Istanbul Has a Diverse History
Istanbul, where Europe kisses Asia across the Bosphorous Strait. Two continents in one country. Where the most devout muezzin call to prayer 5 times a day, minarets decorate the skyline and the smell of spices fills the air. A land of many cultures melding, a tumultuous history and every language being spoken on the street. We flew to Istanbul from Corfu, Greece via Athens. The Istanbul Havalimani airport is huge and it took us 2 hours just to get through it and we only have carry on luggage.
Travel Tips: Currently (Oct 2021) you must get an HES QR code online (a pandemic travelor locator) within 3 days of arrival to Turkey. Also, you need a Turkish visa ($30 USD) to enter. There is a visa office close to passport control area where you can obtain one. We used a shuttle service for $35 euro to bring us into the city. Taxi cabs tend to take advantage of people by taking long routes and jacking up the fares.
Our room at Charm Hotel had a view of Suleymaniye Mosque, also known as The Blue Mosque because of blue tiles on the interior. It is currently under renovation so we barely got a glimpse of its famous beauty.
Travel Tip: it is free to visit the mosques, however they are closed to non Muslims during prayer hours so you need to be aware of the schedule. Also women need to be respectful and cover their hair and legs if wearing tight pants or skirt above the knee.
For amazing examples of architecture and art visit Hagia Sophia Mosque and Topkapi Palace. As stated above, the mosque is free to enter but Topkapi Palace is 200 lira, and an additional 100 lira to see the Harem.
Travel Tip: Buy the museum pass that allows you to visit 13 museums for 360 Turkish lira.
Boat Tour of the Bosphorus
We spent an entire day doing a hop on – hop off ferry boat tour around the Bosphorus Strait. It makes 5 stops, both on the European side and the Asian side. For only 12 euro a person this is a great way to visit palaces, have lunch in a cute village, step foot on 2 continents and see the sunset on the water while passing huge tankers and tiny fishing boats.
Food and Shopping
I’ve heard that Turkish cuisine is world renowned. Now I can confirm the rumors are true! A great introduction is to try the mezes (appetizers). A tray is brought out with dozens of small dishes and you pick the ones you want. Served with toasted pita bread to sop them up. Also, don’t miss Turkish coffee, stuffed eggplant, manti (Turkish ravioli), and testis (meat and veggies casserole cooked in pottery which is cracked open at your table).
Shopping at the Grand Bazaar and the Spice Market are adventures themselves and take a bit of negotiation finesse. If you’re in the market for something higher priced you’ll be treated to hot tea and most likely led to a quiet room where you can talk without other customers hearing.
There are plenty of reasons to love Istanbul, and the people we’ve met are another reason we enjoyed our visit. Their sense of humor and welcoming attitude (once we attempted to speak a little Turkish) made us feel comfortable in a place far from home. Thank you Istanbul and we hope to return!