Thursday, November 12, 2015

Istanbul- Top 9 Classic Experiences

Istanbul is possibly the coolest city I've ever been to.

It straddles two continents- the only city to make that claim. Turkey has it all: picturesqueness of Europe and the quirkiness of Asia. It's, you know, the perfect combination of sexy and cute.

With four days and so much to see, we hit the highlights hard. Below is a list of our top 9 experiences.

Blue Mosque

The most iconic building in Istanbul is the Blue Mosque or Sultanahmet. Called the Blue Mosque because of the blue tiles on the interior. The inside is worth a visit, although the exterior is really what makes this mosque special. It dominates the horizon and is magical both day and night.

The line can be a bit long, especially right after it is closed for prayer. Make sure to dress modestly or borrow a wrap skirt. I borrowed a skirt but brought my own head scarf because borrowing one seems like ew.

The calligraphy throughout the mosque is exquisite. Depictions of people are not allowed in mosques, so the calligraphy and tiles are lovely.

Hagia Sophia (Aya Sofya)

In my opinion, the Blue Mosque has the most beautiful exterior, but Hagia Sofia (which is just across the way) has the best interior.

Hagia Sofia has quite the history. First a church with the beautiful mosaics built in 532 AD. Then a mosque, where all mosaics were destroyed or covered, and now a museum. The juxtaposition of the two religions in the building now is beautiful.
The 24-foot wide medallions were stunning. Unfortunately, half of the dome was under construction (is everything old being restored?! haha).
Testing out the Column of St. Gregory. Supposedly you stick your thumb inside, twist and you will feel "holy water" with healing powers. I'm not sure if is the power of persuasion, but I swear it felt moist inside (possibly from all of the previous thumbs that have been in there...).

Can't find the column? It's in the dome. Look for the line.

Underground Cistern

Then we went underground to make things a little interesting. The Underground Cistern was juuuuust creepy enough to be the location of the climax of a Dan Brown novel. (Oh wait, it was).

Really, could be a super creepy place, but it was really cool. The size of about two football fields, it is a cool place to wander around. Look closely for the Medusa heads at the base of two of the columns.

Topkopi Palace

Next up on our Istanbul tour is the Topkopi Palace, administrative center for an Ottoman Sultan in 1470s, it became a residence for the Suleyman the Magnificent. And his Harem.

While the whole palace is interesting (albeit time consuming), I remember the Harem the most. The Harem, something that is weirdly fascinating and disgusting, is beautiful. Well worth the extra admission.

Mosque of Suleyman the Magnificent

A much quieter and peaceful alternative to the Blue Mosque. First, the interior is pink. So that is amazing. But in all seriousness, it was quiet and calm.

Outside of the mosque is the mausoleum of Suleyman and his wife Roxelanna, a slave concubine who convinced the Sultan to marry her after he banished his first wife. Through conniving plots (included dozens of murders including that of her stepson), she secured the crown for her son.

See, history can be interesting, if not a little terrifying.

Bosphorus Cruise

Jacob's birthday was conveniently during our trip. His one wish was that we not go to any museums. So we spent the day on a cruise down the Bosphorus, which surprisingly is filled with jelly fish. Random, no?

The cruise criss-crosses between the Asian and European sides of Istanbul. It ends north by the Black Sea at the Asian fishing village of Anadolu Kavagi with enough time for lunch and a stroll.

Fresh lunch! At one of the only restaurants that didn't accost you on the street. I spent the whole day telling everyone that it was Jacob's birthday. I'm annoying like that. But it paid off when the ice cream boys sang Happy Birthday to him. Which embarrassed him mercilessly.

Could you imagine a residence on the shore of the Bosphorus?

Galata Tower

Galata Tower area in the New District is really cool. Great shops, yummy restaurants and the best views in town from the top of the tower.
The top of Galata Tower has an observatory with a cafe. Even when it is pouring rain outside, the view is still pretty great.


Everyone's always talking about Turkish Delight, but it's all about the Baklava! Dipped in Pistachio.

Shopping: Grand Bazaar and Spice Market

The famed Grand Bazaar is frenetic, fun and a little weird.

The spice market is a lot for the senses. We bought a beautiful painting from Ucuzcular Baharat.
But my favorite souvenir is our Turkish towels. Our favorite store was Jennifer's Hamman.

And with that, we said goodbye to Istanbul!

Have you ever been to Istanbul? Would you go?

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