Before I left for Europe, I was really excited about going to Istanbul! I knew that it was the only country in the world that has half of its city in two different continents. I also knew that I had interviewed with a school there a few years ago and I just wanted to see what life would have been like. Istanbul definitely lived up to my hopes!
Day One: Spice Bazaar
Even though we left our hostel in Budapest at about 7AM, we still had to spend a couple hours in the airport, then about an hour in the air, and then a good chunk of time on the bus getting from the SAW airport into town where our hostel was. By the time we arrived at our hostel and checked in it was already mid-afternoon.
To get to Taksim square from SAW: 1) Get turkish lira while dodging all the people trying to get you to pay the big bucks to take a taxi; 2) Have your hostel/hotel address & phone number handy in case you get lost; 3) Go just outside of the airport exit and you will see buses which say Havatas with a “Taksim” sign in their window; 4) Hand the driver your bag and confirm that it is really going to Taksim; 5) On the bus give the driver/assistant about 14TL; 6) Wait about 2 hours to get into the city; 7) Get off when the bus stops and everyone else on the bus exits.
We had just enough time to get to the Spice Bazaar before it closed for the day. We found out that we switched time zones! I bought my Turkish Delights, a scarf, and some coasters here because my hostel and everyone else assured me that the Grand Bazaar is much more expensive.
We had dinner in a place that our hostel had recommended, but we were disappointed because even though it had a great view, the food was overpriced and it was full of tourists. If we weren’t both starving we would have held out until we could find a better place. Oh well, we enjoyed the view!
After dinner we did a bit of browsing on the way back to our hostel. The shops had the same stuff as the bazaar but at a slight markup. The lanterns looked fabulous as the evening grew darker!
Day Two: Bosphorus Cruise
We forgot to set our alarm clocks to Istanbul time, so we woke up an hour later than we had intended. So instead of visiting both the Blue Mosque and the Aya Sofya before our cruise, we were only able to see the Aya Sofya. It was pretty awesome though, and shouldn’t be missed.
Then we raced back to our hostel to refill our water bottles and meet our tour. We did a boat tour of the Bosphorus with a stop at the Kucuksu Palace, a lunch stop at the Pierre Loti Hill, and a cable car ride down to our bus. We paid 35 euro through our hostel. The tour was from 11:30-4:30, but I wish we had been able to explore more than we did.
The tour bus dropped us off right in front of the Blue Mosqu so we tried to get in but it was closed for tourists because it was time for prayer.
We later wandered up an alley near the Aya Sofya to have dinner. Both of us weren’t too hungry after a long day in the sun so we shared a 9 dish mezze platter with tons of dips, bread, and tea. We followed it up with more baklava (yummm!)
Day 3: A Bit of Everything
We had bought a 3 day Museum Pass on day two while at the Aya Sofya so we planned on taking full advantage of it! On this day we went to the Topkapi Palace (including the Harem), the Archeological Museum, the Basilica Cistern (not included in our pass), and the Grand Bazaar (also not on the pass). The Topkapi Palace was by far the highlight. I just loved all of the tile work and imagining what life must have been like as a woman in a harem!
After all of that touring, we were ready to try a Turkish hamam. We were looking for a less “touristy” one and I think we found it. The Gedikpasa Hamam was not the prettiest, but it was pretty cheap (70TL), and there was not another tourist in sight!
How the hamam works: It is basically a place to scrub off the dirt and relax. Don’t go if you are shy because they tell you to leave on your bathing suit bottoms (bikini underwear seemed to be the popular choice for the locals we observed at the hammam) and then you are asked to remain topless as a woman scrubs you down. You see people of all shapes and sizes walking around (though the men and woman are separate at this hammam so I don’t know what goes on on the guys’ side). After being scrubbed with an exfoliating mitt, you rinse off, then get soaped up and are given a 5-10 minute massage by the attendant. From there you rinse off yet again and then head to a pool. After relaxing in the pool you take a shower, dry off, change, and then the hamam staff might arrange for a van to take you back to your hostel. You end up with silky smooth skin and are ready for another day of travel!
Next stop- Athens!
Please comment! Have you been to Istanbul? Did you love it? Should I go somewhere else the next time I get to visit?