We are finally back home after a trip of a lifetime. We visited Venice, Florence, the Tuscan Countryside, Rome and Amalfi Coast while in Italy and I cannot wait to share with you all. On the way home we had a 36ish hour layover in Istanbul Turkey. Although Istanbul was the end of our vacation,we had such a good time I thought why not start here! Not going to lie, I was a little worried about spending time in Istanbul after the Military Coup and the various terrorist attacks (we had booked the trip before those events occurred) but I was thoroughly impressed with Istanbul and so glad we visited. We only had one full day to explore the city but managed to cram a ton of things in to our short visit. There is so much to see and do, I cannot wait to return to see more! But until then- I am sharing how we spent one day in Istanbul!
The Wyndam Old City Istanbul is where we called home for 2 nights and it was SOOOOO amazing you guys- grand, beautiful and in a perfect location to all the major sights. We spontaneously booked a full day tour guide with the hotel concierge and off we went to our first stop- the famous Blue Mosque. The tram stop is located only a block or so from the Wyndam Old City Hotel and the Blue Mosque (and other major sites) only a few stops further. The tram is really the way to go when getting around Istanbul and is fool proof.
Hippodrome of Constantinople
Before entering into the Blue Mosque- we checked out the Hippodrome of Constantinople. Back in the day during the Ottoman Empire- the city (Istanbul) was named Constantinople after it re-fell under the rule of the Roman Empire Constantine. The Hippodrome of Constantinople used to be the city ‘circus’ where chariot races and other sporting events would take place. Nothing is left of the Hippodrome, however at its location various monuments are located.
The Egyptian Obelisk
The Egyptian Obelisk (shown above) was carved in 1500 BC in Egypt and moved to Constantinople (Istanbul) by the Emperor in 390 AD. The marble base was created when the Obelisk was moved and shows stories of days at the races. Out of everything we saw on the trip- this ‘pillar’ is the oldest!
The Serpentine Column is also still in the square and dates back to 480 BC and is to commemorate the Greeks victory over the Persians. The top originally boasted a gold bowl with three snake heads which was removed and stolen.
The Blue Mosque
Next up was the Blue Mosque (technically called the Sultan Ahmed Mosque) is breathtaking. I could not wait to enter. It was built in the early 1600’s (as our tour guide says- this is new compared to other buildings in Istanbul) and still functions as a working mosque today. To enter, you must be modestly dressed (no shorts or shoulders) and must remove your shoes. All woman must wear a head dress to cover hair. Since the Blue Mosque is a working mosque- it is closed to tourist during prayer time- which happens five times a day and changes daily (it is determined by sunrise and sunset which is obviously alway changing). Daily prayer times can be found on the Blue Mosque website. Entrance is free!
Luckily there was not a line when we visited. The Mosque was quiet and peaceful. All of us looked up in awe at the beautiful tiled walls and domed painted ceilings. We learned how precious and expensive the tiles are (in the 10-20 thousand dollar range per piece) and how dangerous it can be to make- not to mention how long it takes to make a complete set!
Next up was the famous Topkapi Palace and was the home of many of the Ottoman Sultans for almost 400 years. It is grand, luxurious and houses treasures (rubies, emeralds and diamonds oh my) as well as ancient war and religious artifacts (they claim to have the staff of Moses). Photography was not allowed in the museum areas but I was able to snap some shots on the exterior and courtyard areas. The marble and beautiful cobalt tile blew me away. So pretty!
By this time, lunch was way overdue. Grilled corn on the cob, roasted chestnuts and kebabs are common street food in Istanbul- and man was the smell amazing. Our guide took us to the famous Pudding Shop Restaurant which got it’s name in the 1960’s. It was a frequent stop of hippies who were traveling in Europe and Asia. The restaurant obtained it’s fame by word of mouth of a delicious place to eat- travelers could not remember the name of the place (real name Lale) so referred to it as the Pudding Shop because of the wide variety of puddings offered.
All four of us ordered the special which was sliced gyro meat on top of bread with yogurt and a red sauce. IT WAS AMAZING! We loved it. During the high season- this place is packed with tourists but we had no problem finding a table.
The Yerebatan Sarnici AKA Basilica Cistern (constructed around mid 500 AD) is one of hundreds of cisterns in Istanbul and, you guessed it, used to be a basilica before it was converted into a cistern-hence the name. We walked down many stairs to enter the cistern which was dimly lit and beautifully eerie. In the water are large Koi fish which are placed on purpose to help naturally clean the water. At the far left side of the cistern are the famous Medusa heads which were placed in the cistern as a source of protection from intruders.
By this time it was late in the day and we were getting pretty tired. The Hagia Sophia-pictured below (older than the Blue Mosque- built in 537 AD and actually a Christian Basilica) was next on our list but we decided to go straight for the Grand Bazaar. The Rustem Pasha was also on my list but it was closed for renovations- Next visit we will be sure to visit the Hagia Sophia and Rustem Pasha Mosque!
The Grand Bazaar
The Grand Bazaar is both amazing and overwhelming. It is one of the oldest and largest marketplaces in the world- built in the mid 1400’s. There are over 4,000 shops and many twist and turns, making it super easy to get lost. Right off the bat I fell in love with the colorful Turkish Lamps. I had to have one and bought one I did! We had a blast walking around and window shopping. I loved the adorable Turkish tea sets, ceramics, blankets and spices- but I only had so much room in my luggage 🙁 next time!
I cannot wait until my return to Istanbul!