Hands down, Istanbul was my favorite port. I was about two seconds away from chucking my passport into the Bosphorus River and finding an apartment with Mollie. We were there for 5 days, but I wish it was 50.
Day 1 -
Mollie, Vic,Caitlin and I woke up super early to watch the ship come into port. I am so so happy we did this, because it was such a beautiful sunrise and the city of Istanbul was amazing to see from the water. So many buildings, churches and mosques were visible from the distance and it was such an unforgettable view.
The girls and I headed out for a day of sightseeing. Victoria and Caitlin were going to be leaving Istanbul for overnight trips to other parts of Turkey, so we knew we had to hit up the major historical attractions of Istanbul.
After a traditional Turkish lunch including chai and baklava, we saw the Hagia Sophia which is just so amazing. It was first built as a church when Istanbul was Constantinople under rule of the Roman emperor Justinian. When Turkey was conquered by the Ottomans, the church was converted to a mosque. Today, it is a museum where you can see traces of both the mosque and the church.
After the Hagia Sophia, we crossed the street to see the Blue Mosque. I consulted with my wonderful Turkish friend Esra before I arrived in Istanbul, and she told me this was a must see – regardless of religious affiliation. She was so right. The mosque is called the “blue” mosque because the inside of the dome is painted with an intricate blue design.
Mollie, Victoria, me & Caitlin in front of the Blue Mosque
Our next stop was a cafe/hookah bar down the street. We needed some fuel in the form of Turkish coffee to carry us through the rest of our day. Strangely enough, at that cafe, the waiter asked me if I was Arabic. He was the first of many to recognize my ethnicity .. most people in America guess Irish! Anyway, after our snack, we saw the hippodrome where the serpent column and the largest obelisk in Turkey are. (Can you tell I’ve been paying lots of attention in my Global Studies course?) When we arrived, we were pretty excited to see these monuments, but they were kind of … a lot smaller than our professor made them sound.
The Serpent Column – made from Carthaginian armor
Also, a prick from the BBC was filming some sort of travel documentary and asked us to stop speaking and move out of their way because they needed clean audio. Uhhhh last time I checked it was public space, but whatever. He totally soured me on the BBC because he was such a doucher.
At this point, we were all pretty exhausted so we called it a day. We went out for dinner that night at a great restaurant called Haci Baba in Taksim Square. Taksim Square is like the cool “downtown” district in Istanbul. It has tons of shops, restaurants, and a ton of nightlife.
Day 2 -
The second day in Istanbul was great! Mollie babysits for a Turkish family back in Massachusetts, and they were kind enough to offer their nieces to be our personal tour guides for the day. The girls, Melina and Myrna were sisters in their late 20s that were a blast to be around. They took us everywhere! First, they took us for a traditional Turkish breakfast.
Melina & Myrna at breakfast
After eating, we headed over to the sunken cistern. It was a building we had passed the day before with our friends, but we had no idea what was inside. After climbing down a flight of stairs, we were astounded by what we saw. It was a huge underground room that had columns all over for support, but was filled with water. Terrible description, I know, but it was really neat to see. Today they put koi in the water and fill the cistern with artwork.
After that, we went to Topkapi Palace which is where tons of artifacts are housed, like the royal jewels and tons of artwork. However, the most memorable part of my visit to the palace came from our stop at the restaurant inside of the palace walls. The bottled waters were $5 and the coffees were $15… which we didn’t realize until we got the bill. Like, I guess thats how they make money to pay the security guards or something. It was ridiculous. Melina, our Turkish friend, was literally yelling at the waiter about it. I’ve never seen anything like it. She did not hesitate to tell him how she really felt. It was hilarious.
The famous Grand Bazaar was our next stop. It was filled with literally everything from scarves and jewelry, trinkets and glassware, teapots and hookahs .. not to mention lamps and rugs! There was something for everyone here, but honestly, the haggling and bargaining was not for me. Every corner you turn, people are telling you that they will make a good price for you, come drink some tea in my shop .. it was just so overwhelming!
We stopped for some Turkish ice cream called dondurma after the bazaar. It was … different! It was like a mix between taffy and ice cream, and definitely a must try. After our ice cream, our wonderful Turkish friends took Mollie and me back to the ship where we said goodbye. It was so nice to be with Turkish girls for a day – we really got a good experience from spending the day with them!
Day 3 -
The first two days in Istanbul were jam packed with sightseeing. Victoria and Caitlin were gone on their trips and Mollie and I were left to our own devices. So naturally, we decided to wander. First, we hit up Starbucks where I got an ICED latte. Luckily, the ice in Istanbul was just safe and I was just fine! After getting caffeinated, we tried to find the mall. Unfortunately, we had bad directions and ended up lost, so we had to duck into a Pizza Hut to ask for help. Only … no one spoke English and it was super hot outside. We tried our luck and hopped in a cab. God was on our side that day, because we were taken to the biggest mall I have ever laid eyes upon. It was six stories of pure shopping pleasure. Mollie and I more than happily spent the afternoon there.
When we got back to the port area, we headed back to Starbucks to mooch some free wifi. Unfortunately, so was every other SASer in Istanbul. Mollie and I were made friends with this guy JP who is on SAS, and we all decided to hop on the tram down to a different neighborhood to try to get wifi. Going to the restaurant, Faros, was one of the best things that happened in Istanbul. The owner, Oscar, let us use the internet and skype for a long time before we ate or even ordered a drink. We had a really great meal there, and he actually knew the owner of an awesome club and was able to get us in for free that night.
Mollie, Me & Caitlin at Reina
We ended up having an awesome night .. the club was right under the Bosphorus bridge that separates the European side of Istanbul from the Asian side.
Istanbul is the only city in the world to lie on two continents!
Day 4 –
We all woke up a little hungover, but nothing a good Turkish bath couldn’t cure! We went to the oldest hammam in Istanbul. Once we got there, we stripped down and went into the steam room. Basically, there are a ton of naked women laying around on a huge stone waiting to get scrubbed down by an old Turkish woman in a bikini. After washing your hair, they send you into the jacuzzi/pool room to relax, then you get a hot oil massage. Strange experience, I know. It was .. not quite what I was expecting. Especially since the majority of the other women there were from SAS!
We had a low key afternoon of walking around the Grand Bazaar and doing a little souvenir shopping. That night, we went back to Faros to use the internet and have another amazing dinner. I was happy because I got to skype Rob for the second day in a row!
Day 5 –
On my last day in Turkey, I hiked through the Asian countryside of Ballikaya. Ohhhhhh, Ballikaya. While it was beautiful, I wasn’t that excited to go. I signed up for the trip because it was a requirement for my ecology class. However, in the guidebook, it was described as a “strenuous” hike through the mountainous countryside. I was a little nervous.
It ended up being totally great! It wasn’t bad at all, even the temperature was fine! Plus, my ecology professor is awesome. Not only is he funny, but he can identify pretty much every plant, animal and insect he sees! He stopped us a lot on the hike to talk about the ecosystem which actually made the trip a lot more interesting.
We stopped for lunch at this beautiful little cove
And I think it should be mentioned that I was the first person back to the bus! This may or may not be due to the fact that there were stray dogs chasing our group .. but either way .. I was the leader of the pack!
After the hike, we headed back into Istanbul to get on the ship .. I was so not happy to be leaving such an amazing city. I saw and did so much, but I feel like I could have spent months there before being ready to leave.
The Bosphorus Bridge