Our non-stop Dulles to Istanbul Turkish Airlines flight went off without a hitch. US passport holders need an electronic visa ($20USD) for Turkey which must be purchased online prior to arrival. Once we cleared immigration we picked up a couple bottles of wine at the Duty Free shop (tip: alcohol is taxed at 65% in Turkey), grabbed some Euros and Turkish Lira from an ATM then found the driver our hotel had sent to meet us. Within 45 minutes we were settled into our perfectly located boutique hotel in the Sultanahmet neighborhood of Istanbul. This was our home for the next four days of an 11 day trip to Turkey my husband and I took last November.
Our first morning in Istanbul was an early one. Jetlagged and barely dozing we were awoken at 5:10am by the Call to Prayer blaring across loud speakers, attached to mosque minarets. So, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, we watched the sunrise from our balcony- which overlooked the Bosphorus Straight on one side with hints of the Blue Mosque from the other.
Most Turkish hotels include a hearty breakfast with Turkish tea (cay, pronounced chai) and Turkish coffee (for Americans and Europeans). However, our first day’s breakfast was not at the hotel as we had arranged a private culinary walking tour with Tuba Satana. She led us through a tasting of some of the most famous foods and local eateries in the city and from here on out, we ate our way through Istanbul and the rest of Turkey with fervor.
During the next few days in Istanbul we walked up the hill to visit the must-see historic and cultural sites of the city: Blue Mosque, Topkapi Palace and Aya Sofya. The Grand Bazaar was both thrilling and overwhelming. I loved the Spice Market and then stumbling upon the Rustem Pasha Mosque. I’m not a big shopper, but I did purchase some amazing olive oil soap from Jennifer’s Hamam shop, lots of spices, and scarves as gifts. If I had brought an extra suitcase I would have filled it with fluffy towels and linens.
We jumped aboard one of the cheap commuter ferries to Kadikoy, a great way to view the Istanbul skyline, and took the subterranean funicular up to Beyoglu for a late night of revelry. On our last night in Istanbul I spent several hours at the Aya Sofya Hamam (more on this in another post). We missed climbing the Galata Tower and seeing the Basilica Cistern so we’ll just have to circle back around on our next visit, if for nothing else, the food and charming Turks.
– Rochelle, April 2014