Istanbul

0-thelowdown-1Istanbul has always been on my wish list and March is the perfect time to go. When roundtrip airfare to one of my dream destinations is only $600, you have to book! Had such a memorable and inspiring annual adventure with my sister. Amazing food, people, sights, sounds…Istanbul is so full of life and hope to explore even more the next time I’m fortunate enough to visit this beautiful country.

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Caught a flight on JetBlue to meet up with my sister in NYC before our direct flight on Turkish Airlines to Istanbul. Check their site regularly and follow them on social media for great deals!

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Got a great deal at the Mama Shelter Istanbul, right from their website. Sometimes the best deals are direct from the source. When you book in advance you get 20% off, plus if you’re nice they will upgrade you during off season. Loved the free wi-fi, central location and the restaurant/bar scene is a huge plus when you feel like staying in. All the staff were extremely friendly and helpful also.

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After a full day of flying, we arrived at our hotel, Mama Shelter Istanbul. We are pretty exhausted, but it was nice to get a layout of the city on our ride from the airport. We order some pizza at the restaurant and tuck in for a big morning.

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Up early enough to hear the first call the prayer of the day. I definitely didn’t forget where I was when I woke up. Some nice breakfast at the hotel and then off to the Blue Mosque. Uber is great in Istanbul and I highly recommend it outside of walking for a much more pleasant experience than the taxis. The Blue Mosque is on the other side of the city, and crossing the bridge for the first time in daylight is such a pleasure. The Historical Center is highly concentrated and we spend the rest of the day on foot. Absolutely breathtaking. Next we head across the plaza to the Hagia Sophia–the main reason I have wanted to visit Istanbul all these years.  And it doesn’t disappoint! You could spend hours here, just be sure to check hours for visiting. It is closed during certain days and times for religious reasons. Next, we head to the Four Seasons Sultanhamet for a nice afternoon tea and a stroll in the garden. It is right next to the center, and a beautiful retreat from all the tourists. We wander for a bit in the surrounding area before winding up at the Grand Bazaar. I was surprised how nice and organized everything is. After going to bazaars in India and Morocco, this one seemed more like an indoor mall. The best deals are outside the Grand Bazaar, but it’s a wonderful experience to see something so old. Many of the stalls have been in the same family for multiple generations. Get lost and wander! And don’t forget that everything is negotiable in Istanbul. Hop in our Uber back to the hotel for dinner!

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We start the second day walking from our hotel to the Galata Tower for panoramic views of the city across the Bosphorus. It’s a nice walk down the Istiklal Caddesi, the main shopping street on the European side.  You can even hop on the famous trolley that goes up and down the street. We then continue our walk down to the Galata Bridge, and check out the fish market nearby. They have really nice outdoor restaurants with some of the freshest fish I have ever tasted, Japan included. We wander the stalls and end up in some very fancy Turkish Delight and candy shops. We walk around the area and find some nice shops for textiles and home decor. Wandering is the best part of traveling for me, for sure. Head back to the hotel to freshen up before dinner at Leb-i Derya. Wonderful seafood with an unbeatable view across the city to the Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque. 

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We start the day walking towards Taksim Square to spend the morning at the Dolmabahce Palace. They have very well-organized tours, unfortunately no pictures are allowed inside so you will either have to sneak them or just remember what you saw. The grounds are lovely and it’s a treat for anyone who loves history and architecture. We continue our walk to the Four Seasons Bosphorus for some much needed spa time. Beautiful spa with a nice pool to relax from the cold day outside for a few hours. We head back to the hotel and then out for a night of fun. Zuma is a nice outpost for some sushi and cocktails. We then head to La Viola Cafe for some shisha and good times. Beyoglu has so many cool cafes and bars, that you can drop into for a night out. 

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We decide to venture out for breakfast and end up at nearby Heirloom. The place is so cute and don’t forget to try their traditional coffee and Turkish tea. Breakfast here is so beautiful with all the different plates and extras, it’s hard not to take a photo. It’s a bit chilly out, but sunny so we decide to take an afternoon cruise around the Bosphorus. You have to see Istanbul from the water, no matter how much time you have to explore. It’s remarkable how beautiful Istanbul is from all perspectives, especially on one of these ferries. We shop a bit more on our walk back to the hotel, before heading for a night cap at the new Soho House Istanbul.

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So sad that it’s our last full day, but we head out early to make the most of it! We start the day in the Historical Center to visit the Topkapi Palace and the famous tile work. Make sure to get here super early, because they only allow a certain number of people in at a time and it’s one of the top attractions. Nearby is the underground Basilica Cistern–a very different experience and so close in proximity. We hurry back near the Hagia Sophia for our traditional Turkish Hammam experience at the Ayasofya Hammam.  Such a wonderful experience. I can’t even really describe it, but don’t miss it! You will feel like a sultan for the day. Opt for the massage afterwards also. We wander to a few more shops that we missed the previous day at the Bazaar and head back to the nightlife at Beyoglu for our last night. 

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Wake up early for our flight and head out. Thanks Istanbul, hope to be back soon and explore more of Turkey next time!

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Istanbul is the only transcontinental city in the world located on two continents, Europe and Asia. With a population of 13.9 million, Istanbul is one of the largest urban agglomerations in Europe and is the 2nd largest city in the world by population within city limits.

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Istanbul is surrounded by sea, with the Bosphorus cutting right through it. The European bank of the Bosphorus is dotted by palaces and parks while the Asian bank houses lovely residential neighbourhoods.

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In its thousands of years of history, it has been the capital of three great empires – Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman. However the modern day capital of Turkey is Ankara.

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The Grand Bazaar in operation since 1461, is one of the oldest and largest covered markets in the world with 60 streets and 5,000 shops. It attracts between 250,000 and 400,000 visitors daily.

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