Getting There…First Class
Our flight to Istanbul was the first time either one of us had been on a first class international flight where the seats leaned back completely flat. It was actually comical trying to figure out how to work all of the controls for the eight different positions of the seats. We landed in London had a quick connection to Istanbul and there we were, in the city of minarets and mosques.
We checked in to the Ottoman Park Hotel in the old part of Istabul, which was a decent hotel, but did have a pretty steep climb to get to the sights. If we were to come back to Istanbul we would probably stay somewhere that was a little closer to things.
Mosques, Minarets, and Our Favorite Place
The first evening we arrived in Istabul we had a nice relaxing night in to recover from the 30 hours of traveling.
The next morning we woke up bright and early and enjoyed an interesting breakfast on the terrace of the hotel which had an excellent view.
After breakfast we made the trek up the hill and our first stop was the Hagia Sofia. It was a beautiful place, the only downside was there was so much restoration going on, that a lot of the mosaics were covered up and blocked off.
Next we headed over to the Topkapi Palace, which took a couple hours to walk through, including the harem, and we still didn't see the entire thing. At this point, the heat of the day began to become a little overwhelming so we decided to head back to the hotel for a while to cool off and get out from under the sun that was beating down on us all morning.
We opted to have a more relaxing afternoon, or so we thought. We decided to head over to one of the oldest hamams in Istanbul (Turkish Spa). Boy were we in for an experience. When we arrived they ask you to remove your shoes and give you a pair of the clunkiest wooden sandals to wear that were almost nearly impossible to walk in. They then took us upstairs to a tiny changing room where they gave Scott a little cloth to wrap around his waist, and I was given a cloth biki top and the most awkward, unflattering shorts to wear. After changing they took us down to an extremely hot room where you sit on a giant marble slab in the center of the room that was over a hundred degrees. We sat in the room for about 30 minutes waiting for our treatment. It was miserably hot to be in there that long and the only way to cool off was to pour a bowl of cold water over your head from a little faucet that was at the other end of the room. Finally they came to take us back for our massage. First they had us sit on the ground and they dump really cold water over our heads, which was refreshing after sitting in the heat. Next they took a really rough loofah exfoliating all of our limbs, and torso. We then hopped up on the two marble tables in the room where they cover you completely in bubbles! So many bubbles! They then continued with a massage that included folding us up like pretzles and slapping us on the back and legs about every two minutes. At this point the heat in the room was so overwhelming I was on the verge of passing out. I think the masseur noticed by the look on my face, so he proceeded by pouring bowl after bowl of cold water over me. Then they sat us back down on the ground, covered our entire heads with coconut shampoo and washed our heads including our faces and once again came the bowls of cold water. We were then ushered out of the room where they had us change out of the soaking awkward clothes and wrapped us up in Turkish towels and were seated in a slightly cooler room where they offered us beverages. We both gulped down our drinks as fast as possible and then went back to our changing rooms to get back into our normal clothes so we could leave. We weren't sure if it was a relaxing experience, but it did take us the rest of the day to get our body temperatures back down.
After our hamam experience, we walked up and down the crumbling streets looking for a restaurant to eat at and came across a little local market. We wandered through the market we finally found a kebab place to eat and had some lunch.
The next day was a little better of an experience. We walked to the bazaar, which had so many little shops. However, compared to the souks of Marrakech it seemed more like a little shopping mall. After the bazaar we walked through the spice market, we crossed the Galata bridge, then walked all the way up to Taksim square.
The street leading to Taksim is considered the “new” part of Istanbul, however it was still pretty dingy. However, it was kind of charming with the little red trolley that carts people up and down the shop lined streets. We wandered off the main drag to find a little place for lunch called Durumzade. We had heard about the little kebab place on Anthony Bourdain's show. The durum kebabs were delicious!
Finally, we arrived a Taksim square which seemed pretty peaceful considering the protests that had occured just the night before. There was still some evidence of the police armored vehicles and barriers, but no protests during the day.
We opted to take the trolley back down and the tram as close as we could get to the hotel to avoid trekking through the heat.
In the evening we went to watch the whirling dervishes, which was fun for about the first five minutes, and then almost put us to sleep. After the show, we sat at a street side kebab restaurant. We sat at a long table with a bunch of locals that sat patiently waiting for the sun to go down to break their fast for Ramadan. The moment the time to eat rolled around the narrow streets became a little festival of feasting.
Our last morning in Istanbul we went to the Blue Mosque. We were handed little plastic bags to put our shoes in when we entered and all the women had to cover their heads. The tile work in the mosque was impressive, however we thought the mosque was much prettier from the outside.
After the mosque we headed down the street to the Cistern Basilica. Out of all of the sights we had seen in Istanbul, this underground hidden gem was our favorite. It was cool and quiet and did not have nearly the crowds as the other sights. The reflection of the pillars off of the water was beautiful and we enjoyed watching all of the fish swimming around the pilars.
We then headed back to our hotel to check out and take a cab to the airport. Overall, we would say Istanbul was an “interesting” experience.
Durams and Doners!!
Duram kebabs vs. Doner kebabs? That was the challenge of our time in Istanbul. Anyone you ask in Istanbul “where can I get the best kebab?” you will get a different answer. The hotel we stayed at recommended a place called Hamdi when we asked where to get a kebab. We were expecting the meat filled sandwich when we ordered the kebab, but instead we were served a plate of meat with veg. None the less, it was delicious, but not our favorite.
We tried a place called Durumzade for lunch one day…and it was a winner! It was a small little joint a couple blocks off of the main drag in the “new” town. We had heard about it on Anthony Bourdain's show. They freshly prepared our food as we ordered it. The meat was skewered with a hint of spiciness and served on a warm tortilla like bread that had been used to soak up all of the fat and juices from the meat. This was amazing!!! We would highly recommend this place to anyone who likes delicious hole in the wall joints.
We also tried another Durum kebab at a little place right near the whirling dervish show. Scott enjoyed his kebab, however there was a little too much fat on the meat for my taste.
The verdict for us was the durum kebab at Durumzade by far was the best meal we ate in Turkey…Second up was the delicious baklava we picked up at a little shop on the way back to our hotel one night.