Getaway Guide: Istanbul, Turkey

FINALLY! I am ready to share with you a look at our trip to Istanbul, Turkey – a place that I never imagined actually being able to visit.
As I have previously mentioned, my husband and I made a list of where we wanted to visit most before moving to Poland. One of the top cities on my husband’s list was Istanbul. My husband had traveled to Istanbul quite a bit for work and wanted me to see for myself how beautiful the city is. And, I am sure glad I did! Istanbul is unlike any other city in Europe: the culture, the sounds, the food, the architecture, the people – it’s all so unique and wonderful! I would highly recommend visiting here if you have a chance. Honestly, this city tops the list of cities of I have been to in Europe. Here’s a look at our trip to help explain why.

…Arrival…We arrived on an early Thursday evening and waited in line for literally hours at the visa checkpoint in the airport before hailing a cab, which brings me to Tip #1: Make sure the meter is turned on in the cab and ask how much it will be before you get in. Also, have a map printed of where the hotel is located. Cabbies here will drive in circles pretending they don’t know where they are going as they look for the hotel…My advice is get a hotel car to pick you up. I will say that our cab driver was very nice the entire time he was ripping us off (although not too bad, I think it was about 30 USD over cost). Our annoyance was more the time we had to spend in the car driving in circles.
Anyways…we did eventually make it to our hotel and ventured to find a spot for dinner. Our view from dinner made it all worth it.
And a look at our flaming dinner, and ourselves, on the rooftop terrace.
...Day One…

We started our first full day in Istanbul with a trip to the world famous market, the Grand Bazaar.
The Grand Bazaar was AMAZING!!!! You could spend weeks here looking at everything. This place just makes you want to shop! Let me also add that this market is HUGE – over 3,000 shops placed along 61 covered streets. Know that there is no way you can plan to meet someone in here, or find them later if you lose eachother.  There are multiple entries and hallways – really, it is massive.
My favorite things to look at were the dishes, lamps, scarves and the rugs. Oh my gosh, I just loved this place. The prices aren’t amazing but they aren’t high either. Almost everything in here has a negotiable price.
Of course, there are also massive amounts of Turkish Delights, which are gummy-like candies. A must try while in Istanbul.
Below is a look at an outside shop near an entryway into the Grand Bazaar. Love.
Rug Shopping: Of course, we had to go rug shopping while in Turkey just for the experience. And, I am pretty sure that I am the ONLY person to stump the dealer! I knew 100% what I wanted (subtle light blues and creams). The rug dealer looked everywhere and tried to talk me into similiar rugs (not what I wanted) and we ended our shopping with him telling me that he didn’t have what I was looking for. I am kinda proud of stumping him – I am sure it doesn’t happen often 😉 Even though we didn’t come home with a rug, the experience was worth it.
Here is what to expect if you go rug shopping: First, they serve you Turkish tea. Next, they take you to a room FULL of rugs and try to become your new best friend so it’s harder to say no to them…unless they tell you they can’t find what you want! My advice: know what you want before you go into this room. It is overwhelming and the dealers are good at what they do: selling.
After spending hours in the Grand Bazaar, it was off to the mosques of Istanbul! But first: a quick stop for lunch – how cute is this place?
Sipping Turkish Tea in a traditional tea cup.
and eating the tradional bread which looks large but is actually full of air (similar to a pita once you dig in)…
…that is homemade 🙂
While eating, we saw the local delivery person bringing in the produce to restaurants. Talk about fresh.
After lunch, we headed to the Blue Mosque. This was free to enter and the line was not long – just be sure to check entry times for visitors as there are certain hours that it is closed for prayer.
A look at the courtyard:
Before prayer, Muslims must wash their feet and hands. There are water faucets located throughout the city for this reason.
When entering the Blue Mosque, you will be asked to remove your shoes. I would bring some socks, but know that the carpets are a bit damp because they wash them often.
As in traditional Muslim culture, all women visitors must wear a scarf inside the mosque. Make sure to bring your own, or you will need to use one provided.
The inside of the Blue Mosque is incredibly beautiful. Really, all the tile found throughout Istanbul is breathtaking.
However, there are hundreds of wires hanging from the ceiling holding the lights, which make it hard to get a good image of the tile-work. You can kind of see the wire lines in the image below (those lines aren’t tile lines but wires).
And directly out the doors of the Blue Mosque, across a courtyard, is Hagia Sophia – which was our next stop.
We walked through the courtyard, grabbed a quick tea from the local vendors and snapped some photos along the way.
Views of the Blue Mosque
And views of Hagia Sophia
Hagia Sophia:
Unlike the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia is not free to enter and there are super long entry lines. Visitors also do not need to take off their shoes or wear a scarf because this is now a museum and no longer a working mosque. Hagia Sophia is interesting because it was first a church, then a mosque and now a museum. It is stunning.
Isn’t design inspiration everywhere in Istanbul!?
Below, notice the wood frame. This is the backside of the circles seen in all corners of the museum that have religious inscriptions on them.
And here is uncovered art from when the museum was a church.
Of course, no post on Morning Kawa would be complete without a fabulous door 🙂
Both Hagia Sophia and The Blue Mosque are ‘must sees’ while in Istanbul.
Near the Blue Mosque is an obelisk that the Eastern Emperor Theodosius “shipped in” from Egypt (this means people had to carry it, right?) to set up in his hippodrome in Constantinople.
Also in the Hippodrome area is this stray dog 🙂 Know that Istanbul has a large stray dog and cat population, though the city takes care of the animals and most are tagged so they shouldn’t give you any trouble. I wanted to adopt them all!
Next stop: the Basilica Cistern, built in 532. The cistern was used to store water for the Great Palace and surrounding buildings. There were long lines to get in, but we opted to pay a bit extra for a “tour” to skip the line. The tour wasn’t really worth it but it was worth it to skip the 2 hour line.
Below, you can see two different carvings of Medusa found at two of the bases. No one knows why or how these carvings came to be in the cistern.
After the cistern, our day came to a close as we walked to a dinner by the sea. The view doesn’t get much better than this. Look at all those boats 🙂

…Day Two…

And on our second full day (technically, our third and last night), we were upgraded to a sea view hotel room! A big upgrade from our original room with no windows…. Here’s a look at our view 😉
We started our morning with a tour of Topkapi Palace. This was the primary residence of the Ottoman sultans for approximately 400 years of their 624-year reign. The sultans know luxury, let me tell you!
On our way to the palace, we ventured through the beautiful grounds.
And saw a building covered in stunning purple flowers 🙂
Here’s a look at the entrance to the palace. Also know that this place has very long, slow-moving lines. Be prepared.
Once inside, here is a look at the Palace from the front.
And the view from the front windows of the Palace… not bad!
Again, the tile in Istanbul makes me speechless!
I’m convinced the entire city radiates inspiration…
…from the delicate walls…
…to the intricate ceilings…
…and the detailed doors…
…this truly is a city of beauty.
After our Palace tour, we were off to see the city from a new view: the water. Fun fact: Did you know that Istanbul is half located in Europe and half in Asia, separated by the river? Well, now you do.
Following are some images from our boat tour.
Note that I would recommend doing a boat tour, however, do not sign up for one that picks everyone up from their hotels and goes to other places…that’s what we did and it was a huge waste of time. Instead, find one that you meet at a boat, take a few hour cruise down the Bosphorus and call it a day. 
Below is the football (aka soccer) team’s own island compound. It is hard to see but it has a pool and restaurant for team events. Pretty impressive.
Such a beautiful day for a boat ride 🙂
As I mentioned, we signed up for some terrible 1/2 day trip. But as part of this, we went to a cable car (really, it was a mini hill with a random cable car on it). It is so not worth going to… but we did get some good photos. In the image below, the right side of the river is Europe and the left side is Asia.
Here’s the “cable car” 🙂
After the terrible cable car experience, we went to the Spice Market (different than the Grand Bazaar but also worth going to). This place specializes in selling, you guessed it, spices!
We then had another fabulous meal and were back to Poland first thing the next morning. Overall, a great trip and I would love to go back sometime!
Some other advice:
  • Stay in the Sultanahmet area (that’s where we stayed and we were able to walk everywhere).
  • Make sure your hotel has thick walls or you will be awaken by the call the prayer that echos through the city 6 times a day, including a few times very early in the morning. However, the call to prayer is beautiful and adds to the atmosphere of the city 🙂
  • Istanbul is safe! If I am being honest, I was kinda nervous to visit Turkey. This is the first place I have been to that I needed to get a visa for entry and I had my doubts about feeling unsafe (thanks, Taken).  It really was an unnecessary worry! Upon arrival, I quickly felt comfortable. Granted, we stayed in the touristy areas but I never once felt unsafe. If you’re having doubts, as I did, know that this city is one well worth visiting and just as safe as any other place you may want to visit in Europe.
  • Try the ice cream! It is thick, rubbery, stretchy (yes, it stretches!) – and delicious.
I leave you with this image of a woman making a rug. I wish the reflection wasn’t so bad but I couldn’t help not post this. How amazing is this?!

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