Bon Voyage: Istanbul, Turkey

With a four-day weekend and a four-year anniversary on the horizon, the Doc and I had a good excuse to plan a trip a bit further afield.  I’ve had Turkey at the top of my travel list for some time so we set our compass east and enjoyed several days exploring Istanbul and Cappadocia over the Easter break.

Istanbul is a magnificent city set along the shores of the Bosphorus, which splits the city between Europe and Asia.  The historic center, Sultanahmet, and the trendy Beyoglu area are both on the European side where we spent most of our time.

Busy, romantic, and beautiful, Istanbul has a vibrant culture that reflects both a deeply rooted conservative past and a modern, progressive look to the future.

IMG_0865Looking towards Suleymani Mosque from Galata Bridge

IMG_0743New Mosque

IMG_0734Fish sandwiches by Eminonu bridge

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IMG_0742Fishermen on Galata Bridge

IMG_0803the Blue Mosque–named for the tiles that adorn the walls on the inside

IMG_0805Blue Mosque

IMG_0846Courtyard of Blue Mosque

IMG_0762In front of the Aya Sofya–cathedral completed in 537 turned mosque in 1453 turned museum in 1935

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IMG_0789Tilework at Topkapi Palace (built by Mehmet the Conquerer in 1453)

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IMG_0796Windows outside the Harem at Topkapi Palace

IMG_0799Midday call to prayer–beautiful to hear and fascinating to watch

IMG_0822Guilhane Park, next to Topkapi Palace and a welcome retreat from the crowds 

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IMG_0827The Grand Bazaar–over 2000 shops, not for the faint of heart

IMG_0828Can’t leave Turkey without eating a fair share of Turkish Delights

IMG_0831Outside the Spice Bazaar

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IMG_0843Spice Bazaar

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Sleep:  We stayed at the Sirkeci Mansion, which is in a fantastic location in the Sultanahmet area.  Service was genuine, rooms were comfortable, and we really enjoyed being in the historic part of town.  Many people stay across the river in Beyoglu, which is convenient to nightlife and many amazing restaurants.  It’s win-win, but I think if you are there for a short period of time and it’s your first visit, I’d recommend staying in Sultanahmet.

Eat:  We only had one bad meal in Turkey at tourist trap near the Blue Mosque.  Epic failure, but I suppose 1 out of 15 is forgiveable. Everywhere else, I would highly recommend.

For lunch or dinner in Sultanahmet, go to Balikci Sabahattin.  Fresh fish, very good mezes, and great service. Make a booking to sit in the courtyard/garden area and note that Google Maps is wrong on the address by a few blocks so don’t be afraid to ask for directions.

Lunch at Hamdi near the Spice Bazaar and Galata Bridge/Eminonu.  Known for their kebabs.  Ask for a table on the third floor terrace which offers excellent views of the New Mosque and the Bosphorus.

Dinner at Meze by Lemon Tree.  Teeny, charming restaurant serving modern Turkish cuisine across from the Pera Palace hotel in Beyoglu. Essential to book ahead and make sure to try several of the freshly made mezes and must get the lamb if you are a carnivore–the Doc thought it was some of the best he’s ever had.  Everything was delicious!

Dinner at Ulus29.  Set on a hillside in Ulus, north of town, with incredible views of the Bosphorus and city. Upscale restaurant and bar, filled with dressed-to-the-nines Turkish clientele.  The modern Turkish food and experience lived up to the price tag, and we would recommend with a group or for a date.

Things to Note:

*Get the museum pass!  It is 85 TL and gives you access to Topkapi Palace (including the Harem), Hagia Sophia, and the Archeological Museum, as well as a few other places we didn’t go.  The BEST part is that it let’s you skip all the lines, which can be huge during spring and summer.  Ask your hotel to get one for you.

*Take a wrap/scarf with you as you need to cover you hair in all the mosques.  It’s nice to have socks as well because shoes aren’t allowed inside the mosques.  Blue Mosque doesn’t open until 2:30 on Fridays.

*The 90-minute Tinyurl Bosphorus cruise leaves every hour, costs 12 TL, and is a great way to get a good perspective of the size and layout of the city.  We went early and ate fresh fish sandwiches along the water beforehand.

*Taxis are abundant but traffic is terrible.  We walked almost everywhere, and though we never took it, heard the tram was super convenient and easy to take.

*The airport is about 30 minutes from Sultanahmet in a taxi and costs 50 TL each way.  Get cash from an ATM at the airport, you’ll need it for tips, taxis, and many restaurants.

As much as we loved Istanbul, Cappadocia was incredible.  Post to come later this week…

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Spring has Sprung

Spring has sprung in Londontown!  While it still isn’t quite warm enough to pack up every coat, the sun has definitely been making a strong appearance.  We are officially on British Summer Time, with the days getting longer and general uplift in the mood of all Londoners.  How can you help it with scenes like this surrounding you:

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Lucy is thoroughly enjoying the nice weather and is constantly on the lookout for a good picnic to share or ice cream eating toddler to take advantage of.

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She’s also managed to make some new friends…

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We’ve also enjoyed outside time with friends–celebrating several who ran the London Marathon at Gordon’s Wine Bar, sharing London with a friend from the US, and picnicking in the neighborhood gardens.

IMG_0711Maybe we’ll try next year?!?!  (wishful thinking)

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IMG_1773I imagine we’ll be doing this a lot more over the coming months.

I’ve loved the seasonality of London, but now that spring has arrived, I realize how much I’ve missed sunlight outside the working hours, flowers, leafy trees, and just generally being outside without a down coat (or rain coat) on.  And it sure makes long walks with this one a lot more fun, despite her boredom with me…

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Happy Easter to everyone.  With a double bank holiday (Friday and Monday off) in London, there are sure to be plenty of people outside enjoying the weather.  We’re heading to Turkey to take advantage of the extra time-off and will hopefully see some sun there as well!