This trip consisted of 6 girls and one very patient uncle who was a trooper and came along on all of our adventures and never complained!! The girlies included Doc, Counselor, my 3 soul sisters, and yours truly.
After our epic flight delays and being bounced around Europe Doc & I landed safely in Istanbul. We headed to the hotel to relax and wait for the other gals to get in. Doc, Counselor, and I stayed at the Tan Hotel. The location was great! Literally steps from the Sultanahmet metro stop and a five minute walk to Hagia Sophia. Breakfast was included and there was free wifi – that won us over big time. The soul sisters and their dad stayed at the Blue Eye Suites. This hotel was a bed and breakfast – they had a full kitchen, living area, etc.
Once we all landed in Istanbul we wasted no time to hit the sites. The group met up at 9:30am and we hit the town! We purchased these Museum Passes from the ticket booth outside of the Hagia Sophia that cost 72 Turkish Liras (TL) and were valid for 72 hours. This pass allows you to visit the Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Palace, Topkapi Palace Harem, Istanbul Archaeological Museum, and the Istanbul Mosaic Museum. If you plan on visiting all these sites the Museum Pass is definitely worth the purchase. Another thing I did was borrow the Eyewitness Istanbul Travel Guide book from my local library. Whenever I travel abroad I checkout one of these books because it gives a little bit of history of the sights, includes detail maps of the city, map of the metro, has a few phrases in the local language, and a ton of other useful information. Since we didn’t have any working iPhones on us this book was a great resource.
Day 1 consisted of exploring the Sultanahmet area. We went to the Hagia Sophia, Sultan Ahmed Mosque, Istanbul Mosaic Museum, The Obelisk of Theodosius, Serpent Column, Constantine’s Column, and Basilica Cistern. All these places are within walking distance of each other.
Hagia Sophia was breathtaking. It is one thing to see it in pictures and hear about it but it is a whole other experience when you go there and witness it for yourself. I was blown away by all the detail. We spent about two hours exploring there.
Next we went to the Sultan Ahmed Mosque also known as the Blue Mosque. We arrived at the blue mosque right at afternoon prayer time. When it is prayer time the mosque does not allow tourists inside – they only allow Muslims inside the mosque. Lucky for us we were able to pray and see this magnificent mosque. At the entrance of the prayer hall they provide you with plastic bags for your shoes, as well as scarfs for non-muslim women to cover themselves. The mosque was truly beautiful. I have never seen anything like it before.
Right next to the blue mosque was the Great Palace Mosaic Museum. This museum housed mosaics that were used to decorate the pavement of a peristyle court from the Byzantine period.
We grabbed lunch at a local cafe near the Mosaic Museum. For the life of me I can not remember what the name of the cafe was. To be real the cafe was very new and as we were having lunch they were installing the sign! The food was delicious. The one thing that did taste weird was the hummus in turkey – it is not similar to the Lebanese hummus I have had in Dearborn. It tastes good but it is missing the tahini ingredient therefore it tastes different.
After lunch we walked to the Sultan Ahmet Square to see The Obelisk of Theodosius, Serpent Column, and Constantine’s Column. The head of the serpent column is actually housed at the Istanbul Archaeological Museum. It was surreal to walk around the square and try to imagine that the square was used as a sporting and social centre.
The last sight we visited was the Basilica Cistern. I failed to mention to the group what the Basilica Cistern was exactly – therefore everyone thought we were going to see a church. Thus they were all very surprised when we ended up underground in a water storage bunker. The Basilica Cistern is located 500 hundred feet southwest of the Hagia Sophia. The cistern has the capacity to store 100,000 tons of water. There are two Medusa column bases in the cistern and the origin of these columns are unknown. It was cold and slippery in the cistern but it is definitely worth seeing!
On the walk back to the hotel we stumbled upon an amazing cafe – Edebiyat Kiraathanesi. They have all kinds of desserts from turkish delights, baklava, pudding, as well as turkish coffee, juice, and apple tea. We went here pretty much every day. My favorite turkish delight flavor was the pomegranate with pistachio. The great thing here is you have the option of purchasing a pre-packaged box with a variety of flavors of turkish delights or you can pick which flavors and how much you want and make your own box. I got a whole box of the plain pomegranate and the pomegranate with pistachio flavor – they are divine!
Since it was Soul Sister # 1’s birthday we went all out for dinner. A friend of mine recommended the Hatay Medeniyetler Sofrasi restaurant. I was told they have a chicken with salt on their menu that is divine. The chicken was amazing but the presentation was spectacular! I took a video of the whole process because it was unlike anything I have ever seen! Basically they take a whole chicken, stuff it with rice, then they let surround it in salt, they let it cook for about 45 minutes, lit it on fire and then serve it. Probably the best chicken I have ever had!!