¡Hello again, friends!
We’re having a great time on our trip and can hardly ever find time to make blog posts! Ha!
We left Paris on May 22 and took a direct flight to Istanbul. Our hotel organized a pickup from the airport and by early afternoon we were in Sultanahmet, next door to the Four Seasons Istanbul, with a view of both the Ayasofya and the Blue Mosque. After a little rest, we walked around the area and had a late-ish dinner at a restaurant near a small bazaar.
We let ourselves sleep in the next day and had these tasty sesame bagel treats for breakfast. We visited the Basilica Cistern, which was straight out of an adventure novel. A slippery flight of stairs takes you down below the city as the temperature drops significantly enough for coffee to sound pleasant but not enough for a change of clothes. The cool, musty air clings to you as you walk on platforms above the water and between the impressive marble columns (of all three types). Our audio guide was nice but somewhat unnecessary. After we walked around and decided it was pretty much the greatest, we had some fresh squeezed juice at a tiny cafe near the exit, and further marveled at the structure before ascending to the sunlit world. (Alicia throwing down some beautiful writing here damn. Love ur sis xox.)
We visited the Grand Bazaar in the afternoon. Since it was a Friday which is the Islamic day of assembly, sort of like Sunday mass for Catholics, the area was extra busy and all the mosques were literally overflowing with tens (likely hundreds; erring on the side of caution here) of rows of men. Aisles in the bazaar were blocked, and we have just our memories because we consider it disrespectful to take pictures of people in prayer.
The Grand Bazaar was something else. Sloping paths through domed high ceiling halls lead the happy shopper to antique shops, coffee shops, jewelers, outfitters, knock-off bag sellers, lantern vendors, and spice stands, to name a few. Entranced by the variety and history of it all, we did a little bargaining for some silver evil eye bracelets. Alicia notes that she’s gotten rusty since Thailand, but was still happy to get any discount.
After some tradition Turkish cuisine for dinner and nice conversation with the owner of the restaurant, we went back to our lovely room and went to bed. We slept through our alarms the following morning, but made it to the Ayasofya before it was officially the afternoon. The Ayasofya was impressive, as expected, and we used our recently purchased Museum Passes for admittance. Huge, unrelenting tour groups with loudly clicking long-lens Nikons and Canons took away something of the sanctity of the ancient church/mosque, but hardly anything is holy anymore, and we had a good experience despite this. The early, early morning would have been worth it though. I overpaid for some lukewarm drip coffee and we left before the early afternoon call to prayer. (An aside–the call to prayer was one of the more unique things about being in Istanbul. As students we were all taught that Muslims are called to pray five times a day. The call is magnified with speakers attached to the minarets and will go from just a few minutes to nearly fifteen (as we recall). The times change with the day and each time has its own name and purpose. It was really quite beautiful.)
Next we walked over to Topkapi Palace. We walked around the palace grounds and were particularly impressed by the condition of the beautiful tiles and calligraphy throughout it. The layout was open and inviting and while we’ve seen a few royal residences this one was probably our favorite. We stopped for lunch at the palace’s restaurant which overlooks the Bosphorus. We took our time to explore the spacious palace grounds afterwards and by the early evening we were ready to get some more food.
On Sunday we slept in, dressed somewhat nicely, and headed across the street to the Four Seasons for brunch (thx mom love u). Alicia’s favorite part was “the honeycomb, the coffee, oh and the juice and desserts”. Andrea loved the lamb and prosciutto. After gorging for two hours, we walked to the Archeology Museum and a lot of it was under construction, but we enjoyed the mosaic exhibit. That night we had a nice dinner at a restaurant that had bean bags for seats and we chatted with fellow Americans who were also heading to Greece next.
We spent most of Monday on a boat that travelled along the Bosphorus and we visited the Spice Bazaar after our trip.
On our last day in Istanbul we visited the Blue Mosque. It was really beautiful and more impressive than the Ayasofya and probably most buildings we’ve ever seen.
We didn’t want to leave, but we had to. We woke up early and made our way to the airport to fly to Athens!