Four days in Istanbul
Istanbul is, I think, what people think of when they think of Turkey. But as our time in Cappadocia proved, Turkey is much more than its biggest city (which is home to more than 14 million people, by the way).
The contrast between the remote expanses of Cappadocia and the stuffed, bustling Istanbul was stark but many things were also the same: the friendliness of the people, the reverence for history and the abundance of eye-catching somethings. I loved the way the city of Istanbul has preserved its past — centuries-old buildings and old city walls are remarkably well-kept — while updating for modern times with excellent public transit and other amenities.
We stayed in the Sultanahmet neighborhood, the historic peninsula on Istanbul's European side that is home to treasures such as the Hagia Sofia, Blue Mosque, Grand Bazaar, Basilica Cistern and other sites and experiences. The area was Disney-level touristy, but the aforementioned trams and ferries made it easy to explore more of the city's European and Asian sprawl.
Several people have asked me whether Turkey or Istanbul reminded me of Pakistan, or other Asian cities. It doesn't. It's more like Rome or even Florence, with small cobbled streets meeting large thoroughfares, all set against the backdrop of impossibly old and beautiful architectural relics.
Here are some of my favorite moments from our four days in Istanbul. I'll be following up later with a food diary of our trip. Stay tuned!
We started by walking north from the Old City across Galata Bridge.
Even the non-famous mosques are breathtakingly detailed.
Flower sellers lit up a gloomy evening near Taksim Square, a popular site for political rallies and protests.
An early start at the Hagia Sofia, which went from church to mosque to museum.
I got on my tiptoes to peek through a random window at Hagia Sofia and was rewarded with this view of the Blue Mosque.
Sulemaniye Mosque, imposing and utterly beautiful.
Basilica Cistern. Amazing history. Don't look in the water if you don't like large, grey fish.
The Blue Mosque at dusk.
Don't forget to look up.
We stumbled upon the Karakoy fish market, and scored a seat at a popular seafood restaurant right behind it. Hooray for letting ourselves get lost!
Gulhane Park is a tulip-lover's dream in April. Then again, so is all of Istanbul.
Set aside an entire morning for Topkapi Palace and don't skip the Harem. You won't regret it.
Pro tip: Skip the overpriced Bosphorus cruise and hop a ferry to Kadikoy (Asian side) for 2-ish lira instead!
Kadikoy has streets packed with restaurants, usually small spaces with ample sidewalk eating. Each spot is more tempting than the last.
Looking back at the Old City at dusk.
Timing our ferry back for sunset allowed us an unforgettable ride.
Galata Tower, erected in 528 A.D., offers great 360 views of Istanbul.
On Friday night, we took the tram to Taksim Square, then walked down Istiklal Ave., which reminded me of SoHo-meets-Disney, complete with a trolley car carting a live band up and down the stretch.
Tulips and a last view of the Blue Mosque before heading home. Bittersweet.