Istanbul, Turkey

STOP 15 | Day 41 to 42 |

The next leg of our journey was France to celebrate le mariage of J&D so we decided to break up the travel with a 36 hour layover in Istanbul, Turkey. We found that Turkish Airlines offered reasonably priced airfares in getting from Kuala Lumpur to Europe, so we booked a red-eye to Istanbul. Once we arrived at 6am we soon realized there wasn’t any WiFi available at the airport to figure out the best of mode of transport into the city, however after speaking with some locals we decided to try the metro. This was quite the experience with our backpacks during the Istanbul early morning rush hour – to say we were crammed in like sardines would be an understatement! After a few annoyed looks we made it to our hotel, Arden City Hotel, which was conveniently located in Sultanahmet (walking distance to many of key tourist attractions). Luckily our room was ready and breakfast was available so we could freshen up from our red-eye flight and plan our day.

Our first stop of the day was to the Galata Tower for panoramic views of the city. We found a few recommendations to check out Konak Cafe, which is near the tower and offers similar views without the queues and all the other tourists. We took this advice and enjoyed our first Turkish coffee and the views from Konak Cafe.  From the cafe we walked down to Galata Bridge which is lined with fishermen on both sides and has restaurants along the bottom of the bridge beside the pedestrian walkways. Crossing over you can get a great view of New Mosque, but it was unfortunately covered in scaffolding. We then wander through the Spice Bazaar, which has about 80+ stores selling Turkish delight, teas, spices, jewelry and dried fruits/nuts – sampling more than our fair share of Turkish delight!

A short distance from the Spice Bazaar is the Grand Bazaar, which required some Columbus navigation skills in making your way through the maze of shop filled alley ways. The Grand Bazaar is absolutely breathtaking and takes the No.1 spot as one of the largest and oldest covered markets in the world. You can easily get lost in its 4,000+ shops and you soon realize there is a method to the madness, as you move from household goods to children clothes to electronics. The historical architecture makes it picturesque with stone piers and vaulted rooms. As it was around lunchtime there was the bustle of food and Turkish tea being delivered to the shop keepers. We stopped at a small restaurant for some traditional Turkish kebabs (unfortunately we have no idea where in the Bazaar it was).

Later that afternoon we visited the Blue Mosque and on route J was approached numerous times by overly friendly locals attempting to sell him a rug or carpet. Oddly it wasn’t until we reached this touristy area that we were approached on a constant basis! As the Blue Mosque continues to function as a place of worship we waited in the inner courtyard for the afternoon prayers to finish so we could enter. Inside we were amazed with the detailing of the hand painted blue tiles throughout the interior. We also visited the Basilica Cistern, as featured in the Dan Brown movie Inferno and James Bond movie From Russia with Love and snacked on delicious baklava!

The next day we headed to Taksim Square, which is known as a tourist destination with many shopping and dining options. We headed to Mynda Manti ve Ev Yemekleri to try Manti, tiny lamb stuffed dumplings topped with caramel used tomato sauce, brown butter sauce and garlicky yogurt sauce, which was delicious! We then had to stop for a donair, as we wandered along Istiklal Avenue (main shopping street) back to our hotel. Although it was a short visit we managed to check out some of the key highlights in the city, maybe next time we come back J can make that rug purchase!

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