Medical school starts in 2 weeks! Ahhh! Before it begans, I thought some posts summarizing my wonderful year off school were due.
In early April, my parents and I went to Pakistan after 6 (!!!) years. Since we were traveling through Turkish Airlines, we decided that extending the layover another day would be a fun way to see another country. So in 48 hours, we tried to see as many sights in Istanbul as possible. This post ended up being so, so long I had to split it into two parts (and it’s still very long). Hope you enjoy living vicariously through our adventures 🙂
Since our flight landed at about 5pm the first day, we used the night to get acclimated to our surroundings. We had found a nice little hotel about 0.5 miles from the Blue Mosque, but an evening stroll the opposite way led us to non-touristy housing areas. Right away the most surprising thing was how much like Pakistan it was. I was definitely expecting Turkey to be more European, as it is always portrayed as this romantic get-away destination. But in the little alleyways with small sidewalks, where women were talking to each other through windows and wild cats roamed freely…it seemed so homey and familiar! Eventually we made our way towards the Blue Mosque and ate dinner at “Saray Restaurant and Cafe.”
To be honest, I don’t remember the food being remarkably amazing, but it sure looks good! But we did have a good time with the tea and coffee. As chai drinkers, Turkish tea and coffee are a totally different ball game (I think Turkish coffee is basically an espresso shot? Not sure). I think we requested extra sugar twice to make the tea and coffee fit our sweet-tooth! But the flavor did not matter much because it was just so much fun to be drinking tea/coffee in these beautiful cups with endless sugar cubes and the breeze coming through the open door, joking around with my parents. 🙂
When we finally made our way to the Blue Mosque, we found out it was under construction and completely closed for the night. But we figured we would get to see some of it the next day for Jummah (Friday) prayers. There’s other random little pieces of history next to the masjid that we enjoyed instead–towers and structures from Egypt and Rome that were brought to Istanbul during the height of the Roman/Ottoman empires. We ended the night with some freshly squeezed pomegranate juice (did I mention how much it reminded us of Pakistan?) on our walk back to the hotel. It was wonderful. 🙂
Our first full day in Istanbul started off with an amazing terrace breakfast in our hotel. Honestly, we chose Saruhan Hotel for the price and location, not expecting a 5 star resort, but the terrace breakfast really was the cherry on top of our Turkey trip.
On one side was the sea and on the other side a beautiful view of rooftops with mosque minarets peaking in the distance. Breakfast included a huge variety of fruits, jams, cereals, and more. It was perfect.
I mean, I would just hang out in this terrace forever, but we did come here to see some sights. 🙂 So here’s the deal about Istanbul–as a Midwesterner that lives in a very, very flat state, 0.5 miles seemed like a very short distance between our hotel and the main attractions. And it is not too long…besides that fact that Istanbul is an incredibly hilly place.
Since my parents are older and have some health concerns, this made the walks a little bit more strenuous than we expected. As we’ve told several people who vacationed in Turkey after us–just get the hotel across from the Blue Mosque if you’re traveling with more elderly people because these walks aren’t a joke! Of course, though, they’re beautiful and add to some of the adventure you’re having.
After figuring out the metro system and seeing a little bit of Grand Bazaar outskirts, we made our way to the Blue Mosque for a second time for Jummah prayers, only to find out that it was CRAZY crowded. My dad decided that he would pray Jummah in a different masjid, as it didn’t seem like we would even get to do wudu in time for namaz.
The tiny masjid he prayed in was actually older than the Blue Mosque and just a few minutes away. Unfortunately, it did not have a space for women, though, so my mom and I waited outside. In the meantime, we walked over and saw the Hagia Sofia from outside.
Have you seen those videos of people getting ice cream from little Turkish shops and the guy plays tricks on them, giving them empty cones and upside cones and snatching it away quickly? Those little shops and carts are scattered throughout the streets of Istanbul. Now, my guy was not that into the whole ice cream trick thing (he did it a little bit but he seemed very over his work day, haha), but the ice cream was REALLY good.
So after Jummah prayer was over it was around 2:30pm and we ran into a little dilemma. Multiple people had told us that Topkapi Palace and Hagia Sofia take hours to see, and turns out both of them closed at 5pm. Honestly, I was really surprised they closed that early–we definitely expected the attractions to be open into the evening. So we decided that we wanted to see the Islamic history inside Topkapi Palace more and made our way over to it (which was a 15+ minute walk away).
Here’s the thing about Topkapi Palace–it’s beautiful, huge, and very badly managed. Getting in was a disaster…they did not have good crowd control, people were pushing and shoving their way through the gates, and once you made it through there was very little guidelines on where to go. This is a gigantic palace where Ottoman sultans lived and worked, and it is now converted to an open museum where rooms here and there have exhibits. I really wish they had some sort of brochure that had guidelines on where to go and what to see. We especially wanted to see the Islamic history exhibit, which was located near the back of the palace, but there were no tour guides or clear maps to help locate it. So we made our way through the solider protection gear room, the sword room, the meeting rooms, the gardens….until we finally found the exhibit.
Beyond the mismanagement though, the museum is very cool. It is so crazy to think that not too long ago a monarchy reigned on this land and kings got to enjoy a ridiculously lavish lifestyle on these grounds that a normal person probably could never dream of setting foot on back then–and now we walk through them like it’s nothing. The Islamic history exhibit has Musa A.S. (Moses’) staff, swords from the Prophet Muhammad SAW and his companions R.A., Qurans from the Ottoman period, and more. There are libraries and meeting rooms and fountains…from several points you can see the sea and feel the cool breeze..it is definitely a unique museum experience.
That’s it for today! More of day 2 and the rest of our Turkey trip to be continued in Part 2…. 🙂