Istanbul – a city full of brilliance and animation

We arrived in Istanbul late at night. The first sights were so impressive, with skyscrapers, lights, huge mosques here and there, that made us wonder all the time: Is this the Blue Mosque? We started with: Look it’s the Blue Mosque!, but when we saw the second one we got to: This might be the Blue Mosque and we ended up with: Where in the world is that Blue Mosque? as a matter of fact we were not even sure if we arrived in Istanbul already, until we checked the GPS location, we were somewhere in the suburbs, but it was all so full of life that it all seemed to be downtown. Then I remembered that our hotel was located on west periphery and that the most impressive things will be to come in the next 2 days :). After 1300km with almost no highways(except 200km before Istanbul), bad roads(except for Turkey) and 22h of driving we arrived near the hotel passing through some narrow streets.

We entered the hotel room(Kariye Hotel), a static hot air “welcomed” us. It was not so hot outside but the rooms were burning hot with no A/C! We made a cold shower and turned on the fan hoping this will make things a little easier so we could fall asleep. The windows were widely opened. We started hearing something.. like a prayer at 3AM! We looked outside the window of our room that had a view over the city that was so alive and the sound of prayer came from all the Mosques, it was a magic moment 🙂
The morning breakfast was so yummy. This hotel is said to have one of the best restaurants in the city, unfortunately you have to book in advance to taste their delicious food, but at least we had an idea of their cooking from the most delicious breakfast from the trip included in the room price.

Cats were all around us, under the chairs, in the trees, begging for food. I love them so much, and this made me so happy. There was a couple from Japan that left their table for a few seconds to bring additional food, when they returned a cat was on a table eating from their plates, and then making a miaaau like “What do you want from me? I’m hungry!”. I know they had to change the plates but it was so funny, everybody laughed.

Gathered around the breakfast table we made the plans for the first few of the many sights to see this day.
Let me take you in the journey of our 2 days in Istanbul through these relevant images of the beautiful sights.
I have to say most of the photos from the first day, from different sights are missing due to a problem with my harddisk’s file table being corrupted 🙁 I’m still trying to recover the inaccessible(but still there) photos and movies.
We used public transport because driving in Istanbul is nightmare! They don’t really consider the road signs or the zebra crossing, so whenever we would have to cross the streets we would carefully look around and run over :)) It’s hilarious but it was the truth 🙂 I think with time you get used but at first it’s really scary! One more thing that it’s really stressful but in another way, is that they don’t really speak/understand English, it was so hard to understand how we can use the cards with multiple bus/boats trips, actually we were lucky with a foreigner that felt sorry for us and she explained us how it works.
The fist attempt to enter in a mosque – Laleli Mosque, this one was not for tourists and they wouldn’t let as in, that was a bad starting! I was so upset I thought they will not let us enter anywhere.

Süleymaniye Mosque – the first mosque we’ve seen inside. Look how reasonable I look! haha
Muslims are washing their feet and hands before the prayer, my father did that before entering Süleymaniye Mosque because he didn’t know he shouldn’t haha he was so funny.

No trip to Istanbul is really fulfilled without a visit to the Grand Bazaar! Don’t miss it, even if you don’t want to buy anything. I wasn’t expecting anything from it because some people really disregarded this place stating it’s not what it used to be. I don’t know how it once was, but for me it was so much fun looking to their traditional things and bargaining on so many things that caught my eye, starting with my chandelier sterling silver earrings, OMG how much I searched for this type of earring and I can’t believe I found them in Grand Bazaar and guess what? with my bargaining skills I got them half the price, that is really a good accomplishment these days in Grand Bazzar, usually the best you’ll get would be 60-75% of the price. I can say I looked around for some time in different jewelry stores and I returned to the first place where I felt in love with these earrings 🙂 I was lucky I received a card the first time I entered there, because even so it was so hard to find the store again , you get lost easily in Grand Bazaar! so if you see something you really like I advise you to think really well before going too far away from that place.
Some sellers will not bargain too much, some still like to do it, people are different but one thing is clear if the price offer doesn’t suite your needs then walk away you’ll probably find it in the next stores, and you can start you bargaining once again 🙂 just keep in mind you have to be reasonable, don’t push it too much, I don’t think anyone will sell something if they don’t have some gain out of it. Also one thing I noticed is that you have to act nice to the sellers and smiling goes a long way :), for me it came naturally and I could only notice how people are really receptive to this kind of behavior. Ok this much about bargaining, here are my earrings AAAAaaaaaa!

my sister’s cashmere and silk scarf, we bargained so much on this one that the guy told us “I don’t like you” haha, it was so funny!

..and the rest of Grand Bazaar

Spice Bazzar was full of goodies, smelling and tasting heavenly, different types of teas, spices, sweets. Watching the few remaining photos afterwards I got to feel sorry about not buying some of the things like their traditional baklava with pistachio(see the first image) but there were some many types of sweets that I really didn’t notice the one standing right in front of me haha. Turkish delight with pistachio – that is not by any means comparable with the one made in my country(a mixture of water, sugar, starch, dye and some artificial flavor), the traditional Turkish delight is made with natural juices like pomegranate, pistachio or other seeds, and is not extremely sweet. Some of the things I purchased: Turkish delight with pomegranate and pistachio, with pistachio only, with nuts.. so many types I can’t even remember – you can have a look in second photo. Then I purchased their traditional coffee, and some types of tea like love tea with a mixture of fruits(like orange) and different type of flowers and it smells heavenly :), a type of tea made from big flowers -yasemin cay(tea)- that are unfolding once you put them in hot water.

Preparing for an evening out at Galata Konak Cafe with a view over Istanbul

Chora Church, situated just near our hotel is considered to be one of the most beautiful surviving examples of a Byzantine church. It’s not the biggest but it’s so nice.

Hagia Sofia – simply beautiful museum, that once was a Orthodox Church than a Catholic Church, then converted in a mosque and now a museum.

Basilica Cistern is the largest Cistern basilica that lies beneath the ground in Istanbul and there are fish in the water! This is the first time I see a Cistern basilica and it was amazing

Blue Mosque – we had several attempts to enter the Blue Mosque, I don’t know how we arrived there just in time for praying that obviously was not for us haha, and tourists are not allowed during the praying. There are mosques that serve only like a museum like Hagia Sofia and you can enter any time during the day, other that are just for the Muslims and you can never enter inside and others that do both like Blue Mosque 🙂 It’s indeed wonderful but it smells like feet everywhere.

Topkapi Palace was the residence of the ottoman sultans for aprox 400years. Some of the sites were closed on our visit day and I can’t say I was really impressed with what was left to see at least.

There’s nothing I like more than wandering around a city’s streets, in fact it’s the first best thing I do when traveling. So don’t cry if you don’t have enough money for a taxi to take you from one touristic place to another, get yourself a pair of cozy shoes and take it by foot, trust me no city is to big for this, and it’s such a nice way to meet/see locals, and encounter so many sites and situations you would have never thought you could!
Skyscrapers, mosques, Cay(tea), Sis kebap, great cafes, lots of people and lots of cats 🙂

The New Mosque near the Galata Bridge

After taking the dinner near Galata Bridge consisting in a sandwich with fresh fish and fresh orange juice, extra yummy and affordable :P…

…we ended our trip to Istanbul with a night boat tour on Bosphorus strait with lots of lights and parties, just magical 🙂 and look how funny we look like aliens in the boat’s blue light haha

Driving in Istanbul and passing from Europe to Asia on Bosphorus Bridge

Istanbul is one of my favorite cities! It’s so animated, brilliant and happy day and night, just like me 🙂 so no wonder I love it, but still there are some things missing like the old, romantic buildings that you get to see on other big European cities, I guess they had lots of earthquakes that had destroyed some of the old buildings, or maybe their architectural style is different 😛’s just a guess, but I think that if they had some of the old buildings the city would have been much richer in history and art. There were though some old wooden houses just near our hotel that looked really nice. It’s really interesting because all the country looks so renewed, there were cities with new blocks all looking the same, a mosque here and there and nothing else.

On the road to Pamukkale we stopped near the road to take some water, and we found GOZLEME, these are some traditional pastry products but I wouldn’t call them pastry because they are very healthy made with no fats, it’s a dough filled with different fillings, we only tried cheese and spinach because we loved them so much. We tried them in different places from our trip in Turkey but this remote place had the best and most traditional ones, others were either too burned or to oily but these were perfect, they even gave us vegetables to serve along with gozleme 🙂 We watched the whole process and it was a great experience. Now I found the original recipe and I’m definitely gonna try them these days

On road to Pamukkale