On our trip last January, we visited Paris and Istanbul--which was once called the Paris of the East, so I thought that was pretty cool. Zach and I had never visited Turkey and the prospect of learning about an entirely new culture AND stepping foot in Asia for the first time was exciting. Zach had trepidation for our safety, because there was some unrest in Turkey, but we watched the news blasts for months and had no problems while we were there. There was some incidents in Ankara after we left the area, but nothing in Istanbul.
I really wanted to take a train from Paris to Istanbul along the route of the original Orient Express, one of the most famous train routes in history. It would have taken us through three more countries and taken several days. When we planned our trip, we didn't think we'd have enough time so we just flew. Looking back, we could have done the train, but now we have something to do next time we get to go to Istanbul. There's more we want to see there, and we also want to visit other places in Turkey.
Istanbul has turned out to be one of Zach's and my favorite places we've ever visited. My only experience with anything remotely close was traveling to Israel. There were a few similarities, but Istanbul was unlike any city we've been to before. I didn't get an accurate picture from movies like James Bond films or Taken 2. :-)
We flew Turkish Airlines to Istanbul -- our first time on that airline. All the seats were turquoise! We arrived in the afternoon and took a hired car to the hotel. We stayed in the historic Sultanahmet area, an old section of the city that is chock full of character and lots of sights. If you're looking for inexpensive lodging, there are several adorable boutique places in that area and you can walk to many attractions. Rick Steves has a bunch of suggestions for lodging in the area, but we went with Marmara Guest House. I highly recommend it. After settling in, we watched the sun set over the Bosphorus Strait--the waterway dividing European Istanbul from Asian Istanbul, and an important aspect of the city's history as a top port city.
|Our adorable room!|
|Blue Mosque at night|
|Meatballs! These were on every menu we saw in Istanbul.|
|Blue Mosque at night- incredible. This is the view from the restaurant :-)|
On the way back, we stopped and looked at stunning lamp chandeliers like the one below. More on that later :-)
The next morning, we woke early and watched the sun paint the Asian side of Istanbul with beautiful light. We had a delicious Turkish breakfast on the terrace with lots of fresh fruit, vegetables cheeses and yogurt. I think this is typical for hotels in Istanbul to offer for free. Breakfasts in Istanbul were a highlight of our whole trip that January. Even though it was chilly, we LOVED this time!
|View from our terrace|
|Cats are everywhere in Istanbul!|
|Fascinated by the writing!|
|In front of the Aya Sophia|
|In the Aya Sophia|
|So much detail in the Aya Sophia|
|Our tour guide Çem|
|Incredible - Aya Sophia|
|Ceiling - Aya Sophia|
|detail - Aya Sophia|
|Very important part in that Dan Brown book! This is Medusa|
|In the Hippodrome|
|Obelisk of Theodosius|
At the Blue Mosque, we had to remove our shoes and women had to cover their hair. The mosque was unreal. SO big and covered in intricate Iznik tiles painted with blue, hence the unofficial name of the mosque.
|Cats in the courtyard of the Blue Mosque|
|Blue Mosque ceiling|
|The first of many photos of tile...|
|Unreal being here|
|Taking in the Blue Mosque|
After our time at the Blue Mosque, Çem took us to the Eminonu area for lunch on diner kebabs… also known as shawarma (Arab) or gyros (Greek). It was yum!
|already being seduced by Turkish wares...|
|Turkeys. In Turkey.|
|Parking in Eminonu|