After catching a 6 am flight from Bucharest, we landed in Istanbul an hour later, ready to conquer the city (in celebration of my 30th birthday!).
Research is one of the most, if not THE most, important pre-travel plans to me. I searched tons of websites to make the most of my visit in Istanbul. Not to mention we made sure we stayed in a part of town (Galata-Beyoglu) that was central to many of the main sites, which cut down on travel time and transportation costs. After briefly settling in and freshening up, we hit the streets of Istanbul with a tentative plan in mind. While I do recommend researching to make sure you see everything you want to see, I do think it’s important to leave room for flexibility. After all, you never know what could come up and you want to leave some room for spontaneity and adventure! So here’s how I spent Day 1:
Our first stop was the Galata Tower. When it was built in 1348, it was the tallest building in Constantinople (now Istanbul). We took the elevator to the top and made our way around the tower to get views of each side of the city. I definitely recommend going to the top of the tower because you get to see the entire city of Istanbul in one fell swoop.
After Galata Tower, we crossed the Galata Bridge, walked through the Spice Market and went to the Suleymaniye Mosque. It was quite the uphill hike but we made it.
What we didn’t realize was the prayer was from 1 pm – 1:45 so we had to wait about 15 minutes before entering. Of course we had to cover our heads and make sure the rest of our bodies were appropriately covered before entering the mosque. If you didn’t have a scarf or long skirt on, they provided cover ups for you.
After the mosque, we were starving and knew we had to try the infamous fish sandwiches from the boats on the Bosphorus. Honestly, and I may be in the minority here, but I didn’t think the sandwiches were all that great. Lots of bread for the small fish inside and hardly had any condiments on it. But it is an Istanbul tradition and I was happy to take part.
We were refreshed and headed back through the Spice Market after lunch (believe me, you need energy to walk through the Spice Market due to the mass amounts of people and vendors trying to sell you their wares). It can be overwhelming but my suggestion is to survey the market first, check out prices, and then go back to buy what you want after you’ve made sure you’ve gotten a good deal.
The Spice Market is connected to the Grand Bazaar, and after trekking up the seemingly never-ending hills, we finally found it. It contained many of the same things within the Spice Market but it was a little more organized and less chaotic.
For dinner, we headed to “Pepo’s Cafe,” which was closing but they took enough pity on us and opened back up due to lack of other dining options in the Galata-Beyoglu area. The food was delicious and they brought out a birthday brownie at the stroke of midnight! I also made my friends try Raki, which has a licorice taste and was quite good!
I knew that if Day 1 was adventure, Day 2 would be even better.