Lucky for me, my dad was able to squeeze Istanbul into the middle of his business trip to Europe so I got to show him around the historical peninsula/old city and a bit of the Galata Tower/Taksim area.
We did A TON of walking. We didn’t go in too much, but we saw the outside of practically everything in my guidebook so it really helped for me to get a feel for that whole area since I don’t go down that far too often. When I went with the other Au pairs to a hamam last week I was able to give everyone the details of which tram stop to get off on and an estimate of how long it would take, plus lead people after to the Grand Bazaar and Galata Bridge. Not bad for a girl who has one of the world’s worst senses of direction.
We started off in the logical place – Sultanahmet. Where the Blue Mosque and Aya Sophia sit on opposite ends and stare each other down. Both buildings are spectacular and huge. There’s also the Hippodrome running along the side with some other fantastically old monuments (like the obelisk from the BC times and a bronze sculpture that used to sit in front of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi).
We didn’t go into the Aya Sophia because the line was ridiculous – it was a Saturday after all – but we did go into the tombs that were in the complex. They were free entry with no line 🙂 It was just multiple mausoleums dedicated to different sultans and their young princes and families. Some of them had very elaborate decorations on their domes and were like mini mosques (you had to take your shoes off before entering all of them but I didn’t have to have my hair covered), others were a little plain. It was cool to see all the fancy tiles (iznik tiles) and calligraphy.
We walked to the gate of Topkapı Palace next and then the Archaeology Museum (going in neither… really though, we didn’t have a single moment where we weren’t seeing things, even though it sounds like we didn’t do much!). Both places, so I’ve read, require a couple hours’ visit in order to see everything important. Thennnn we walked to the Cisterns… so cool! It was my second time inside. The first time I didn’t get to see the Medusa heads because there was a school field trip all waiting in line. This time – no line, even though it was a Saturday and we waited to get inside! It would be cool to go really early in the day when there are fewer people. They play classical music from hidden speakers and the columns are lit up really pretty… but the echos from all the people walking and talking cover up the music.
Guess what we did next? (Well, after some walking and walking to see a few other notable places in the area) We went to the Grand Bazaar! That was my second time there, then I went again last week so I think I’m done with it for a good while (don’t worry mom, I’ll be ready to see it again in August).
It’s super hectic with things to see everywhere and people shouting at you to look at their stuff. Every corner you’re bombarded with sights and sounds – it’s pretty overwhelming. And plus, if you suck at bargaining like me you’re gonna get ripped off. My advantage in Beijing was that I could speak Chinese with them (earns me brownie points and gives me confidence), here, none of that. It’s an experience no one should miss though if you’re coming to Istanbul.
For the time being though, I’m gonna stick to some of the less touristed places in Istanbul where there’s either no bargaining or there are less people coming by to rip off so I have a better shot. My two favorites are near the mosque in Ortaköy and an alley I just found last week off İstiklal. It was just a bunch of stands with piles of clothes on top. Everyone was pushing up front to grab shirts (or shorts, or dresses, or whatever) and open them up to take a look then throw them back. Got a shirt for 5 lira (about $3).
Next up, we walked to the Spice Market which is pretty close to the Grand Bazaar. Inside they sell things like tea, spices (duh), lokum – aka Turkish Delight, dried fruits, nuts, and a few places selling purses and jewelry.
Each time I go I can’t resist getting a baggie of the dried fruits with nuts stuck inside – so good! Once again I heard the person saying they sell poison for your mother in law. It was still funny to hear the second time. My other favorite line, from the Grand Bazaar, that completely didn’t work was, “Lady, come let me sell you something you don’t need!” Yeah, that’ll work. Not with my dad, but with the other Au pairs I heard, “You like? Come inside, let me show you my special collection.” Um, I’d rather not.
After we were fed up with shopping, we walked to the Galata Bridge and had a fish sandwich from underneath. It was only the next week that I read you should never get one from there because they’re way overpriced and mediocre and that instead you should buy them from the boats cooking them up right by the bridge. Oh well, next time. At least from under the bridge there was a great view of the New Mosque and of Galata Tower on the other side.
We crossed the bridge then walked up up up to the Galata tower, which was unfortunately already closed (apparently the closing time is for people already inside, they stop letting people inside a half hour before that). To end our night we walked up İstiklal Avenue (that pedestrian street I told you all about) to Taksim Square then back down and grabbed a couple beers, Efes of course, from one of the side streets at a tavern that was playing live music. All the Turks were singing along, dancing, and clapping – it was really fun to be there listening!
The next day we did some more walking on the Historical Peninsula (to the aqueduct and to a few more mosques). We tried to go to the Botanical Gardens but they weren’t open on weekends. We walked across to the Tower and finally got to go up inside – the 360 view of the city was amazing – especially after walking the Old City the day before since we were able to guess at what all the buildings were. You can see up the Golden Horn side and the Bosphorus side, across to the Asian side… Istanbul is just so huge, it’s hard to wrap your head around it.
After, it was time to say goodbye to pops since he had to catch his flight so we headed back and I waved him off. No preview this time of what my next blog entry will be… probably of Bodrum though – it’s a city to the south that’s on the Aegean. My host family and I leave on Thursday and will be there for a week before returning to Istanbul. Maybe I’ll do some more sightseeing before then though…
I’m glad you could visit me dad, thanks again and I hope you had a great time!