Istanbul...Simply Amazing!

I'm baaaaccckkk!
I'm back from a wonderful vacation I have spent in Istanbul. It was my first time visiting this city, but definitely not my last. I am sure I will be going back again and again.

Christmas Day, we landed in Istanbul, and after getting the luggage and heading to the hotel, it was time to rest for a while, before going out and exploring the city.
We were staying in Sultanahmet, which is the old part of Istanbul where the most important historical monuments are. Our hotel, a beautiful and charming luxury boutique hotel, was within a few minutes walking distance from the historical sights and the tram station.

After resting for a few hours, we decided to take a walk around the area. We were stopped by waiters and restaurant managers on a busy touristic street, each inviting us to take a look at their menu. This happened quite a few times on the same street and I got a little frustrated. I've literally just arrived a few hours ago, and all I wanted was to walk around. I decided to take different streets, avoiding restaurants at all. Walking for a while, without a map, my internal GPS kicked in, and led us to Sultanahmet Square. A beautiful square with a fountain in the middle sat between the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque. There were so many people around, tourists and local, with vendors selling food from carts. Each cart had a different food item, and all looked delicious. We walked further away from the square to a busy street, which was also the tram line. So many shops and restaurants lined that street, but something caught my eye. It was a doner kebab shop that sold local Turkish sandwiches. And one cannot go to Turkey without at least trying a doner kebab sandwich. So this is what I did, I bought a sandwich, and it was delicious! I manged to finish it up within 2 minutes!
Walking back to the square, I saw a vendor selling some kind of Turkish crepes, so I decided to try the Nutella one, and it was really good. After the street food dinner, we went back to the hotel to rest, as tomorrow we were going sightseeing.

The following day, we managed to cover the Topkapi Palace, Archaeological Museum, Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque, all in one day. Each of those places had its own historical significance in Turkey, and each place was more beautiful than the other. When you step into the Topkapi Palace, it's like you've stepped into a magical land. The palace was so huge, and different buildings each served a certain purpose back during the time it was inhabited by the Turkish Sultans. Each room was beautifully decorated, and some rooms served as a museum that featured the actual clothing, weapons, jewelry (including a very huge beautiful sparking diamond) and furniture to name a few.
At night, we went to restaurant across the street from our hotel that served fish and local Turkish food. We managed to find a table outside on the terrace, with a beautiful view of the Golden Horn and the Bosphorus.

Next on our sightseeing list was Taksim, an area in the new part of Istanbul known for its shops, restaurants, bars and clubs. We took the tram to Taksim, and got out at the metro station by the famous Taksim Square. We walked down Istiklal street, a famous street in the area with fashion stores and restaurants lining its both sides. After walking for hours, we went to another area called Nisantasi (pronounced Nushantash), it was around 30-45 minute walk from Taksim Square. It is an upscale area, with high-end fashion stores and restaurants lining both sides. From Burberry, Louis Vuitton and Cartier to name a few. We took a break at LaDuree, one of my favorite macaron vendors in the world. We ordered tea and macarons, and just sat for a while, watching the people walk by. Later on, I happened to come across Jo Malone, the luxurious British fragrance store. After trying several perfumes, I finally settled on one, bought it then walked all the way back to the metro station. Lucky to have left then, as 5 minutes later the area erupted in protests over the corruption in the government, with the protesters clashing with the police, with fireworks and rubber bullets being fired at both. It's actually a funny story how I found out about the protests...after we got back to the hotel, we were waiting for my brother (who was working in Turkey at the moment for a few months) to come and spend the weekend with us. I was sitting on my bed, uploading pictures on Instagram. I posted a picture of the sunset over Taksim Square with a hash-tag #Taksim. I clicked on the hash-tag, just to see what people have posted about this beautiful area, when suddenly my phone was filled with pictures of the protests that were happening. I couldn't believe it!
Anyway, after my brother came, we went to one of the restaurants in Sultanahmet and had a lovely Turkish meal.

The next day was devoted to shopping. My brother needed a few items, so we went to Istinye Park, a huge mall in Istanbul with stores that sold affordable clothes to high-end designers. This was my heaven; and ended up going twice to Istinye Park. The first time, my brother wanted to shop, and his shopping habits are way different than mine. So the first time, I didn't buy a single thing, and we decided to come back another time when my brother went back to work. The second visit to Istinye Park, I ended up buying the entire mall..literally!
Later that night, I decided to treat my brother and mom to a wonderful dinner, so after dressing up for the night, we crossed the street to the Four Seasons Hotel, which was previously the Sultanahmet Jail before it was turned into a luxury hotel. The hotel was beautiful, with only 65 rooms and a wonderful restaurant in the courtyard. We had a great meal, several courses, with lovely Turkish wine and desserts.

So where else did we go?.... the Basilica Cistern, a beautiful underground cistern built in the 6th century; The Grand Bazaar, a huge covered market that sells everything, spanning 65 streets with multiple entrances and exists; and last but not least, the Dolmabahce Palace, a gorgeous huge palace that was built for Sultan Abdulmecid on the Bosphorus. The minute you step inside, you feel the luxury of the place, the beautiful architecture, hand painted ceilings, magnificent crystal chandeliers and the beautiful views of the Bosphorus and the gardens surrounding the palace.

Our last night in Istanbul was New Year's Eve, and after reading about the celebrations in Istanbul and the best fireworks show from the Bosphorus, we just had to go an celebrate there. We went to Ortakoy, an area under the Bosphorus bridge filled with restaurants, bars and clubs. Hundreds of people were already there, and when it was close to midnight, everyone moved closer to the water and looked up to the sky. The clock struck midnight, my camera was ready and .... nothing! I waited for a few minutes and still no fireworks from the bridge...it was 12:05, 12:10 then 12:15 and everyone was looking around wondering where are the fireworks...we could see a few in the distance, nothing too spectacular. Everyone was disappointed...this was not how I imagined New Year's celebrations...and definitely not what I read about. Nevertheless, it was a nice night, people were walking around, loud music coming from the clubs, people lighting flying lanterns and sending them up in the air, the party boats circled around the water infront of us at midnight, honking their horns and people cheering from the decks.

It was a beautiful vacation, in an amazing place...Turkey is a wonderful country with a lot to offer. Rich historical places, amazing food and lovely people.

Thank you Istanbul for having us! I will definitely be back :)


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