Phase Three: Istanbul

Today was too incredible to wait to write about because I fear I will forget the quirky stuff. I ran this morning along the sea and loved it. Lots of kittens watched me go by and a few fellow runners/walkers. Then breakfast downstairs provided by the hotel, which consisted of breads, jams, fruits, meats, and cheeses. Yum! Our plan for the day was to take the tram to the farthest point and then wander our way back with many stops along the way.

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First up was Dolmabahce Palace, which was absolutely stunning (and above). We took an English tour through and marveled at the crystal staircase, the bed where Sultan Ataturk died (the last resident of the palace in 1938), and the largest chandelier in Europe which weighs 4.5 tons! On the palace grounds we were checking out the caged birds when the keeper invited us inside the original building and gave us a private tour to see the canaries and parrots. He was an adorable older gentleman and insisted on kissing our cheeks goodbye, lol. For the record, our greeter at the airport want to friend us on Facebook, our cab driver gave us his number, and after dinner tonight a guy proposed to me… Seems like I live in the wrong country 😉

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We then set off on foot down Istiklal Street, which is full of shops and has a cute trolley that runs along it. When we finally got back to the water, we crossed the Golden Horn via the Galata Bridge. The view from the bridge is above. It’s particularly fun because tons of fishermen operate on either side and underneath the bridge are a slew of restaurants. Once across on the top, we doubled-back underneath to one and had fish for lunch. From there we journeyed into the spice market. It was a little intense but there were so many colorful, strong spices! We shopped around and sampled Turkish delight, smelled dried teas, and tasted spices. Katie bought a bunch and I thought about it, but we both agree we need to return before we leave!

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From there we dropped bags, grabbed raincoats, and headed up to the Hagia Sophia. I was SO excited because I’ve taught about this building for years and know all about Emperor Justinian and the reconstruction of this place. And it’s huge. And has mosaics. And is incredible. The main chamber is shown above and a preserved, “original” mosaic is below. I say it that way because this is the third version of this structure that has been built, but this one still dates back to the mid-500s. We were allowed to tour on our own here and there were enough English signs and histories to know what we were looking at and to learn about the building. I was stunned to see the gorgeous mosaics, archways, stained glass windows, etc. throughout the building and was happy to have unlimited time to explore.

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We then spent some time wandering around the major mosques as the sun set. I tried the panorama feature on my iPhone below to capture both the Hagia Sophia (right) and the Blue Mosque (left), which we will go in another day. Then it was time to get off our feet, so we paused at Fuego’s for lentil soup (Katie) and hummus (Karen). Both were really good and the perfect light dinner we needed. We were then treated to complimentary apple tea. It was much better (aka less “tea-like”) for me but I still struggle with hot drinks. It took me approximately 30 minutes to finish the 8 oz drink. 27 of those were spent waiting for it to cool, but I still managed to burn my lips and tongue.

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Back into the streets to see the mosques at night and then it was time to wind down at one more suggested restaurant for dessert! This time we split walnut baklava and a mixed plate of Turkish delight. I didn’t love the marshmallow one, and most of these had pistachios. My favorite was with pomegranate, but I also really liked the walnut and honey. These treats are addictive so we try to split them and only get them once a day… Try. That’s way too much for now, but I hope you enjoyed your day as much as we enjoyed ours!

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