The final stop on our European voyage was Istanbul. After our short flight on Tarom airlines, we got in the mile long taxi line and waited a good forty-five minutes for a cab. The taxi line at the Istanbul airport is like a free-for-all. Apparently, being polite and waiting in line is not a requirement in Istanbul. You gotta let your New Yorker shine and be very forward with getting your cab.
Stop one in Istanbul - Food! Delicious, delicious food. After eating rich and heavy Eastern European food for the past week, the light and fresh foods of Istanbul were amazing. I can highly recommend Sur Ocakbasi, the lamb kebap that I had was so flavorful and the perfect detox from all the potatoes.
There was so much to see while visiting Istanbul. We stayed at the Wyndham Istanbul Old City which is a short walk from the Hagia Sofia and Blue Mosque. The Hagia Sofia is currently under a lot of construction. The mosaics and paintings are being restored, but there was a wonderful art show on the first floor when we visited. Be sure to stop in the front hall to read the entire history of the church/mosque/museum.
Our hotel was also a five minute walk from the Grand Bazaar. Inside the Grand Bazaar building you'll find everything from snacks to tea sets to knock-off handbags. It is one of the largest covered bazaars in the world, with over 3,000 shops inside. You don't have to stop your shopping when you leave the building. The winding streets North of the bazaar are filled with more vendors and they are grouped according to what they are selling. There is an entire street selling scarves, another one selling housewares and plenty selling "designer" jeans.
Wandering around the streets of Istanbul was the best part of our visit. Except the hills, there were lots of hills. Really steep hills! We walked up the hills to Taksim Square (so-called Times Square of Istanbul) and back down via Istiklal Street. If you want to get some local, high street fashion, this is the place to go. We stopped at a food hall for lunch and got some cheap and tasty doner kebaps.
To get a bird's eye view of the city, a stop at the Galata tower is necessary. It looks like a fairy tale tower! I was surprised and excited to see that you reach the top of the tower via elevator. By this time of our trip we had already climbed enough church stairs to last us for the rest of the year. My only problem with the Galata tower? They allow smoking on the viewing deck. The building has burnt down in the past, you'd think they'd want to avoid that happening again.
Right across the street from the Hagia Sofia and Blue Mosque is the ancient Roman Cistern. Be prepared for big crowds and a long line if you decide to go inside of the cistern. There were many tour groups that were just rushing through the site. I think there were a few cruise ships in port during our time in Istanbul, so the sites were very busy during the day. Once the cruisers headed back to the ship the city became much quieter. I loved walking through the downtown area after sunset.
During our time in Istanbul, I finally learned what a simit was. I had heard the word simit before because there is a restaurant in downtown Montclair called "The Simit Hut." Perfect for breakfast, it's a sesame coated pastry that's very similar to a bagel. Cut in half, you have the option of cheese or nutella. Now that I know what a simit is, I think we'll be visiting the restaurant in our hometown!
Istanbul is a port town, so our visit wouldn't be complete without a boat tour. For only $6, you get a 90 minute boat ride! The information that was coming over the loudspeaker was completely incoherent, but we enjoyed it nonetheless. Salespeople wander around the major tourism areas trying to sell you a boat tour for an inflated price. Don't buy your ticket from these people, just go to the dock yourself. It's right near the Grand Bazaar and very easy to locate.
Istanbul is a city that you could spend well over two days visiting. I can definitely see coming back for another vacation and popping over to several other locations in Turkey - Izmir, Ephesus & Cappadocia.
Our final day in Istanbul consisted of us waking up at 3:00am and hopping on a 5:00am flight to Frankfurt and onward to Newark. It was a great (and tiring) vacation. I would totally recommend taking a similar route through Europe. Central and Eastern Europe are so completely different than Western Europe!