We went to Istanbul, Turkey for an extremely short trip (or more like a really long layover). After our trek in Nepal, we had to stop in Istanbul, so I figured, why not make a trip out of it?
On December 1, 2019, we flew from Kathmandu to Istanbul. It was an exhausting journey to get to our hotel.
Upon arrival at Istanbul airport, we tried to go through passport control, but found out that we needed to get a visa to enter the country. When we got to the visa line, we found out that it was cash only, and only in certain currencies (not Swiss Francs). So we went to exchange money, then back to the visa line, and finally back to passport control.
Leaving the airport, we got a taxi. The taxi driver said that they took credit cards, but their credit card didn’t work! And on top of everything, the driver added on extra fees. We had to get our hotel to help middleman our transaction and pay the taxi driver up front for us. It was a pain.
I didn’t even want to leave the hotel room after arriving. It was a bad first impression to get. The good thing is, I really love food, so we did it for the food.
It was around dinner time and all of the restaurant workers were standing outside the restaurants catcalling to get us to come inside to eat. Those kinds of attempts don’t work on me! It makes me feel like your food sucks and cries desperate. I wish there was a way to politely display that I’m not interested, don’t bother me, I already have a place I’m going to, or I already ate, without having to say it constantly.
We walked down the street from our hotel to Tugra Kebab House. The food was decent, chili pepper was spicy, and they had a really tasty apple tea. This area in particular has a lot of good restaurants.
After dinner, we slowly walked back towards our hotel. We stopped inside of a souvenir shop to take a peek at the unusually unique looking goods for sale. While inside, one of the workers began chatting us up. We ended up talking to this guy for almost 30 minutes!! He invited us to join him for some hookah the next day.
For dessert, we went to Cennet Tatlisi for some traditional Turkish sweets before calling it a day.
The next morning, we got an early start to our day. Since our flight was later that evening, we checked out of our room first thing and left our backpacks with the hotel (hidden behind a sofa chair). It seemed a little strange, but the worker assured to us that it would be fine there.
We walked up a street towards the Sultan 3. Ahmed Çeşmesi and Hagia Sophia. The sun was just rising, so it was a tiny bit chilly, but the golden color made it all worth it. There were a ton of large stray dogs laying around this area. I wanted to play with them all!
We continued walking towards the nearby park where Erick grabbed this round sesame pretzel looking thing. It was warm and toasty, but also somehow made my mouth kind of dry. There was also a cafe open nearby, so we decided grab a little more to eat and some coffee.
Finally it was time to check out the famed Blue Mosque.
Entrance into the Blue Mosque is free. Women just need to make sure that they are properly covered up — scarf to cover your head and wrap for your legs — you can borrow all of this for free, too. Once you pass through the exterior and interior entrance, there will be a carpeted hallway where you need to remove your shoes (socks are okay). There are handy bags provided to carry your shoes in.
The interior and parts of the exterior of the mosque was under restoration while we were visiting. It did feel a little detracting from the overall architectural beauty, but the grand scale of it is still there.
Having seen so many mosques all throughout our travels in Europe, it’s quite impressive to see the ones in Istanbul. They are on a whole other level in comparison.
Our next stop was the Basilica Cistern. I remember awkwardly going in, asking how much tickets were, and debating if we thought the time/cost was worth it. We do this often when we travel. This time we decided, why not, let’s just give it a go.
I wouldn’t say it was anything spectacular, but we had fun! There are bits of informational text that’s also worth the read, like the two pillars with Medusa’s head!
Outside of the cistern, we went back into the cold and walked over towards the Grand Bazaar and then Misir Çarşisi for some (window) shopping. If you’re looking to shop, there’s tons of shopping to do between these two areas. Literally something for everyone.
The only thing we came out with was a box of some Turkish Delights. Now I’ll tell you, I had no idea just how good Turkish Delights are. They are phenomenal fresh! Not too sweet, hard, or chewy. Just really soft, delicate goodness. I never knew.
The streets had a lot of shopping options as well. It’s impressive!
We took another break and ate some pastries from a bakery that we found.
Just outside the steps of Istanbul University, we ate our to go food and managed to soak in a little sun.
It’s easy to get burned out from walking around too much in a day, especially when you have no hotel room to go back to for some rest! Earlier during our window shopping time, we ended up near the ferries on the Golden Horn inlet. Now we walked down to the south side of Old Istanbul. BTW if you don’t know where Istanbul is, go look at a map!
We took a break with some Turkish tea and hookah. It was a nice way to unwind and give our feet some rest. The only thing is that we were sitting outside and it was freezing! You would think that I would have worn more clothes considering that we had all our belongings with us from Nepal…
When it got to cold for us to handle, we continued on our way and walked through a street with a bunch of fancy looking seafood restaurants. If you’re looking for something that looks nice, definitely check out the street Çakmaktaşi Sk. (between Kadirga Limani Cd. and Kennedy Cd.). We didn’t actually eat in this area though.
Actually, we weren’t sure if we were going to eat anymore, as we were slowly wasting away our time searching for food. We tried to eat at a restaurant called Turkish Cuisine (generic, I know), but they weren’t open yet. We instead ate at Şirvan Sofrasi Restaurant, unexpectedly (the food looked good!). I got lamb chops, as you can see from the photo above. There were cute kitties around our table while we ate. It made the dining experience all the more memorable and fun.
After a great meal (late lunch? early dinner?), we walked back to our hotel. On our walk, we saw a bunch of taxi drives and decided to hire one. We had the driver take us to our hotel so that we could grab our bags and go to the airport. The driver this time around was super honest and forthcoming. We appreciated his transparency (and flat rate).
Our trip to Istanbul, Turkey was short and sweet. It was actually less than 24 hours in total. But shows you how much you can do in a day if you’re willing to! However, Istanbul is a city that deserves more than a day. I’d love to come back and spend more time exploring outside of Old Istanbul.
Until next time.