Istanbul, Turkey: Exploring the City of Charm

As we near our next big trip, Jason and I are going a bit stir crazy here in Texas. Yes, we do love it here, and we stay quite busy doing Texan-y things, like going to the rodeo and watching football. But nothing can quite replace the rush we get when we experience a complete different culture from our own. And that wanderlust in us has us looking back on our past adventures in envy. So, today I am thinking about our exploration of Istanbul, the city of charm.

After our 8 days at sea, it was nice to wind down on land. Ok, wind down? Maybe, not. Istanbul is not really a city you wind down in. But either way, we were on land. And we had two days to see the city. Two days is a very aggressive timeline. But if you know me, you know that I can see a lot in two days.

We started our tour of Istanbul at the famous Grand Bazaar. The title of the Grand Bazaar should have prepared me for what we were up against. But the word “Grand” doesn’t really capture the essence of this bazaar. Perhaps it should be called “Colossal, paralyzing, in-your-face” Bazaar. Because that is how I felt from the moment I walked in. And I LOVED it. Yeah, I was scared to death to look any shop giver in the eye out of fear of being talked into buying a rug. And yeah, being chased down the aisle because you ignored aggressive shop owners was also uncomfortable. But looking past the aggressiveness of it all, I was astounded by the never ending stimuli that continued to catch my senses. The colors of the lamps, scarfs, and beads… The aromas of the exotic spices… The taste samples of the Turkish delight… Oh My! Yes, maybe it was a bit of sensory overload. Still, Jason and I let ourselves get caught up in it all. And we left with a good amount of trinkets to take home.

Our next stop was at the Basilica Cistern, the largest of several ancient cisterns that lie beneath the city. The semi-long wait to get down into the cistern was worth every minute. The moment you walk into the cool underground you feel an eerie sense of being pulled into a dark underworld. However, the mass of touristy people in all directions brings you back to reality quickly.

The next morning we woke at sunrise to try to beat the crowds for Istanbul’s main attractions, the mosques. And despite the unexpected downpour, we headed out wrapped in rain gear to the
Hagia Sofia. After some creative deals with street tour guides, we were the first guests to walk through the Hagia Sophia doors that day. Our early rise paid off. The former mosque and former Christian church was undergoing restorations while we were there. However, we still were knocked breathless at our first gaze up to the iconic dome.

Then, we strolled across the square to the Blue Mosque and waited in a line that seemed to last an eternity. The reward of seeing the millions of blue tiles filling the mosque was good enough to pay off the wait. However, we were crowded into the small room with many other people forcing us to snap a few photos and leave quickly to get fresh air.

We spent the rest of the day walking around the city soaking in the local culture and ended the night with a wonderful dinner in a rooftop bar overlooking both beautiful mosques.

Istanbul definitely has that charm I expected from an old Turkish city. At the same time, it had that bustling big city feel you’d expect out of one of the largest cities in the world. Every corner presented something new. Every alley was a mini adventure. Every shop and bistro was packed full of culture. It was a wanderlust’s dream getaway, and the memory of every bit of it has me begging for more: more culture, more charm, and more adventure.

Until next time,

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