Thursday, April 10, 2014

istanbul, not constantinople

blue mosque
hagia sophia

I know, I know -- cheesy song title reference.
But what can I say? This song was in my head the entire time we were in Istanbul.
What an amazing city. Impossible to take in in just one day, but from our first impressions it's a maze of light, color, flavor, spice, history, mystery and spirit.

We had never traveled anywhere like this before, and were really intimidated by the sights and the food and the language. But it's all incredible, truly, and we had to dive in with arms wide open since we had such a short stay there. The people were so friendly and the baklava, so yum

treats at hafiz mustafa

I would love for this blog to morph into a fashion/travel blog eventually, and this feels like a good time to dive into the travel portion, laying out some highlights of our recent March trip. 
Of course, style still plays a significant part -- packing for a two-week trip to Europe is one of my biggest challenges yet. Layering and re-wearing and packing light and being's a lot of planning!
I've never been a great packer, and this trip just reiterated the fact that I still need a lot of practice in travel-packing -- I always bring way more than I actually need. 
Bring twice as much money, half the suitcase weight. Always.

grand bazaar

rustem pasha mosque

Since we didn't have a lot of time in Istanbul, I don't have a lot of experience or advice for those wishing to visit there for longer than one day -- but I would say the must-sees that we experienced are:

- The Blue Mosque
The Hagia Sophia
- The Grand Bazaar
- The Spice Bazaar (Misir Carsisi)
- Rustem Pasha Mosque

These five sites are all within walking distance to each other, and you can make a nice little loop to get a feel for the city. Get a good map, which you'll most likely be able to find at your hotel. We stayed at the Amiral Palace hotel which was a really charming spot. It was very affordable, too, and included a continental breakfast of Turkish tea, fruit, nuts, olives, etc. as well as the standard eggs/cereals/pastries.
The host was extremely friendly, but beware of the tourist traps. We fell for one, so we can vouch! He put us on a shuttle to a sketchy little restaurant area, where it quickly became clear there was an arrangement between the hotels and that particular restaurant strip. Mediocre, touristy, expensive. Skip all that and have a plan!
Tour the city on your own. Hit all the big sights, and stop at any cafe and have kebabs and baklava and Turkish tea or coffee...
You can also do like we did and finish your day at Hamdi Restaurant, right on the water. It has a stunning terrace level view. Some claim it's a bit touristy, but you can't beat the view.

hamdi restaurant

We didn't actually get to go inside Hagia Sophia or Blue Mosque, because we arrived after they were closed on our only night, and the next day we only had until a little after lunchtime to tour the city before our flight to Rome. We chose to spend that time in the Grand Bazaar instead of waiting in lines to see the mosques -- it was a tough choice, but I'm pretty confident we'll be back to Turkey to see those mosques!

We couldn't pass up the bazaars, as souvenir-driven as I am. We bought loose teas, Turkish bowls, a gorgeous beaded lantern, scarves, glass tea cups and was definitely the highlight for us, holding hands and pointing to everything, eyes popping and mouths dropping as we drank it all in.

Traveling can sometimes be stressful, especially with a tight time limit. I think it's really important to communicate expectations and must-sees before you even leave, so no one is surprised or disappointed.
Dusty and I have traveled enough together that we're getting better at functioning in new environments, and knowing what our priorities are (food and shopping!).

If you've ever been to Turkey, I'd love to know your thoughts and your favorite sights/eats!
Hopefully we'll be returning someday soon.

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