When Evelin said we should do a stop over in Turkey before we headed to Greece, I was reluctant to say the least.
Sure, Turkey boasts some amazing architecture, a vast amount of history and a cultural flare that would put many other countries to shame…but for some odd reason I just did not want to go.
When I decided to “escape’ to Europe this summer, Greece was the only thing on my mind. I pictured myself sunbathing as I took in the amazing views of the caldera in Santorini. I imagined myself walking through the ruins of the Acropolis as if I were the goddess Athena herself. Turkey was not in my vision.
We got to Istanbul via Ataturk airport the morning of April 30th.
It was cold, the sky was hazy, and people seemed to be in a rush. I did not see white washed houses with blue roofs, no donkeys to take me up the cliffs and most importantly no Greece. After giving myself the much needed “traveler’s pep-talk”, it was time to hail a taxi.
Normally, I would have my hotel coordinate a ride from the airport to the premises but after much research we calculated a significant decrease if we arranged transportation on our own.
Thank the heavens for Google!
We begun our journey to the hotel and instantly, I was able to take in the amazing sights of Istanbul. What I love the most were the multi-colored tulips planted in the median strip of the road. It took everything out of me not to ask our driver to stop so I can pick one. Don’t judge me, I love flowers.
Our home for the next day was nestled in the center of Sultanhamet, a quaint boutique hotel called “Modern Sultan Hotel”. The front desk attendant greeted us with the most amazing smile. Our check-in time was not for another 2 hours, but he excitedly took out a map and advised us on places we could go visit until check-in. Thankfully he kept our bags for us, while reassuring they would be safe and that we should go and enjoy ourselves.
Something that no one has to tell us to do twice! We read many beaming reviews about this hotel and the one that struck out the most was that it was in close proximity to Hagia Sophia. It was close all right, about a 5 minutes walk! Once we realized how close we were to the other areas of interest like the Blue Mosque and the Basilica Cistern, we agreed to find food before returning back to these highly anticipated attractions.
Istanbul is a place where you could never say you are hungry and cant find anywhere to eat.
Every corner has a restaurant. Granted, many serve the same types of foods but nevertheless there is always someplace to eat. After walking for about 30 minutes we decided on a restaurant. Honestly, the guy holding up the restaurant menu outside was extremely comical. An impromptu show with my food, why not??? After lunch, we visited Hagia Sophia and it was everything that I could have ever imagined.
The famous Hagia Sophia is a church-turned-mosque; this very contradiction is the reason why I love it even more.
It showcases one of the greatest surviving displays of Byzantine architecture in Turkey. From marble pillars, majestic domes and beautiful Islamic writings, Hagia Sophia took my breath away. We spent a great deal of time here and I am certain we barely touched the surface. I would recommend multiple trips there. Looking back its funny, before heading to Istanbul, I read a guidebook (I will call no names) that said you could visit all the sights in one day. This proved to be incorrect.
The lines were long even with “fast passes” and sneaking our way into group tours (don’t judge me). That particular day the Basilica was closed for a couple hours as well. Despite this, we enjoyed ourselves. We spent much time people watching and even being watched ourselves. We had hopes of visiting the “Blue Mosque” so we dressed for the occasion; our outfits adorned with scarves over our heads had many locals even asking to take pictures with us.
Later that night we went to dinner to celebrate Evelin’s birthday. This alone is a story all by itself. Let’s just say the men in Istanbul are extremely friendly.
I was having trouble cutting my lamb and a waiter came over, insisted on taking my fork and knife away and resorted to cutting the lamb for me….and courageously feeding it to me. I think I can get use to such treatments. We enjoyed a live show at dinner with belly dancers and whirling dancers. It was still early when this was over and being the “party girls” that we are we sought out the next adventure.
We found it, we found SAH.
This is where an already interesting night, turned epic. The city that I thought would be too conservative for me, turned into MY mecca. Unbeknownst to us, SAH is one of the premier late nightspots nestled in Sultanhamet. We enjoyed wonderful cocktails, “company”, hookah and of course amazing music. I even made friends with a nice girl from South Africa who I’ll be visiting very soon at her home in Italy.
To this day, I still cannot understand why I had reservations about Turkey or Istanbul for that matter. This city is richly diverse making it a prime vacation spot for tourists all over the world, the culture is inspiring and the people I met were so welcoming.
I dreaded the next day, as it was time to leave the city that I did not want to come to, to begin with. With a heavy heart we both checked out of our hotel. While waiting for our taxi we were astonished to hear “the call to prayer”, in my opinion this was a sign that I had to return back to Turkey, without a doubt it’ll be for more than 36 hours!