Traveling is something I love to do. With a family at home that I hate to be away from, there is never enough time to do enough of it.
The event was held at the stunningly beautiful Four Seasons Bosphorus. Sadly I was not staying here as I would have loved to explore it more.
There was no way I could fly across the world to this land of legend and not get to see at least a little bit of it so I tacked on a single extra day to explore.
Needless to say, twenty four hours is not enough time to see any city, let alone the one I was going to tackle. With only one day in Istanbul, I decided that I’d book a tour of the old city so that I could see the major sites that everyone had mentioned to me and that every guidebook, blog post and individual had told me to see.
The tour began with getting a bit of history as we drove to The Blue Mosque.
We sadly learned that being Friday, there were sermons going on and we would not be able to go inside. Of course the tour brochure said nothing about this, so I was less than amused. It had mentioned other days that locations were closed, but no mention of this.
Thankfully, there is plenty of beauty that can be admired from the outside.
Proceeding to the Hippodrome, what I thought was going to be something similar to the Coliseum turned out to be a simple plaza. All the seats from the great stadium where the chariot races took part had long since been removed to build parts of The Blue Mosque.
There were obelisks to gander at and street hustlers galore pushing their tour guides, flutes and spinning tops. For some reason the mini hats seemed like they would be fun to buy, but I decided better of it and kept on moving with the group.
As we walked across the plaza we were told tales of the surrounding buildings and a beautiful fountain that was currently being restored and that is when I saw her. The Hagia Sophia.
A dear friend warned me of the beauty and specialness of this building. It holds a special place in her heart and as we entered I could see why.
The Christians and the Muslims have controlled this piece of history. Inside, the multi domed roof is covered in beautiful geometry, chandeliers, angels, fish and even the Virgin Mary. It is unlike anything I have ever seen and truly is a sight to behold.
Everywhere I looked there was something new to discover and while I tried to capture even a sliver of it’s beauty, I believe that is what makes her so special. That no one can fully appreciate her magnitude without seeing it first hand.
I slowly dragged my hand across a wall and wondered who else had done so over the centuries. What tales could these walls tell?
After such a beautiful site, we moved on to another completely unforgettable site known as The Grand Bazaar.
Imagine an indoor mall full of four thousand shops and endless hallways that you can twist and turn down and easily get lost in. With twenty eight gates in and out I can imagine more than one person exists in a totally new place.
Unlike what the tour had promised, we skipped the bazaar and instead ended up at a high end rug shop to get a demonstration.
With a glass of apple tea in hand, we were shown rug after rug as they were laid out before us and the different fabrics and patterns explained. As they spun the rugs and they changed color in the lights, we were dazzled by their beauty. Later I'd rub my hand across a $35,000 silk rug and wonder what kind of person would buy it for their house.
Sadly we had only twenty minutes to visit the bazaar. This didn't leave any time for exploring so I planned to do a large rectangle to get a feel for it and avoid any chances of becoming lost.
I chatted with a vendor about the tea he was selling and then made my way to a Turkish Delight and spice shop where I met the biggest hustler in all of Istanbul.
While courting me, he'd flirt with other nearby visitors. All the while trying to pack and sell as much as he could. He knew what he was doing, but I knew the game and played along and in the end I think we both made out well. I had acquired as much Ottoman Spice as I had come for and enough Turkish Delight to satisfy the family at home.
Lunch found us at the Olive Restaurant. Meatballs, rice and grilled tomato filled our bellies as we looked out over the city.
The quick stop for a bit to eat and something cold to drink was just what we needed as we headed out for the afternoon.
Beginning in the Spice Bazaar, I instantly appreciated the difference between this and the Grand Bazaar.
This is where the locals shopped. There was plenty to attract the cruisers and tourists, but men were haggling for pots and spoons next to the newlyweds buying a Turkish Lamp.
It was the difference between going to the mall and going to a street of great local stores. I’d take the Spice Market any day over the commercialism of the Bazaar.
If you go, the best priced spices are on the outside and be sure you know which country you’d like your Saffron or Curry from so that you can buy the best.
As a lover of religion, I was most sad about missing going into the Blue Mosque earlier because I had always wanted to go into one. I finally had the chance when we entered the Rustem Pasha Mosque. It was explained that this was even older and more blue than it’s famous neighbor.
I stood quietly and took it all in. Sadly some of the others forgot this was a place of worship and didn't respect the proper etiquette or attire. It was frustrating to see them break the rules and then be angry when they were politely scolded.
This leaves me wondering how I'd be welcome to attend a service in a mosque some day. Every time I heard the call to prayers I thought about walking over to the mosque near my hotel and seeing if I could sit in the back and just observe, but I did not want to offend anyone and instead will do this some other day.
The final stop of the day was at Topkapi Palace.
The grounds are beautiful and lush. Trees everywhere surrounded by the walls of protection. It is now a museum, so most of the treasures are behind cases and under the protection of security guards, but wandering the grounds I found plenty of little moments of amazement to appreciate the space.
Standing in the Sultans Library, long since emptied of books, I again began to imagine what the walls must have seen over the centuries.
In a moment of travel magic, I turned around in the gift shop and found myself standing next to Ann. We both giggled, hugged and appreciated that we got to see one another again.
My single day adventure had come to an end and I'd spend the next almost 90 minutes on the tour bus heading back to my hotel. The day might have been full of beauty, but the city streets were full of traffic. Something I’d come to learn is very common in Istanbul.
Twenty four hours is not enough time to see any city, but if that is all you have make the most of it by finding a good tour company to take you around. Not having to spend time looking at maps and finding locations made it possible to see as much as I did.
There is much more to Turkey that I’d like to see, but I'll admit that I'm not itching to get back there anytime soon. Too many other corners of the globe to explore.
Thank you to everyone I met for making my time there great. Especially the Mont Blanc salesman that introduced me to Raki.