Istanbul, Part 1

Happy Thursday everyone! I’m finally ready to start sharing some photos from our vacation to Turkey and Israel! 
Our trip itself was about 13 days; we flew out of Portland on Sunday November 11th and then got back on Friday November 23rd. (And the reason we flew out of Portland? We didn’t want to leave Lola at a kennel for two weeks so we drove to Oregon so Cam’s parents could watch her for us!) Over the course of our two week trip, we took a ton of pictures. I was trying to decide how to break them up and share them, but I just figure I’ll share them little by little until I get through them all…so bear with me! (and I won’t be sharing them all in a row as I’ve got some fun holiday/giveaway posts planned for the next couple of weeks as well!) Also, I’m a super detailed person (people at work always joke that my emails I send are like short novels…ha!) so just sharing a couple photos isn’t really an option. I will be sharing a lot of them (though not nearly all of them that we took, that would be cray cray) in chronological order as that’s the only way my brain knows how to process things 🙂

So here we go! 
We flew out of Portland (which is definitely my favorite US airport by the way!) on an afternoon flight direct to Amsterdam…aka the longest flight ever.

Goodbye USA! {Also excuse the no makeup…ha!}
Layover in Amsterdam…their airport is seriously like a mall and I was loving all the Christmas decorations!
In Amsterdam, we took a connecting flight to Istanbul and arrived late afternoon. At the airport, you have to get purchase a visa before going through passport control, so we had to wait in those two lines. (Also, the visa costs $20/person US and you need to have that in cash. So if you ever find yourself flying to Turkey make sure you’ve got cash when you get off the plane!) 
To get to our hotel from the airport, we ended up taking the public transportation (we heard that the cabs were a major rip-off/traffic was
crazy) which was super easy. We only had to make one transfer, and the stop we got off at was right near our hotel. We stayed at the Arden Park hotel, which was clean and modern while still being very reasonably priced. Istanbul is a very large city that’s actually split between Europe and Asia (connected by bridge), so there are lots of different areas that we didn’t get a chance to see. The nice thing about our hotel was that it was located in the Sultanahmet
district, also known as the Old City where most of the historic sights are located. It was a two-minute walk from the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque, and very close to many of the other big attractions. While this was definitely a touristy area to stay, being we had a short time in the city (three days) it was really nice to be close to to a lot of the main sights that we wanted to see. 

It’s hard to see but the light in the room featured Istanbul’s distinctive skyline
Cam checking out the room
After checking into our hotel, we took a little time to figure out how to get our phones to be able to make calls using the Wifi. Suprisingly, basically all of the hotels/restaurants we went to in Istanbul (and Israel) had free wifi so we were able to use the internet on our phones (hence the overload of Instagram photos!). This allowed us to be able to make calls home for free using Google Voice paired with an app called Talkatone, and it worked out great. 
After getting settled in our room/calling our families, it was time to eat! 
Our hotel concierge offered to call us a shuttle to take us down to the Galata Bridge area where they said there were a lot of seafood restaurants. This area is very touristy (think Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco) and of course our shuttle driver took us to a specific restaurant on the bridge that was also very touristy, but luckily it ended up being really good! (I don’t remember the specific name of the restaurant, but I think all the restaurants in this area are kind of the same) We got to sit outside by the water, and even though it was a little chilly there were heaters to keep you warm (hence the red glow in these photos). Our waiter brought out a big cart with a bunch of different types of seafood and then you got to choose what you’d like. Then once you selected the type of fish you wanted, they brought out the actual fish they were going to serve you and weighed it right at your table to tell you what the cost would be. Definitely an interesting experience!

What type of fish to choose? {Also, thanks to the John McCain lookalike for photobombing}
We ended up choosing some type of red fish that they made into this casserole thing for us to share (I don’t remember the exact name of the dish) and it ended up being really good…despite the intense looking fish head they stuck in there for decoration!
Galata Bridge at night–It’s kind of hard to see in this picture but the bridge is two levels. Underneath are the restaurants and on top there are guys fishing off of the bridge…I took some better pictures in the daytime 🙂
On our way back to the hotel we stopped to buy some Turkish delight!
Turkish delight (on the top row) comes in all different color/flavors/with all sorts of things in it. It’s got a chewy consistency (kind of like a mix between a marshmallow and a gummy bear) and I enjoyed trying it. There was also lots of delicious baklava everywhere too!
Tuesday morning, we at breakfast at our hotel…of course I had to take pics of the food.

Lots of savory choices…
…along with some sweets!
Luckily the weather while we were in Istanbul was great (high 50s-mid 60s) and we were able to walk pretty much everywhere.
The street our hotel was on
Tour groups waiting in line for the Hagia Sophia in the morning
The Blue Mosque is directly across from the Hagia Sophia, separated by a little park
Our first sight we went to was the Basilica Cistern; you can actually go underneath the city and view the ancient cisterns from the Byzantine period which was really cool. I’d highly recommend it as a quick thing to see in Istanbul, but skip the audio tour because it was kind of a waste.

Entrance to the cistern
The ancient columns are all lit up and it creates such a neat effect when you’re down there!
One of the columns had carvings of peacock feathers so I needed a picture, obviously
Column base carved with the head of Medusa
After the Basilica Cistern, we went to check out the Hagia Sophia.

The Hagia Sophia was built as an Eastern Orthodox cathedral, then it was converted into a mosque, and then later turned into a museum, which is what it is today. It’s such a beautiful building with an interesting history–a must see if you are in Istanbul! 

The inside is ginormous
The chandeliers were massive!
Very interesting to see both Christian and Islamic art together since the structure has served as both a church and a mosque
There are cats EVERYWHERE in Istanbul (more on that later…) and this little guy was making himself right at home in the middle of everything. We were laughing that he might as well have had a little hat in front of him for tips because we literally saw 10 different kids go up and take pictures with him while he just sat there…ha!
There were so many beautiful details everywhere
View from the second floor
The mosaic was breathtaking
View of the Blue Mosque out the window on the second floor
After the Hagia Sofia, we wandered over to the Hippodrome which is basically just a big square that was the center of social life back in Byzantine times when the city was called Constantinople. The neat thing to see was this giant obelisk that actually dates back to Egyptian times!

There were seriously cats running around everywhere throughout the city and for the most part they all seemed to be fairly clean, well fed, and very friendly. I am not a cat person and I even thought they were cute…ha! I said I wasn’t going to pet them though because I didn’t want to get fleas or something…I bent down to take a picture next to this orange cat and the little thing just jumped right in my lap! So after that, the no petting cats rule was out the window and I basically tried to make every cat I saw come sit in my lap. Ha.

Me being a crazy cat lady
When I say there were cats everywhere, I’m not kidding
This is one of my favorite pictures of the trip, these cats totally look like they are part of a bad-ass street gang…ha.
Next stop for us on Tuesday was the Grand Bazaar! I knew this was one of the main things to see in Istanbul and it was definitely an experience. What surprised me is that many of the shops were very established and actually had stores inside the Grand Bazaar. People were selling a wide variety of items, although a lot of the different little shops had the same things–lamps, pottery, and rugs. It’s a little intense because as you walk buy all the shop owners are trying to entice you to come in their shops–“My friend, I make you good price!”

Cam took this picture of a midget, idk why…ha.
Me, 5 minutes in, already overwhelmed by the sensory overload
They eat a lot of meat in Turkey, so we got kebabs inside the Grand Bazaar for lunch
We thought about getting one of these lamps but ended up deciding against it…they’re beautiful though!
Istanbul is definitely a busy city with lots of people everywhere. The streets are actually quite hilly, yet another thing that reminded us of San Francisco!

A popular item they sell on the street are these bagel like things covered in sesame seeds–we got one but it was just ok

After the Grand Bazaar, we wandered over to the Spice Bazaar. This market had a lot of interesting foods and it was a lot of fun to walk around and take it all in!

So we were able to knock out some of the main sights right away on our first day…but Istanbul still had a lot more to see! I’ll be sharing more pictures again soon, but I think this is enough for today! Have a fabulous afternoon everyone! Xoxo

PS: Be sure to enter the awesome giveaway I have going on from the adorable Etsy shop Blue Bird Bride! Someone will win a $20 giftcard that they can put towards a gorgeous necklace like this: 
Check out Tuesday’s post for the details!
I’ll announce the winner on Monday so hurry up and enter, you don’t want to miss out! 🙂
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