Istanbul IV: Taksim Square, Asia, and the Grand Bazar

To catch you up to speed check out earlier posts about my trip:
My travels around Israel
Istanbul I: Exploring The City + Suleymaniye + The Blue Mosque
Istanbul II: Topkapi Palace
Istanbul III: Hagia Sophia and the Cistern


Well, it’s time for the last trip post. I know it took forever to get through it all, but it’s helpful having all this info saved incase I plan a trip back. And hopefully, it helps you with your trip planning as well.

For this last post (and basically our last day of the trip) we crossed a lot off the Istanbul to do list. One place which had been in the news when we were planning our trip was Taksim Square. Here we were mapping out our time here and yahoo’s front photo was the riots right here in this square.


You’d hardly know it though! There were no signs of riots or any unrest, but there was a strong police presence.


Toward one end it was much more crowded, but this area is clearly a more modern section of Istanbul with lots of shops.


After exploring Taksim Square we met up at the dock where all the ferry/taxi boats come in. I think the ride cost us a dollar or two each, and we got into a boat which took us to ASIA! My uncle insisted that since I was the only one who’d never been, I had to touch Asian soil and Im glad we did this. It was super cheap and didn’t take much time. Plus it gave us a 10 minute boat ride on the Bosphorus.


We even got to see the water-side of the Palace.


The bridge where Europe and Asia meet here.


I was disappointed there wasn’t a “Welcome to Asia!” sign. All I wanted was something that said “Asia” that I could point to and it was hard to find, but we found it.


Once on the Asia side, we went for a short walk and decided there was more to see on the Europe side, so we hoped onto another ferry which took us back closer to our hotel.


Another BIG thing in Istanbul which I haven’t talked about yet is the Grand Bazar! You can’t miss this place, and it’s truly unique.


Here’s one of several entrances above.


Not only is it a market indoors in a maze of passageways without windows, it’s also got an outdoor section. Above you can see the cats on the left. Cats are EVERYWHERE in Israel and Turkey. The whole trip we always had a cat within eyesight if we were outdoors.


Here’s the inside of the market. It’s not packed with people, but it is packed with merchandise and vendors. Everyone talks to you as you walk around. You can’t just browse here. For fun I was looking at knock-off (or fallen-off-the-truck) handbags to get a sense of the pricing. Just by looking, the vendor, was throwing out numbers and “facts” about the bag. Knowing I didn’t want it, it was fun to see how low he would go with the price, especially as I walked away.


Thankfully I didn’t really need anything, so the pressure was off me to buy anything. I bought one little soy sauce dish for the equivalent of a dollar. I probably over paid, but it was worth a dollar to me. And now I have something from the Grand Bazar!


I actually really enjoyed the building where the market is held. So much stone and tile work. I wouldn’t want to be in here during an earthquake or fire (as exits are NOT easy to find).


Another fun treat in Istanbul is the baklava. It’s so good and fresh from these bakeries spread around town. It was a fun treat in the afternoons to pop in for a piece of baklava.


More kitties.


One of the treats I bought for myself and as gifts for others is some soap. Brian, who I was traveling with, has some Aleppo (Iranian) soap that he got in Istanbul his last visit and he raved about it. This type of dried olive oil soap is very moisturizing and a specialty for this region. As someone with many soap allergies, this soap is completely natural and I love it. Buy soap when you visit.


On our last night we walked along the water by the bridge.


The next morning we said goodbye to Erica as she continued to tour around Turkey, and we caught our plane back to the US. I flew from Istanbul to Germany to Denver (where my uncle andI parted ways) and then on to LAX, where I took one of those ride-share shuttles o my house (about 2 hours later). Phew, it’s exhausting even thinking about it all. But it makes you really see how small the world is. How with a days worth of energy you can be on the opposite end of the world, that’s pretty miraculous.

Well this trip was amazing and I still feel like there’s so much to see in both countries. It’s also opened up my eyes to the beauty of the Middle East and how different everyday life is in other parts of the world. Well here’s to hopefully more travel in the future!

Istanbul III: Hagia Sophia and the Cistern

To catch you up to speed check out earlier posts about my trip:
My travels around Israel
Istanbul I: Exploring The City + Suleymaniye + The Blue Mosque
Istanbul II: Topkapi Palace

After seeing Topkapi Palace, we high-tailed it over to Ayasofya (or Hagia Sophia) hoping to get find a short line. All the popular historical sites are walking distance from each other, so it makes this jumping around pretty easy. We also used the metro system once while we were there, and it was pretty easy and handy.


Above is the Hagia Sophia from the mid point between this mosque and the Blue Mosque. See how close they are?


You can see this former mosque (and church) is currently being repaired. It’s no longer a mosque and instead a museum, so they charge admission. When telling people I went to Istanbul, everyone asks about this place. I liked it, but I also really enjoyed the Blue Mosque and the Suleymaniye Mosque a lot. In fact most of us agreed the Suleymaniye was our favorite Mosque. It was quieter, less crowded, up on a hill with beautiful views and the building was equally as gorgeous and well maintained as the Blue Mosque. Be sure to visit the Suleymaniye.


Back to the Ayasofya. Once tickets were purchased we made our way in.

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Just as we got inside, my camera said “card full” so of course I was freaking out and furiously erasing earlier blurry photos and unfortunately some video so I could photograph this day’s sites.


This late morning timing made for excellent light in the structure. I love the yellow of the light and the blue of the stonework.


An important note is that this building wasn’t just a mosque but also a church. It was a church in 360 (it’s crazy old), and then a mosque from 1453-1935.


It’s such an unusual architectural mix, to see the layout and structure so iconic with mosques and yet there are jesus murals and mosaics all around.


After leaving the museum, we made a quick stop at another site from my tour book, as it was just across the street. We went to the Basilica Cistern. It was pretty inexpensive and worth seeing at least once. This is how water was moved throughout the city and was built in the 6th century.


It’s a great place to take photos as it has a Venice water-ways feel to it. You just walk the paths, take photos and look at the koi fish below.


There are 2 Medusa heads as part of columns in here. Since this was underground, built by slaves in the 6th century, and not meant to be seen as a museum, but as a functioning part of the city, when it was built they recycled these old Medusa heads to be part of columns within it. They weren’t even placed right-side up- they were just put in because their dimensions fit the bill. It’s a popular spot to photograph down here.

The Cistern is also seen in several movies (James Bond + Inferno) and written about in novels.

Next up: My LAST post of the trip, as our time here winds down. I’ll cover Taksim Square, The Grand Bazaar, and oh yes, my first trip to ASIA!


Istanbul II: Topkapi Palace

To catch you up to speed check out earlier posts about my trip:
My travels around Israel
Istanbul I: Exploring The City + Suleymaniye + The Blue Mosque




For this post I’m focusing on Topkapi Palace. While Istanbul has many palaces, the palace is the one to see. It’s where the Ottoman Sultans lived for 400 years.This is such a prime site to visit in Istanbul, that we decided to start our day early here in an attempt to avoid the crowd. You can see above, we were the only ones with this idea.


The patterns and textures in this palace are unreal.


We decided to buy the entrance fee as well as a ticket to the Harem, which our travel book said was a highlight. And how often do you get to see a Turkish Harem?

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Some rooms seem to have no purpose other than to show off all sorts of patterns. So pretty.


Of course a Harem has lots of beds.

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They are all about the patterns! Even down to the last detail.

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After exiting the Harem we walked the grounds, saw the royal jewels (amazing) and then had to continue on to cross more off our list.

Next up: we beeline it over to the Hagia Sophia, which is also a prime tourist destination. We wanted to go the day before, but the line to get in was so long we skipped it, so today we aimed to get there as early as possible.

Istanbul I: Exploring The City + Suleymaniye + The Blue Mosque

To catch you up to speed check out earlier posts about my trip:
My travels around Israel

Last I left off, we were taking off on a Turkish Airlines flight and heading from Tel Aviv, Israel to Istanbul Turkey. Now it was about 80 degrees in Israel (even in November!) so I was wearing a long thin skirt, hot pick tank top and thin cardigan. We get off the plane in Istanbul and I notice that everyone in the Turkish airport is wearing dark pants, dark thick winter jackets, and big black scarves. Everyone was in dark gray or black. Um… I clearly didn’t pack for the weather of Istanbul. Since most of our time on the trip was to be spent in Israel, I packed for the desert. I’ve made a huge mistake. In the passport line, there were 100 people and I was the only one in colorful clothing and not in a thick jacket. Crap.

We arrived midday and took a car service to our hotel  in Ortakoy (wear I promptly layered up anything I had packed with long sleeves. We were starving and walked down the hill (Istanbul’s very hilly) to the water and ate at the Hanedan Restaurant over looking Bosphorus. 


It was strange to think we were a quick 2 hour flight from Israel, and yet the weather was SOOO different. Everything was different. Israel is the Middle East, Turkey is very European (and Asian). Istanbul is a city in two continents, which I did not realize until we arrived. We spent most of our time on the Europe side (since it has the main city attractions) but I will talk about a quick trip we made to Asia in a later post. 


Since this city is so hilly, there are beautiful views everywhere. Every restaurant we ate at the entire time here, had excellent views. 


After our late lunch, the sun started to set (it was around 3:30p) so we decided to walk along the river and explore the city by walking until dark. 

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This is the view looking south into the touristy/historic section of Istanbul. See all the silhouettes of the minarets and mosques? So pretty. Plus in the evening (and several other times a day) they do the call to worship. It’s really beautiful and after a few times of hearing it, you get used to it. In fact it’s like a clock, as the singing alerts you to what time it is. It’s also helpful as a tourist because after the call to worship, the active mosques will be closed to tourists for about 20 minutes. So when you hear the singing, you know you have 20 minutes to get to where you want to visit. 


This is at the Dolmabahce Palace. There are many palaces in Istanbul. 


Not only does Istanbul still have pay phones, but they are all different animals! Too fun! What a photo op! 


We walked well until after sunset (which happens so early). It was very beautiful and very very cold. 


I was telling our friends Brian and Andy about my secret stair walks when we spotted these not so secret stairs. Up we go! 


We meandered up and downstairs just exploring. It was a fun first taste of the city. 


We passed many beautiful mosques and walked through Sanatkarlar Park (which was a little sketchy, so don’t hang out here alone after dark). We meandered into shops and a beautiful art gallery. 


We made our way back down the hill to the main road and Tophane-i (Ali Pasha Complex Mosque), and caught a cab back to the hotel. We had 8p dinner reservations at the top of our hotel at the Meze Restaurant and we all needed to warm up. 


Since it was chilly we sat indoors instead of on the terrace. More excellent views and a delicious meal.


The next morning we decided to start our day at one of the many famous mosques, the Suleymaniye Hammam


It was so quiet here. We were the only tourists for a while. 

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Since it was cold and I was wearing basically all the clothes I had packed, I had a hoodie on which was handy at the mosques. Women have to cover their heads and I didn’t bring a scarf (since I knew I would buy one while I was there- why pack one?). You also have to remove your shoes outside and you can see we (tourists) are restricted to certain areas of the mosques. Tourists men and women stay together, although if we were members there to pray, women have a tiny section in the back and the men get all this floor space above. It’s like this at all the mosques. 

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We walked through the Grand Bazare (more on that later) and then made our way to the back side of the Blue Mosque to a special lunch spot. 


What beautiful walkways. It’s so European compared to the winding pathways of Jerusalem. 

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Above is the view of the Blue Mosque from our restaurant spot at Seven Hills. Even though it was cold, we had to sit on the outdoor patio level. How could we miss out on looking at these buildings. 


Here’s the view of Ayasofya from the restaurant. 

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The Blue Mosque, above. 

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This is the inside of the Blue Mosque… it’s more red than blue- false advertising! It’s beautiful in here. This is also an active mosque (unlike the Ayasofya. 


Prayer time was ending as we were allowed in after lunch. This was a beautiful yet very crowded mosque. You wouldn’t know it from this photo, but the tourist section is packed with people.

This evening we ate a special dinner at the Sunset Grill and Bar. It had beautiful views (like all the restaurants), it was a delicious meal and it was fun to be with good company. 

My next Istanbul post will be about our time exploring Topkapi Palace Museum