Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Istanbul: where East meets West

After 2 weeks traveling around the Turkish countryside, it was time we made our way to Istanbul, to see what all the fuss is about. In comparison to the more rural areas of Turkey, Istanbul seemed very European, and lacked the mysterious Eastern flair we were expecting, but we did very much enjoy our week there.

We stayed in an apartment hotel just outside the old city, and spent most of our days sleeping in a little, visiting one or two tourist sites and then making our way home by sunset for drinks and dominoes on our rooftop terrace (along with the hauntingly beautiful sunset Call to Prayer from no fewer than 5 Mosques surrounding us), followed by cooking a Turkish dinner in our little apartment kitchen.

And then there's the kitties. Many people from home who we talked to about Istanbul and their experiences didn't notice that there were cats EVERYWHERE. Maybe we were just missing our own kitties at home, but this is a city for cat lovers, as there are cute, friendly, clean kitties all over the city! The shop keepers and residents feed them and care for them, but somehow the city isn't covered in their waste. Our two favorite run-ins were a cat meandering into the hair salon where Cory was getting a cut and hopped right into my lap for some lovies while I waited. And another cat crawled into my lap and fell asleep during a visit to Hagia Sofia.

In lieu of giving a play-by-play of our 5 days in Istanbul, here's a run down of our favorite spots and experiences (other than the kitties of course!!):

Basilica Cistern: My favorite spot in Istanbul for sure! Previously on the trip, we had both read Dan Brown’s book Inferno, which has its grand climactic ending in the humid, dark, and moody cistern. We also watched James Bond navigate the cistern in From Russia With Love. So by the time we showed up, we had plenty of things to look at down below (though sadly it was devoid of men in tuxes drinking martinis).

Egin Tekstil in the Grand Bazaar: although the bazaar itself is a bit overwhelming, this shop was a delight! We meandered in because there was a kitten sitting on a shelf in the front door (are you sensing a theme yet?!) and stayed to shop because the owner was incredibly friendly and had beautiful Turkish towels, soaps and things. We bought a bunch of things for ourselves and as gifts, and upon leaving found out that this is the famous shop described in our Rick Steves book! We would absolutely return and definitely recommend it!

Market Hall
Shopping at Egin Tekstil
Topkapi Palace: Beautiful gardens, colorful tiled rooms and a beautiful view of the Bosphorus once you get to the back of the palace. We paid extra to go through the Harem Section and thought it was absolutely worth it. We got a really good understanding of the culture of the harem and the lives of the women (and eunichs) who lived there: the Sultan’s mother and all his concubines and their children.  This is a section where you definitely want a book or an audio guide to give you some context and history, or you’ll just be walking through rooms of pretty tiles!

Taksim: this is the new side of Istanbul (you may have heard of it from the protests in 2013), which I found physically overwhelming and culturally underwhelming, and which Cory found to be a spirited and vibrant treat. The main street is packed with people and lots of internationally--known stores, but the side streets meander through independent art shops and galleries (ok, that part was really cool).  Certainly a different side of Istanbul from the old town.

Overall, our trip to Istanbul was a relaxing way to end our 3 weeks in Turkey. Sightseeing by day, taking in incredible sunsets over tea and the calls to prayer in the evenings was a fantastic end to our southern adventures. And now it was time for a change…off to Ireland we go!

Catching the train through Taksim
Enjoying the local wildlife
Where we stayed: A'la House AparthotelBinbirdirek Mh., Katip Sinan Cami Sk No:13, 34200 Estambul, Turkey. The proprieter was incredibly friendly and we would absolutely recommend this place for a relaxing and central stay in Istanbul!

Overall Costs: For 23 days total in Turkey, we spent $2583, for a daily average of $112. Our biggest cost putting us over $100 per day was renting a car (turns out Turkey has some of the most expensive gas in the world!). Our daily averages were housing ($36), transit ($29), food ($28) and other expenses ($20).

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