How I Saw Istanbul in 3 Days – Day 3

Since it was our last day in Istanbul, we knew we had to make the most of it. So we caught the Tram near our hotel and headed to the Sultanahmet area of the city. I loved this area because the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia and Basilica Cistern were all so close to each other. By the way, Istanbul’s public transportation system is awesome. It seems like there’s a way to get anywhere you want to go in the city, which is great for minimizing costs.

Our first stop was to the Blue Mosque.  Since we were now mosque-visiting pros, we knew to take our shoes off and cover our heads.  The inside, in a word, was beautiful.

Our second stop was to the Hagia Sophia.  It was built as a Christian temple, and then became a mosque for several hundred years.  In 1935, it became a museum showcasing some its Christianity and Islam heritage.

We were approached by a tour guide outside who offered to tour us around at a discounted rate.  He had an official license issued by Turkey.  I recommend doing this if the person seems reputable and legitimate. He was able to give us little anecdotes about the museum and it was much more interesting than listening to a guide on tape.

After we finished touring the Hagia Sophia, the guide offered to take us to the Basilica Cistern, an underground water storage area. Before being converted to a cistern, a Basilica stood in its place. It was surprisingly serene down there. The Medusa heads, one on its side and one upside down, were the most fascinating pieces in the Cistern.  It seems like there would be some interesting story about why they’re there, but our guide said they needed something to hold up the columns and the heads were the perfect size. Oh well.

While in Istanbul for 3 days, we were able to experience much of Turkish culture. But I left feeling almost a little sad because there was still so much to see and do. I didn’t make it to the Topkapi or Dolmabahçe Palaces, the Hippodrome and I didn’t cruise on the Bosphorus, and much, much more, but there’s no possible way you can do everything in just 3 short days. Believe me, I tried. It just gives me a reason to return sooner rather than later!

Until next time Istanbul,


How I Saw Istanbul in 3 Days – Day 2

After enjoying a festive evening and kicking off my birthday celebration, I was ready to experience more of Istanbul.  We headed to the Cemberlitas Hammam (Hammam means Turkish bath), which was a MUST on my to-do list while in Istanbul.  After receiving a few twitter recommendations and doing some research, Cemberlitas seemed like one of the best hammams in Istanbul to go to.

We hiked back through the Spice Market and Grand Bazaar where we found Cemberlitas in between a jewelry store and a food shop. Built in 1584, it’s one of the oldest bath houses in Istanbul.  We walked in, paid for our services and were escorted to a locker room area where we were instructed to change into our robes, and then go into the sauna.  As soon as the doors opened, I felt like I stepped right into the pages of my 8th grade history book (which I actually said aloud).  It looked just like I imagined!  I could instantly visualize people lounging around waiting to be bathed hundreds of years ago.  It almost felt like I was a part of history.  I wish I had some pictures to share, but no cameras were allowed.

My friends and I laid across the marble slab, waiting for one of the attendees to scrub us down.  It may sound a little weird but it was actually quite ah-mazing.  The attendee (my little Turkish grandmother, as I like to think of her in my head) came over to me and started scrubbing me down with a handheld scrubbing pad.  And when I say she scrubbed…she SCRUBBED.  She was very nice and asked my name and where I was from.  She even started humming a little Turkish tune.  After my scrub down, she replenished my skin with soap and escorted me over to the basin, where she proceeded to wash away the suds.  Then she told me to go into the hot tub area.  Can you imagine being scrubbed from head to toe and then sitting in a hot tub?  HEAVEN.  After I relaxed in the hot tub for a bit, I waited for my oil massage.  The massage lady literally had techniques I had never experienced in American spas.  She was very friendly and made me feel so relaxed.  After my massage, I sat quietly and drank my Turkish tea, reflecting on what an amazing experience I just had.  At some point in their lives, I wish everyone could visit a hammam.  Your life will be changed forever!

Later that evening, we headed to Suada – the island between two continents (Asia and Europe).  We made reservations for Suda Kebap, a kebab restaurant where the food was served on small plates.  The owner came over and sat with us for a bit, of course asking us where we were from and why we were in Istanbul.  Some people found it hard to believe we were there to simply vacation. He showed us a book of all the celebrities who had been to Suada, so it felt great to be in the company of many well-known celebrities (including Oprah and Gayle!) .

My friends told the owner it was my birthday so he said we must go to Reina, a night club he also owned. We had only heard good things about Reina so we knew we had to see what the hype was about.  He told us it was across the water and that he’d have his boat escort us there.  Our faces lit up like Christmas morning! How often do you take a boat to the club in Istanbul from an island between two continents?!

We arrived at the club and it was AMAZING. Since it was my birthday, the owner hooked us up with a standing table, where the waiters brought us popcorn and almonds to snack on, as well as champagne to toast at midnight.  It was so much fun!  They were playing club mixes of today’s hottest songs and we danced the night away.   It seemed so surreal.  We met people from all around the world, including some other Americans.  My friend Joi-Marie over at the The Fab Empire wrote a post about what DC nightclubs can learn from Reina and she’s totally right.  Everyone was there to have a great time and enjoy the night.  It couldn’t have been better.

My 30th birthday was probably the most fun birthday I’ve ever had in my life.  Istanbul will now always have a special place in my heart.  And to think, I still had one more day left!