It was much different than we had expected. I was picturing dusty, crowded alleys jam-packed with people and noise and excitement. Definitely not this.
It's grand, for sure, there were so many stores spread out over a big area. It was just so much cleaner and more organized than I had hoped.
We were also surprised by the amount of expensive goods - jewelry and high end designers. We figured there'd be more local crafts and cheap souvenirs like the markets we've been to in Thailand and Cambodia.
From there we wandered up the hill to Süleymaniye Cami, or Suleyman Mosque. So far, this has been our favorite thing to visit - even more than Hagia Sophia (although the scaffolding in Hagia Sophia may have had a lot to do with that).
The grounds were beautiful, the mosque was quiet and magnificent, and the view was fantastic:
These are from the inner courtyard of the mosque:
Here's the inside:
Even the fence (visitors need to stay behind a fence outside the prayer area) was pretty:
Suleiman the Magnificent was buried on site too, in a nice building next to a beautiful garden. He's in the big one in the middle:
Then we wandered through side streets toward Rustem Pasha Mosque and the Spice Market. We didn't take many pictures here, but you can see this part all on the video:
Rustem Pasha (Rüstem Paşa Cami) is a small mosque on a side street above a market. It had one of the most intricate doors/door knobs we've ever seen.
Because it was small, it seemed more crowded, so we didn't stay long. On to the spice market!
The spice market was more aligned with what we imagined than the grand bazaar was this morning. The most important part was spot on: it smelled like a walk-in spice rack. We loved it! In addition to spices, the market had a ton of turkish delight and baklava in all shapes and sizes.
They gave us one of those to try - they're called Sparrow's Nest. Not my favorite. Isa bought two types of baklava:
The baklava here is WAY butterier and heavier than the baklava in the states. It's borderline not even the same thing. But Isa really liked it, it was just so bad for you that she's trying not to eat it all day every day or she'll get sick.
Then we crossed the Galata Bridge and climbed the hill to the Galata Tower. This side of the river is called Beyoğlu.
Once you cross the bridge, you're out of old cute historic town of Istanbul and it seemed like we crossed into the old ghetto. It really looks like they just don't care about keeping this side clean at all with all the graffiti, broken stairs, and busted roads.
At the top of the hill, we finally found the tower, but it cost almost as much as Hagia Sophia and it was hazy today so the view wouldn't have been spectacular, so we opted not to take the elevator to the top. (Btw, what kind of old tower installs an elevator? going up the old stairs is part of the experience!)
The tower is pretty much the start of Istiklal street, which is a long, wide pedestrian road with lots of shopping and bars. It's packed.
Of all the options, there was one particular restaurant that stood out to us New Yorkers:
That's right, there's a Shake Shack in Istanbul! Never would have guessed. We opted for more traditional Turkish food though, and went to a little Pide place just off Taksim Square. It was delicious!
From here we wandered through side streets and alleyways down to the water.
This also seems like a good time to talk about cats. There are cats EVERYWHERE in Istanbul. And it seems that they're pretty well taken care of. But they're definitely all strays.
You can find them all over these side streets, but also all around the mosques on the other side too. There was actually a cat inside Hagia Sophia (and people took pictures with it like it was part of the attraction). So if you like cats, put Istanbul on your list.
We got down to the water and then took the tram back across the bridge. We got off the first stop and went to check out the New Mosque (Yeni Cami) but it was prayer time so we had to kill some time, which we did by getting some Turkish ice cream.
There's really no way to adequately describe the experience of getting ice cream in Turkey. It's part fun, part annoying, mostly entertaining, but kind of a scam. You can watch it in the video at about the 6:10 mark. You have to do it once though. Unfortunately, their ice cream has a really weird texture (gooey instead of creamy). It wasted enough time that prayer time ended and we could go into the mosque though.
The New Mosque was really nice. It doesn't look like anything special from the outside...
...but the inside is fantastic:
We really loved the intricate architecture of all the domes, half-domes, and arches. Isa also loved the carpet designs.
You have to take your shoes off inside mosques, and I was in sandals today and Isa just wore flats with no socks. So we were both bare foot in the mosques.
We headed back towards our hotel from here and we weren't expecting to stop anywhere else, but then we happened upon this really cool looking mosque (Vilayet Mosque) with nobody in it, so we couldn't resist.
After a quick rest at the hotel, we headed out for Isa's birthday dinner at Erhan Kebab. I chose a place that gives free baklava for dessert. :) She let me choose dinner, and when given the choice, I'll almost always choose something that comes on fire (because how cool is that?!).
10/7 Update: Isa got food poisoning from this, so it wasn't quite the birthday dinner we'd hoped it would be. :( Stick with Old Ottoman Cafe.
We walked off dinner with a stroll through Sultanahmet Square. It was a good day!