque with a dissertation in at least three different languages? Ok, probably. But I want at least some information on the room, object, weapon, jewel, piece of clothing, etc. Istanbul was lacking in sharing its educational information compared to some of the London museums. Part of it was because they want you to buy the audio guide. Which to me, if you are going to put little to no information on major artifacts or not provide a map you might as well just up your price and include the audio guide and map. We bought the audio guide at Topkapi, but skipped out at Dolmabahce. Instead you can get in line for free tour guides, either Turkish or English. April is the start of the busy season, so lines were already getting long for the English tour, but barely anyone was in the Turkish lines. We waited for one tour in English, but at the next building we pretended we were Turkish. I think Josh enjoyed my translations better than the English version would’ve been.
Tulips and the Smell of Flowers
Istanbul in April was perfect. The whole month of April was Istanbul’s Annual Tulip festival. I couldn’t find much information on the festival online. I thought I would need to go to a certain park to see the tulips. Nope! From our taxi ride from the airport, along the highway, at stop lights, walking to the palaces, museums, in mosques, mosaics, carpets, paintings, scarves, tiles, EVERYWHERE!! It was a nice change of scenery after two months in the desert.
Eating European Style
I love walking cities!! I can eat what I want because I’ve been exercising all day….right? Istanbul is how I picture Europe in the spring. Lots of outside cafes with people drinking coffee. Café waiters all wanting to convince you that their restaurant is the best. The food was great! They also had entire cafes dedicated to sweets and Baklava. Gulluoglu has my vote for best baklava!
My favorite dinner was at Duble Meze Bar. We did it full up European style and ate, drank, and talked for almost 4 hours!! We met a great couple sitting next to us at the bar who were also expats living in India. They were so sweet and gave us some good tips heading into the Bazaar the next day. The food was excellent and the atmosphere was fun. Lots of big groups and fun people-watching. I miss people-watching at dinner! In Saudi, I have to sit in the family side of the restaurant, which is typically more secluded. Then at some restaurants they stick you behind a curtain. It is frustrating when you smell super awesome food while you are looking at the menu, but you can’t even see what the people on the other side are eating! It isolates folks from interacting with other families at dinner, but on the other hand you focus on your group/partner without anyone looking on.
European and Asian Skyline in One View
Istanbul has a beautiful skyline dotted with mosques, trams, palaces, boats, bridges, and swarms of people…and oh yeah, you can see two continents. Duble night was also one of my favorites because we had the restaurant rooftop all to ourselves after dinner. Early April was still a little too cold for the rooftop to be open for serving dinner, but our waiter let us sneak up there and enjoy the night view all by ourselves. It was really beautiful. We also enjoyed a nice setting sun from the ferry, and again we had the top deck of the ferry all to ourselves because it was too cold for other folks. I couldn’t believe it. We could see all of Istanbul with beautiful lighting and we were the only ones up there! The views from Galata Tower were great for photos! There was no limit to how long you were up there, so you could spend as much or as little time up there.
Market Scavenger Hunts
I am not a big shopper, but I love local markets because they are the best place to people-watch. It’s just a big mix of people from all over the world buying the weirdest stuff. Istanbul had two big bazaars, the Grand Bazaar and the Spice Bazaar. To make it interesting for us minimalist shoppers, we made it into a little Scavenger Hunt. We looked for shops that we heard folks talk about the previous days or tried to find a specific item. There is no real good map or numbers to the stalls, and sometimes we were just going on a vague description. But we found the stores we were looking for….I was sooooo tempted in the handbag (aka kryptonite) store, but stayed strong.
Of course! The Turkish people were great. Even if we didn’t buy the carpets or eat at their restaurants we chatted with lots of merchants about all sorts of random stuff or they helped us with directions. Before I even got to Istanbul, I had contacted a distributor for the hiking boots I wanted for my next trip, and he was so helpful in giving me options for outdoor stores in Istanbul. We saw weddings, unique pets, and street art. Our hotel staff was excellent, some of the best hotel service I’ve ever had. They were so helpful. They seemed to be in sync with all the stuff we like to do. We had Jazz Club on our list, and sure enough…in the morning hotel “paper” of tips and Istanbul recommendations, they had information on a concert going on in the club we were looking at. They even got us reservations and hooked us up right in front! I think we were the only foreigners in the club, it was great! The music was in English but all the fun banter in-between songs was a mix of English and Turkish. The band was very chill too! Great people.
The only regret I have about Istanbul is not being there longer….and maybe that handbag. There was so much to do. My hiking boots were well worn in by the end of the trip! The hotel Turkish hamam was nice after the long days of walking. But we accomplished a lot in 5 days. If you have any questions or want more details on something specific in Istanbul, just shoot me an email.
My next trip starts in a couple of days. I will be heading to Bangkok for 3 days before heading to Bhutan for 1.5 weeks. I’ll be traveling to 5 different cities in Bhutan. I am expecting to be sore from smiling so much since the country measures quality of life in Gross National Happiness (GNH). I will attempt to keep y’all updated during my trip.