This summer Cameron and I moved to a new apartment in Salt Lake City. The movers were trying to fit our couch through the door and ended up hitting the sprinkler in the ceiling, causing our apartment to flood. We then had to move down the hall to a spare apartment with only our mattress, our tv, and a couple of suitcases. Because we were living out of suitcases anyways, we decided to hop a plane and go explore someplace new.
I have a list of places all over the world I wish to one day visit, and have done a ton of research on each of them. This helps me be ready to go on random last-minute trips. We checked the flight loads and chose to head to Istanbul, Turkey, booking our hotel on the flight once we knew we were able to get seats.
Upon landing in Istanbul, we took a while trying to figure out the best way to get to our hotel. We also changed some cash into Turkish lira so we were prepared to hit the city. After asking a very helpful lady in the airport how to get to our hotel, we headed for the train with a map and instructions in hand.
We booked three nights at the Sirkeci Mansion (http://sirkecimansion.com). If you are heading to Istanbul anytime soon, I cannot recommend this hotel enough! It is in an amazing location, walking distance to all the major sights and right next door to the train stop. It is on a quiet back street with nice little shops and restaurants. They serve a delicious breakfast every morning, have a friendly staff and have a special welcome service when you arrive. I also recommend checking out alldaywifi. I had reserved it online and it was waiting for me at the front desk when we checked in. It is a little device that fit in my purse and provided wifi for us everywhere we went. That way we were able to use our phones and look up directions, restaurants and reviews wherever we were. We were also able to keep in touch and text using the wifi, which made our trip so smooth. I wish every city had this available.
Our favorite site in Istanbul was Hagia Sophia, which was once a Christian church, then was a mosque, and now is a museum. It is huge and gorgeous. There is so much history in this beautiful building filled with marble, mosaics, and gorgeous paintings. Cameron and I enjoyed learning about Istanbul’s religious history during our visit. We made it a game to point out and find as many crosses that had been scratched out or changed when changed from a church to a mosque.
Some other favorite sites were the Blue Mosque and the Basilica Cistern. You cannot miss these sites when going to Istanbul, and they are all right next door to each other and about five to 10 minutes from the hotel. Also right there is Jenifer’s Hamam, where we shopped for Turkish towels, blankets and scarfs. We love all of our items we bought here, especially our blanket- it is so soft, huge and beautiful. I used to buy little trinkets or postcards while in new places as my souvenir to remember the place, but now I spend a little more money for an item I can use or wear that will remind me of that place. At Jennifer’s Hamam, they packaged all of our items ready to be gifted to people back home and put it all in a complimentary duffel bag so we could carry it on the plane with us.
The second day in Istanbul we went on a food tour with Culinary Backstreets (http://www.culinarybackstreets.com/culinary-walks/istanbul/). We chose the “Born on the Bosphorus” tour because we thought we would see most of the city that way. Our guide was Ipek, who was extremely knowledgeable and sweet. The other tourists on our guided food tour were all from the U.S. and by the end we had all become friends. This tour was the highlight of our trip! We really learned so much about the culture and the city. Our guide shared the history of Istanbul with us, showed us around neighborhoods we would have never explored on our own, and introduced us to some of the best, non-touristy foods. The tour took us to the other side of the Bosphorus River, which splits Istanbul and divides it into the European and Asian sides. Um, how cool is it that within minutes I had been on two continents but was still in the same city? My favorite food we tried on the tour was the breakfast-all of it! They bring out a ton of little plates with bread, olives, tomatoes, jams, spreads, and tea. The clotted cream and rose jam on the bread was heaven in my mouth.
We met that night with the other people from our food tour to go out and enjoy some more food and the nightlife. We went to many bars and finally found one we loved called Eskici Pub. There was a DJ playing great music and a ton of locals dancing and drinking. I had no idea I would love Turkish music, but I discovered here that I do! Some of the Turkish girls came up to us American girls to dance with us. They grabbed our hips trying to teach us to move like they do. Yeah, that was impossible! They were the best dancers and move so differently than we do. They were so friendly but didn’t speak a word of English, so we communicated with dancing and our hands. The guys grabbed our guys and danced with them as well. They all held pinkies and danced in a circle. This was best way to really get an idea of what people our age do on a fun night.
After lots of fun and dancing, we were hungry. Someone in our group had heard about this place nearby that was on Anthony Bourdain’s “No Reservations.” It is called Durumzade and I still dream about it! We asked the cook what we should have and all ordered whatever durum he recommended. It was HEAVEN! I’m pretty sure Cameron ate three in one sitting.
Cameron and I also enjoyed the spice market and the Grand Bazaar. We loved sampling spices and taking pictures of all the colorful baskets filled with different teas and spices. The Grand Bazaar is in a beautiful historical building set up with a ton of different vendors selling everything from jewelry, rugs and lamps to coffee, kitchen supplies and food. We took a break from shopping to enjoy some tea, coffee, and Turkish desserts and were able to watch the hustle and bustle of everyone shopping around.
From waking up to hear the call to prayer being sung throughout the city to the nice people that live there- we definitely have put Istanbul on the list of our favorite places. We loved the city and hope to return soon and explore the rest of Turkey. Here are a few more photos from our trip.