I have wanted to visit Turkey for several years now, so it was with much excitement that I was finally able to spend some time in this Euro-Asian country this past October. With five nights, we decided to not rush through the country and hunkered down in the country’s largest city: Istanbul. From the food and the hotel to all the sights and our day trip to Ephesus, I have so much to share about this trip. But for now, I’ll break it down by day, and then hopefully do a post that summarizes everything with a link to my itinerary. God – I feel like I also said that about so many other places we’ve traveled to, and never came through on. Umm, Sri Lanka, Corsica, Provence/Pyrenees, to name a few. Fingers crossed for Istanbul…
As I looked out of the taxi during the drive from the airport to our hotel, I couldn’t help but thinking how accurate it was that someone described Istanbul as a “city of domes and minarets”. Pretty much everywhere you look, you’ll see this – and there’s nothing like hearing the call for worship reverberating through the streets from these domed mosques. So after drinking in my first views of the city during the 30 minute taxi ride to the Beyoğlu neighborhood, we arrived at what is now one of my favorite hotels – Witt Istanbul Hotel – enjoyed a welcome drink, and headed out to explore.
By the time we finished our drink and took the requisite photos of our hotel room though, we didn’t head out until the early evening. Since it was the third day of one of the most important holidays in the Muslim religion, the Feast of the Sacrifice, and it was raining, we didn’t expect to see or do much since a lot of sites would be closed. That was ok though – after many years, I’ve finally started to take it easy when it comes to travel and don’t jam-pack my schedule by the hour. So, off we went exploring! Our first stop was the Galata Bridge where we saw the fish market and all the men casting rods over the bridge in hopes of catching fish from the Bosphorus.
With the sun quickly setting, we crossed Galata Bridge, being careful not to get hit by anyone swinging a fish rod, and walked to Süleymaniye Mosque. Sitting atop the third hill in Istanbul (there are seven), Süleymaniye Mosque is the largest mosque in the city and after centuries of earthquakes, doesn’t have a single crack from them. Unfortunately, by the time we arrived, Süleymaniye was already closed to the public for the night so we just walked around the exterior and took in the gorgeous golden lights.
After strolling around Süleymaniye, we decided to head back in the direction we came from and search for dinner back on our side of the Bosphorus. Right before crossing Galata Bridge, we passed by the 400 year old New Mosque (Yeni Cami) in the Eminönü neighborhood and people-watched in the courtyard for a bit.
After our New Mosque break, we were getting pretty hungry at this point…and therefore cranky, so we went off in search of some dinner. Surprisingly, two of the restaurants we tried to go to were fully booked (apparently, reservations are a must in Istanbul!), so the crankiness quotient quickly increased. After more wandering around, we finally decided to head uphill in the Beyoğlu neighborhood, passing by a lit-up Galata Tower on the way, and see if we could get a table at Refik – a popular meze spot the hotel had recommended. Luckily, they were able to squeeze us in and once we were both sipping on an Efes beer, all hunger pains quickly dissipated.