Thursday, September 12, 2013

From one side of the Middle East to the other...

Istanbul, Turkey!
Istanbul wasn't a destination we had dreams of visiting.  Basically, another traveler friend told us Turkish Airlines was running great deals so we jumped on it..then did our research to see what we were in for.
Istanbul is such a unique city in that it is sitting on two continents, Europe and Asia, which are divided by the Bosphorus River.  It's the largest city in the Middle East and is full of fascinating history and beautiful Ottoman architecture.  Another fabulous thing was Istanbul gave us a break from the insane heat of Dubai so we were able to enjoy temps in the 70's-80's. 
We started our tour with a breathtaking cruise down the Bosphorus River.  Our boat lined the European side heading up and then the Asian side heading back so we could get great views of both.  Both sides were full of beautiful mosques with their minarets beaming up from all the other buildings and bright red Turkish flags flying all over.  We also visited the historical Aya Sofya, a once mosque turned Catholic Church turned museum, and the Blue Mosque which I had to cover my hair for.  Topaki Palace was another hot spot we toured which I didn't know much about going into, but it turned out to be a highlight for us.  We actually saw Moses' staff!!  I was very suspicious if it was the real deal so I had to do research, and supposedly, it's actually the staff of Moses! Whoa!  It was supposed to have been passed through generations and was brought to the Topaki Palace from Egypt in the early 1500's.  Istanbul is full of amazing history, and I feel like we barely touched the surface.
It's also full of great food and people.  We ate lots of fresh fruit and vegetables and found a great spicy tomato dip, aicili ezme, that we ordered at just about every meal.  One thing we noticed about the people was that they seem so connected to each other.  Women and women and men and men link arms to walk which you rarely see in America, especially between men.  It impressed us that they don't have that invisible wall up and link arms with friends while walking.  How sweet that was to see!  And lastly, I mention the Grand Bazaar because it was my favorite thing to do.  We don't typically shop while vacationing, but we do try to get a few local goods to bring back, and the Grand Bazaar was the place to look!  I believe Joshua found it covered 61 streets which we only saw a very small portion of.  But we got our share of shopping for evil eye things, lamps, and embroidery for the house!
Istanbul is also a very walkable city if you're there touring the historical sites.  Everything from our hotel was within walking distance.  We took no other modes of transportation besides the river cruise, and we took a ferry to Kadikoy on the Asia side for a rooftop lunch.  Speaking of, the city is full of amazing views everywhere and has tons of rooftop terraces on top of restaurants to take in the views which we fully took advantage of!  The streets are also full of unique bohemian-looking cafes with men gathering for tea and conversation.  Turkish tea was everywhere!  That was the thing to do, gather around the table in the afternoon for tea and sweets with friends.  And at night, tea and shisha which is known as hookah to us. 
Overall, we both loved Istanbul- the city we didn't know much about but, luckily, bought tickets to anyway.

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