Cole and I wanted to book a trip to celebrate the graduation of his MBA. He found this amazing deal on Turkish Airlines to Vietnam, a place that had been on our bucket list forever, and we knew we had to book it. The flight also included a long 36 hour layover in Istanbul, which we were so excited about as it’s also been our list to visit.
We arrived Tuesday afternoon and after checking into our hotel, promptly headed down the pedestrian street of Isiktal Cd. We popped into some of the shops, drooling over the baklava and other delicious treats on display. We ate dinner at Asmali Cavit, a restaurant that had been recommended by a local for their mezze and kofte! After some great food and Turkish wine, we continued towards Galata Tower, a former prison that sits in the middle of the city. We grabbed drinks at the rooftop bar at the Anemon Hotel, which offered some beautiful views of the tower and town.
The following day, we got up early as I had made a reservation for my first hamam. Unfortunately, the place I found and really liked had different operating times for men and women. Cole went for a run while I was scrubbed, soaped and pampered for an hour at the beautiful Kilic Ali Pasa. After a relaxing morning at the spa, I met back up with Cole and we crossed over the river to explore the Old Town. We started at the Grand Bazaar which was much more structured and civilized than we were expecting. We also checked out some local lighting shops as I’ve been eyeing a Turkish chandelier since we lived in Amsterdam (there was a beautiful shop on the street we lived on that had sold these stunning chandeliers). We unfortunately decided it wasn’t worth the hassle of buying a lamp and then travelling to 3 different airports with it.
We split a gyro wrap at this random place that we passed by that was bustling with locals on their lunch break, which ended up being one of our favorite meals in the city (I wish I had written down the name of the little restaurant stand). We then headed over the mosques to check out Haga Sofia and Blue Mosque, which were both stunning. The Blue Mosque was undergoing renovations, but it was still beautiful, especially the details and colors in the ceiling. Haga Sofia was really interesting to see – it its started off as a church and then was converted to a mosque, so it’s neat to see the juxtaposition of Jesus paintings next to Arabic writing.
We then made our way down to the Spice Bazaar before hopping on a boat to check out the Asian side of Istanbul! The short boat ride was beautiful and offered some great views overlooking various mosques dotting the Istanbul landscape. We walked around Uskudar for a little bit but there wasn’t too much to do as a lot of the waterfront was under construction, but nevertheless, it was cool to see the fisherman casting their rods and just enjoying the river views.
We hopped back on our ferry and got off at Karakoy so we could head back up to Galata to check out some of the little boutiques we passed by the evening before. We picked up a small painting for our travel wall and grabbed drinks in the square overlooking the tower. We had made reservations at Ali Okabasi, one of our favorite restaurants in Amsterdam that originally started in Istanbul. They only have 4 locations in Europe and we were excited to try their original location. The food was absolutely delicious – highly recommend it if you ever find yourself in Istanbul (or Amsterdam for that matter!). The best part was their rooftop bar, which overlooked the river and city. We were lucky enough to be there at sunset and it was the perfect end to our short trip to Istanbul.
We headed to the airport early as we had access to the amazing Turkish Airways lounge that we’d read so much about – it’s split across multiple levels, has a pool table, movie room, barista 😍 and so much more. We hung out for a couple hours checking emails and working a bit before hopping on our flight to Vietnam, where we begun our South East Asia adventure!