Traveling to Turkey was an interesting experience. News coverage at the time was flooded with the troubles of Syrian refugees and terrorism while our eyes were set on landscapes and cultural landmarks. It was a welcome change from strictly western culture. Kim had never experienced much outside of Europe, and it was a lot closer to my stay in Kuwait than I’ve had elsewhere. While Istanbul wasn’t our only stop in Turkey, it was memorable.
There are a couple things to consider when heading to Istanbul, first is that there are two major airports. Istanbul Ataturk Airport is located on the European side, and has rails and buses that take you to the city. Sabiha Gokcen is east of the city on the Asian side and isn’t currently reachable by train, though construction is underway. It’s not a huge deal if you plan to spend a week or more, but when you’re in and out in 24-36 hours, you want to make sure you’ve got an easy path in and out. One great thing about traveling there is the exchange rate is favorable. If you are visiting multiple countries on a trip and trying to keep an average daily budget, Turkey is a great place to save some money, so don’t go overboard on meals and gifts just because you can.
We stayed in an Airbnb in the Sultanahmet District, within walking distance to the Mosques and the Spice Bazaar. In keeping with tradition, we struggled pretty hard to find our our hostel because it gave turn by turn directions, and had a nondescript name. After wandering around in the dark for roughly an hour, we were able to get close and a local was able to point us in the right direction. It was a small place with a cafe in the bottom and several rooms on the 3 stories above. While it was technically a hostel, we had a private room and bath. (Breakfast was available, though it wasn’t advertised as free so we skipped.) There were many restaurants within walking distance, and we landed on Palatium Cafe & Restaurant, which has a glass floor showing off the ruins of The Great Palace of Constantinople which housed various emperors between the years 330 and 1081 AD. If you walk around back, there are stairs that you can go down and wander around at your leisure. It’s pretty small but very unique. There is also a restaurant down there, which I would have loved to try had we known it was an option.
The one place I wanted to be sure to visit was Sultan Ahmed Mosque. More commonly known as The Blue Mosque, it’s still used as a Mosque, but is open to visitors during non-prayer times. It’s free to visit, but you will be asked to remove your shoes and women must cover their hair before entering. Shorts and skirts are not permitted. Bags for your shoes and hair coverings are available to those who don’t have them at the entrance. Hagia Sophia (featured image) sits across the plaza from the Blue Mosque, and looks equally as beautiful. It was originally a church, converted to a mosque, and now sits as a museum. In 1985, it was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s roughly $15 USD per person and is open daily except Mondays. We skipped to save time and money, but it looks fascinating.
We grabbed some snacks from a small food cart and had a little bit of time to kill so we walked down to the spice bazaar. It’s about a 15 minute casual walk, and worth it. We were a bit confused at first, because we entered the section housing pets and supplies. Puppies, birds, you name it, someone has it. The spice bazaar itself is a long hall lined with vendors with flaunting their supplies of spices and treats. We stopped and chatted with one shop owner selling turkish delight. He offered us plenty of samples if I could tell him where he was from. Luckily he mentioned he likes to party, and that’s the trademark of a Lebanese man. Kim ended up hating turkish delight so I ended up eating a lot of it. It’s not great.
Istanbul has so much more to offer than just the Sultanahmet District, but it’s unfortunately all we had time to visit. If you are able to ship stuff home, it’s a treasure trove of awesome home decor including lamps and rugs, though don’t be sold on something just because your fed a line about the family business.