Day 2 – Istanbul

Turkish breakfast, included in the price of our room, is amazing:

How to see old Istanbul in 1 day:

Start early at the Egyptian spice market, a true feast for the senses.  (Photos are in Keith’s camera, so they’ll have to wait.). The hawkers were refreshingly honest: “I want your money”.

From there, stop by the train station where the Orient Express used to end, then walk up the hill to Topkapı Palace.  If you’re there on a Tuesday, the palace will be closed, but you can still tour two archeological museums on the palace grounds:

From Topkapı Palace, continue up the hill to Sultanahmet Square, with the Blue Mosque, Aya Sofya and Basilica Cistern.  

The Blue Mosque was certainly beautiful:

…but the Aya Sofya (Hagia Sophia) is breathtaking.  Originally built as an Othodox church by Emperor Justinian in 537 AD, it was converted to a mosque when the Ottomans conquered Constantinople in 1453. After the founding of the Turkish Republic, it was converted to a museum in 1930.

 Due to the size, my photos don’t do it justice, but it is stunning both up close and from a distance.

This was taken from the balcony; the size of the people below helps provide the scale:

If seeing the Aya Sofya isn’t yet on your bucket list, it should be!

After a quick stop for Turkish coffee:

…go underground to the Basilica Cistern, another product of Emperor Justinian’s reign in the 6th century. The cistern was part of an extensive water system, acting as a reservoir for water brought via aqueduct from 12 miles away.

The cistern held up to 27 million gallons of water in an underground chamber supported by columns recycled from earlier Roman ruins. (Yes, recycling was a thing in the 6th century.)

 It was cool and dark, so my photos don’t capture it well, but here’s one of the pillars that rests on a recycled, upside down stone head of Medusa:

Eat lunch overlooking the Golden Horn, and enjoy watching the very busy ferry traffic and even busier car traffic:

You’ll observe that lane markings and traffic signals in Istanbul are merely impudent suggestions.  After a short rest, take a 1-1/2 hour boat tour on the Bosphorous, 

up along the European side past Dolmabahçe Palace (administrative center of the Ottoman empire from 1856-1887 & 1904-1922):

and the Rumelian Castle (fortress), built by Sultan Mehmet II in 1452 before he conquered Constantinople, and later used to control boat traffic along the Bosphorous:

and back along the Asian side before returning to the dock next to the Galata bridge.

Then walk across the Galata bridge (across the Golden Horn):

 and hike up to Galata Tower, shown in the middle below (taking your life in your hands as you cross busy streets with maniac drivers):

Enjoy İskender kebab at a small doner shop along İstiklal Avenue,

ogle the mountains of delicacies in shop windows,

walk back across the Galata Bridge to your hotel and crash!

For better photos, check out Jen’s blog at

Day 1 -Istanbul

We had a blissfully uneventful flight, leaving SFO at 6:30pm Sunday, flying for 13 hours, and arriving in Istanbul at 5:30pm Monday.  Turkish Airlines does food right, even in the cheap seats:

Interestingly, in addition to the usual airline magazine, entertainment listings and shopping catalog (all of which were in both Turkish and English), there was also a Turkish-only publication chronicling the coup attempt of July 15 and the widespread opposition to the coup by citizens. (Later edit: On the return flight back to the US, all copies of this publication were in English, so I guess that they re-stock depending on the destination of the flight.)

As we were waiting for our driver, we noticed that the pillar that we were standing by had a number of bullet holes (most of which were taped over with silver tape, to make them less obvious), reminders of the June 28 attack at the airport:

On our drive from the airport to the hotel, we noticed many large Turkish flags draping buildings:

Onur and Jen mentioned that the flags were a new development since their last visit — a showing of post-July 15 patriotism, similar to the flags that sprouted everywhere in the U.S. after 9/11.

On the way from the airport to the hotel, our driver casually pointed out Byzantine ruins along the way (in Turkish). I highly recommend traveling with a bilingual Turkish son-in-law!

After checking in to our hotel & freshening up, we set out on foot to get dinner at a kebab restaurant recommended by the driver.

Within the second block, a person carrying a shoeshine box passed us, dropping his brush in front of Keith as he passed us.  Thankfully, having spent lots of time reading about scams against tourists on the Turkey Travel Planner website, I recognized the shoe-shine scam and we elected not to pick up the bait.

We passed the Yeni Camı (New Mosque) during the call to evening prayers:

(You get a good idea of the historical context of Istanbul when a mosque that was built in the 1660s is the “new” one.)

We had a delicious dinner at the kebab restaurant overlooking the mosque built by Suleyman the Magnificent and the Bosphorous Strait:

I’m definitely going to have to learn how to make muhamara — a delicious red pepper and walnut spread, eaten with fresh-baked pita.  I had ayran as well – a slightly salty yogurt-based drink.  It was quite interesting.

We’re looking forward to walking our feet off tomorrow!



On our way

The journey begins…

We began our long-anticipated trip to Turkey this morning.  As proof that our registration with the U.S. State Department STEP (Smart Traveler Enrollment Program) is working, we received the following email on our way to the airport:

Demonstrations and rallies are expected this evening from 5 PM onward in the vicinity of Galatasaray/Tarlabasi /Tunel/Istiklal/Taksim Square mourning the victims of last night’s bomb attack in Gaziantep. Similar and spontaneous gatherings may occur with little or no warning elsewhere throughout Istanbul. The U.S. Consulate General reminds U.S. citizens that demonstrations and large events intended to be peaceful can turn confrontational.  We advise U.S. citizens to monitor local media, avoid large political gatherings, protests, and demonstrations, and exercise caution if you are in the vicinity. 

Fortunately, we’re planning to spend little time in Istanbul.  And given our introverted natures, avoiding crowds comes quite naturally.

I had to giggle at the art installation at PDX that was based on the airport carpet:

…but after touring all 4 SFO terminals, I have a deeper appreciation for the attention that PDX gives to the carpet designs.

When I originally made our reservations, I did not include our middle names, which appear on our passports.  After doing some reading, I learned that this might cause our tickets to be rejected at check-in.  The only solution was to cancel the tickets and buy new ones (unfortunately at a higher price). Turkish Airlines issued a refund for the original tickets very promptly.

I wasn’t sure that the new tickets were really required — it was hard to get a definitive answer — but I decided that the additional cost was the price for peace of mind.  Well, as we were checking in at the Turkish Airlines counter, the couple next to us were being told that they could not board today, because their tickets and passports did not match.  They had to buy new tickets, too. Expensive lesson learned.