Sunday, September 16, 2012

Istanbul, Turkey - Day 1

Istanbul was our absolute favorite port. We stayed overnight so we got to spend a day and a half there, which was our longest time at any port during the cruise. And we still wished we could have stayed much longer. It's definitely on our list of places to go back, and next time we visit we'd want to stay for about a week. The city is just so big and there is so much to do! Istanbul also had a very relaxing and peaceful atmosphere which was somewhat surprising for such a large city. And for how many people were there, it never felt crowded. We just loved it.

Coming into port: Blue Mosque on the left, Hagia Sophia on the right

Topkapi Palace

the Golden Horn

the Golden Horn

Turkish flag

As soon as we were allowed off the ship, we went straight to Topkapi Palace. We were in Istanbul on a Monday and Tuesday, and since the Palace is closed on Tuesdays, we only had a short window on Monday to visit. Research pays off! Several people on our cruise didn't realize this and missed it when they tried to go the next day. Although, we did miss the Harem as it was already closed by the time we got there - we'll just have to see it next time.

The Imperial Gate, going into the First Courtyard

Hagia Irene

Gate of Salutation, going into the Second Courtyard

Divan Tower

Second Courtyard

Second Courtyard

Second Courtyard

Gate of Felicity into the Third Courtyard

At the far end of the Fourth Courtyard within the Palace, there is a gorgeous view overlooking the Bosphorus Strait, which separates the European and Asian sides of Turkey. In the picture below you can (barely) see the Bosphorus Bridge in the background that connects the two continents - Europe is on the left and Asia is behind us, on the right.

Terrace Mosque

Baghdad Kiosk

Baghdad Kiosk

Baghdad Kiosk

Ramadan had just started before we got to Istanbul. It was pretty cool to see the city all decked out for it, and to see the call to prayer. We walked through the two main parks nearby: Sultan Ahmet Park (between the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque), and Mehmet Akif Ersoy Park (just one block over). By the time we were done exploring the Topkapi Palace, the sun was about to go down, meaning their fasting was done for the day. For some reason we were expecting a big celebration after the announcement, but even with all the people there it was almost pure silence - everyone was eating! As much food and as fast as they can. Duh. Thankfully even though a majority of the people there observe Ramadan, almost all restaurants were open for business during the day. But don't expect quick service at sundown - everyone stops whatever they are doing to inhale their food!

Mehmet Akif Ersoy Park

Mehmet Akif Ersoy Park

Sultan Ahmet Park

We ate dinner at Omar Restaurant & Cafe, near the parks. Supposedly there is a really great view of the city from the second story but it was completely full by the time we got there. At least the food was good enough to make up for our lack of view. And the inside of the restaurant was pretty cool as it was.

crazy lighting inside

local beer

Bo ate some really spicy food!

After dinner, we walked around some more. We just loved that it was a huge city without the typical big-city "feel". And everyone we met was so nice and friendly - it helps that they were all fluent in at least two languages (English and Turkish) and often spoke at least one or two other languages as well. It really made me wish I knew other languages better!

While walking around, we came across an outdoor hookah bar and hung out there for a few hours. Note: restaurants serve either hookahs or alcohol, but we didn't see any that served both, and most of them didn't serve either. Also note they typically refer to a hookah as a "nargile", "shisha", "waterpipe".

And to clarify, some of you were intrigued by our honeymoon pictures on facebook a few years ago, when we stopped in a hookah bar in Tunisia. Although you can put other smokable substances in a hookah, civilized establishments only serve flavored tobacco. Strawberry is our favorite. Bo enjoys an occasional cigar, but I am not a smoker at all (aside from our occasional visit to a hookah bar) - so I am rather pathetic at smoking even though the flavored tobacco is very smooth.

It is also very popular to play backgammon at the hookah bars there. Even though we have a board at home, we had to google the proper setup - every single game.

Once we finished our hookah, we headed back to the parks to see everything all lit up at night. We couldn't believe how many people were out and about, late into the night. It was an awesome night- the weather, the scenery, the people, everything. Such a great atmosphere. Couldn't ask for a better time or place to spend the night at port!

Hagia Sophia

Blue Mosque

Bosphorus Bridge

We loved our first day in Istanbul and we were really excited to have a full day there ahead of us....up next!


  1. These pictures were not what I expected! It is sooo beautiful. I love all the hanging lights in that restaurant too! You two r some pretty experienced travelers :)

    1. We felt the same way - Istanbul exceeded all of our expectations, by far!! We loved it so much.


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