All the things they say about travel is true. It does indeed leave you breathless and in awe of the world beyond the comfort of your four walls; and the more you keep moving across oceans and continents, the more it will make you restless with the mundane. Wanderlust is a real thing…and I’ve got it bad!
After getting acquainted with the city of Istanbul through the windows of our uber on our drive to our hotel (read more here) , I was ready to shower, change and hit the streets running. But, travelling as a family, though it has it’s many perks – like built in personal photographers that double up as kids – also means some level of compromise. You get many kinds of travellers out there, and none of my kids inherited my penchant for covering as much ground as possible in 24 hours – so I had to give in to the majority rule to rest up and start fresh the next morning.
Now, if you know me, you’d know I spent an entire 3 weeks from the conception of this trip, scouring the internet and making a note of every possible place to visit and every corner of Istanbul to explore. I was ready to go from the minute we landed. The rest of my family? Not so much! Add to that, that I’m generally the only one up with the sun and ready to go; I knew that covering maximum ground with my lazy bunch in tow would be near impossible and so it’s left me with a few places to still tick off my list and plenty of reasons to go back. Also, as much as my structured approach gets us out the door to see all the must see touristy spots; their laid back approach has us discovering places that were never on the list at all, and so thanks to them , there’s so many nooks and crannies that we accidentally stumbled upon that I would never have found if I had just stuck to the internet guide. Moral of the story? We all bring something to the table that makes our travel experience unique!
Here’s what we covered during our stay :
Day 1 – Cruise Along the Bosphorous
Being our first full day in Istanbul, we decided to explore Istanbul on foot and headed towards the more well-known touristy spots which was supposed to be a mere 10 minute walk from our hotel. Instead, we took a couple of wrong turns – even though there are no wrong turns in Istanbul because every turn leads you to somewhere beautiful – walked through the bustling market place, shopped, tried asking for directions and got lost some more, passed some quieter and equally charming areas, landed up at the Bosphorous Strait and ended up doing a cruise along the famous Bosphorus. It was really wonderful seeing (and photographing ) all the landmarks I’ve been Googling for so long . A cruise along the strait was a really inexpensive way to see some the top sites and was a real visual treat. The fresh ocean breeze also provided a welcoming reprieve from the heat.
Day 2 – Exploring Old City
So we set out once again to explore a few of the popular touristy sites on foot (and in the right direction this time), but instead we got lost along the old ruins, buildings and cobbled streets of Old City Istanbul. There’s a lot to see in these parts – things they don’t tell you on the internet – and even though we didn’t tick anything off our list of things to do and places to see; we were seeing Istanbul in all it’s glory and it was beyond magnificent! If you have enough time in the city, I would strongly advise exploring the city this way…every turn leads to something breathtakingly beautiful. It has really retained so much of an old worldly charm that is so difficult to put into words.
Day 3 – Topkapi Palace
This was by far one of the highlights of our whole trip! After two failed attempts walking to the ancient sites, we decided to take an uber, instead of tire ourselves walking in the relentless heat. I don’t actually know how my husband does it, but we also bagged ourselves a tour guide who took us down the road less travelled, showed us the most spectacular views we would never have otherwise seen, and helped us skip the loooooong queues in the scorching heat and gave us a personal tour of Topkapi Palace. Topkapi was utterly mesmerising! So much grandness and splendour in one place, it’s unreal…and a real glimpse of an old worldly Turkish lifestyle and royal opulence. Another major highlight over here was all the Islamic artefacts. Man…I was blown away by it all. Topkapi is HUGE -and it takes quite some time to cover the place in it’s entirety. Add to that the heat and humidity, means that on this day we were too hot and tired to visit any of the other sites in the square.
Day 4 – Big Bus Tour
What I’ve learnt from my time travelling, is that one of the best ways to cover as much ground in a new city, is taking one of their City “hop on hop off” bus tours. Also, that if you want to cover a lot of ground, you need to leave early – but my family is not very good at doing this! Our tour started in Sultanahmet Square and if I must count the amount of times we were close to Sultanahmet square without actually seeing Sultanahmet Square, you’d realise what a hopeless bunch of travellers we all are. Anyway…I was happy doing the audio tour, with only one must see hop off destination – Dolmabahce Palace. This tour was a bit on the pricey side for a family of five, but it was definitely a worthwhile way to see a lot of the city in a single day.
If I must describe this place, I’d go as far as describing it as Turkish opulence at it’s best! This whole palace was over the top extravagant and in a lot of parts had me feeling like I was walking the set of the Beauty and the Beast movie. Dolmabahce is another visual treat that is rather indescribable! But the true memories of this place involves a rather raucous time with my family and being caught in one of the most epic thunderstorms. It really was one of our most memorable days of our entire trip.
Day 5 – The Grand Bazaar
I don’t know why, but I’ve been blessed with some of the worst shopping partner family members in the history of shopping partner family members! It’s not even funny. I was completely on my own on this one. The Grand Bazaar and the market place just outside the Grand Bazaar is a real treat though. The only difficulty is deciding on what to purchase. Haggling is almost a necessity and the outside market is generally cheaper than the Grand Bazaar itself. We dedicated a day to the Grand Bazaar and it’s outskirts and if you have enough time and money (and a decent shopping buddy), then you can really get carried away in a place like this. Needless to say, I have buyers regret of all things I wanted but didn’t buy!
Day 6 – Sultanahmet Square & The Blue Mosque
Sultanahmet Square is probably the most iconic places of Istanbul as most of the historic sites are within walking distance of each other. It’s surreal to think of how much history exists in this place and how old all of these buildings really are. If you make an early start, you can avoid the long queues and easily cover a lot of ground in one day.
The Blue Mosque is often sold as the ultimate piece of architecture in Istanbul and is the Turkish people’s pride and joy. I don’t know if it’s because we left this site off for last, but I found it a little underwhelming. There was a bit of maintenance work being done so we probably didn’t experience it in all its glory, but it was beautiful nonetheless. Also, I warned my family about dressing appropriately for this visit, but the menfolk didn’t bother listening, so they landed up wearing these fancy yellow skirts!
One of a few places I photographed a lot, but didn’t actually get to see. We always arrived when the queues were long and the heat was at its most unbearable. We still got to appreciate this ancient piece of architecture from the outside almost daily… And it definitely gives me one more reason to go back!
Experiencing a Hamam
My one regret is not being brave enough to try out the traditional Hamam. Look, I’ve heard some horror stories about what goes on in this place and it left me petrified! They offered the full experience at our hotels, and both my husband and son went and enjoyed it thoroughly. I, on the other hand, had a bit of stage fright with the amount of me that would have to be exposed. After hearing how much my husband and son enjoyed it, I do regret not getting over myself in time so that I could experience it too…
ABOUT THIS VIDEO: I promised my family I wouldn’t have a repeat of Thailand by annoying the heck out of them with my incessant need for capturing EVERYTHING! I still came home with a couple of hundred pictures and some video clips that I put together to make this video 🙂
Istanbul, you were absolutely spectacular! And I can only hope to return one day to explore all the parts of you I didn’t yet get to see.
Thanks for reading,