Istanbul- Mediterranean Cruise
This is a continuation of trip reports from our Mediterranean Cruise. The other trip reports listed at the bottom.
Istanbul is one of my favorite cities to visit. It is exotic and there is so much history to discover. Since I have already been I wanted to give Travelmista the best overview of the city during the short time our cruise ship was docked in port. So we hit all the major tourist sites but on the top of my list was for him to experience a Turkish Bath. So prior to going I did a little research and found that while most Hamans (aka Turkish Bath) are divided by gender there was one for co-ed couples called Suleymaniye Haman. Bingo this was the only way I was going to get Travelmista to go was to go with me. But before I get ahead of myself we started with all the touristy spots.
We arrive in the morning and decided to walk over the Galata Bridge from where the cruise boats. We followed the Rick Steves’ Golden Horn Walk. On the bridge you will see fishermen with the catch of the day from the Bosporus Strait. On the opposite side of the bridge is the historic old town Istanbul. There is a uphill climb so you might need to take a taxi but the morning traffic can also be gridlock. Once we made it to the top of the hill, our first stop was at the Hagia Sophia (or Aya Sophia) which is Constantinople’s Great Church and later converted to an Ottoman Mosque and now a museum. This is a must see and better to see earlier in the day before the tourist crowd.
Next we made our way over to the Basilica Cistern which to the left of Hagia Sophia. It is a vast sixth-century subterranean water reservoir built with recycled Roman columns. To enter make sure you have Turkish Lira. They don’t take credit cards or other currency; one of the few places that doesn’t in Turkey. In the way back of the Cistern are the Medusa heads that prop up short columns. Make sure you check these out as they were recycled from earlier Roman structures. Talk about Reuse! The Cistern is well preserved since forgotten for a number of years. It is also dramatically dimly lit, which makes for great photos.
Next we made our way over to the Blue Mosque which is the other big church near Hagia Sophia. It is named for its brightly colored tiles and is a fully functioning Mosque. When we were there it had a long line the curved its way around the outside courtyard. They require that you were pants and the women cover there heads so make sure you remember a scarf. You also must take your shoes off to enter. The claim to fame for this Mosque is that it has six minarets that rivaled the mosque in Mecca.
Outside the Blue Mosque on the left hand side is the Hippodrome. It was once the Roman chariot racetrack but today it is a park like square that includes Egyptian Obelisk, Column of Constantine and the German Fountain.
We decided to skip Topkapi Palace as we wanted to make sure to have enough time to visit the Turkish Bath. So we made our way to the Grand Bazaar. We were told by multiple people to watch out for pick pockets as there is lot to distract you when shopping. We did not have any issues and found everyone extremely nice. Once again we followed Rick Steves’ Grand Bazaar Walk. We found it very helpful to see some of the hidden gems of the market. The GB is made up of streets and alleys but is more like a maze and is easy to get lost. We found the best jewelry shops and carpet shops down a dead-end alley called Zincirli Han. The carpet shop was called Osmon’s Carpet Shop. We didn’t buy any carpets but if we were buying a carpet again we would go here as they were so nice even though they knew we already purchased a carpet. They were so proud that Rick Steves’ visited two months ago they told us we “Just missed him”. We did not have enough time here but would love to come back and just get lost in the back alleys.
After a full day we were hot and sweaty and ready for the Turkish Bath. We did a little research ahead of time and found out most Turkish Baths are separated by gender. Already knowing Travelmista was not thrilled about his experience I wanted him to be with me. So I found a couples only bath called Suleymaniye Haman. You can read more about it on TripAdvisor. Please note this is only for couples not for singles. They do accept reservations online as you don’t have to wait for your turn if you have a reservation. Because we had no idea when we would arrive we decided to just wait. We met two nice couples that ended up in the bath with us. One was from Netherlands and the other from the States. You could tell the guys did not want to be there but we had a good laugh about it. I loved the experience as there were massages and a bubble bath part to the massage. What is not to love? Travelmista was a little mix on his review as I think they were a little harder with his massage.
Once we finished at the Hammam we changed and continued to the Spice market. It was similar to the Grand Bazaar but smaller and they sold spices and Turkish delight. Travelmista enjoyed the Turkish delight. I purchased several small bowls and gifts. We then made our way back to the cruise boat. We walk across the bridge and saw the same fisherman from the morning. By the time we made it back it was getting late we had hoped to spend some time at an internet café to check in but we were worried so we ended up running for the boat. We made it back to the terminal and no one was there so we started to run! But we were late but did not miss the boat like the other four people did that day.
Istanbul is one of my favorite cities to visit. I love the exotic feel of the city but with its modern conveniences. This is the second time I have been back and everyone I meet is extremely helpful and welcoming. Istanbul is a must go back place to visit!
Stay tuned for more trip reports- Mediterranean Cruise
Naples, Pompeii, Sorrentto- Mediterranean Cruise
Rome- Mediterranean Cruise
Cinque Terra, Pisa- Mediterranean Cruise
Toulon- Mediterranean Cruise
Barcelona- Mediterranean Cruise