I’d choose to be in Istanbul than something like London or New York, this is what I told a friend who apparently has the latter choices as two of his most favorite cities in the world. No offense meant, I clarified, but it’s just a matter of texture. Istanbul is so earthy and old compared to the concrete jungle or the royal city, and that’s always a personal preference when I am vacationing in some country.
Well it wasn’t completely a vacation as my husband had to be there to meet some leaders in our movement from all around the world. But Philip and I were free to tag along. I said yes because aside from that it is Istanbul, it was a trip I longed for after the unfortunate event of my miscarriage. I needed this trip for my healing.
Indeed, Istanbul did her part. I was so happy to discover her and here’s a list of things to do if in case you decide to meet her someday, as well.
Children are “worshipped”
If you are traveling with a cute kid, beware, the Turks are so into them that they’d grab your kid without any regard for your feelings or your culture, and begin playing with them as though they are their own.
On our very first day, only hours after our flight, we went out for breakfast with a friend and Philip got his first taste of the “Turkish delight”; as in the server was so delighted in him that he ruffled his hair, tickled his belly, and carried him around the café as he would his own child. We would have been totally weirded out had our local guide not been so assuring that it was a pretty normal thing to do.
I think if you are a bit sensitive about people touching your baby, then you might wanna devise a strategy that will keep the locals from touching and grabbing them. Other than that, you can also just enjoy it. Philip surely got a lot of candies and chocolates from almost every stall at the bazaar just because they found him so cute. That said, keep your eyes always on your child. It’s still better to be safe than sorry!
We stayed in Sultanahmet and it was the perfect location for moving toward the key spots like Topkapi Palace, Hagia Sofia, Blue Mosque, Grand Bazaar. There’s the train and you can also walk it. Also, it’s the Old City, which makes it richer in flavor than the modernized parts of Istanbul — that is, if you are into those things.
The Bosphorus hop on and off tour is also worth it. To be on its distinct waters alone is picture perfect, but the chance to hop off Ortakoy and other great spots also is enticing. It’s definitely a better way to go around the tourist areas instead of sitting in crazy Istanbul traffic!
Shop in Spice Bazaar
You MUST see The Grand Bazaar, of course. Its age-old architecture should not be missed. But if you are not into some major shopping, perhaps Spice Bazaar will do. It is smaller, easier to navigate, with almost the same items. (I personally bought Turkish bath towels, Turkish delight, tea sets. For rugs, you might have more in the Grand Bazaar.)
Hafiz Mustafa: they say you get the best Turkish Delight from this place. Try everything if you must but my favorites are pomegranate and rose flavors.
Kumpir: is a huge potato dish with toppings galore and please believe me when I say that nothing kumpirs with the kumpir of Ortakoy! This is really a must if you are to try the dish at all!
Traditional Hamam or Turkish Bath: simply, this is how I will describe it – like a bath for newborns or princesses! It is utterly relaxing and even so healing to one’s soul. Do not miss the opportunity to be bathed gently with warm water. Be calmed by the sound of running water that falls throughout the bath and makes you think you were laying on a marble in the middle of a pond or stream. I so loved it that I wish there was at least one here in the Philippines.
Turkish Tea/Coffee: especially if you are a tea or coffee drinker!
Ayran: Another Turkish drink — it’s actually yogurt like salty lassi, and they have it available in restaurants but in tetra packs, as well.
Of course, the usual spots like Hagia Sofia, Topkapi Palace, Blue Mosque and more are not to be skipped. See this link from Trip Advisor and here is a better one that involves 50 things to do while in Istanbul.
Capadoccia, Pamukkale, and Ephesus
Istanbul in itself is so easy to navigate. In about three-four days you’ve got the best of its tourist sites. To make the most out of a trip to Turkey, try booking for equally delightful cities like Capadoccia, Pamukkale, and Ephesus. (I wasn’t able to do so because we couldn’t be sure about going until the very last minute because of the security concerns. That didn’t leave us with much time to prepare, nor days to spare. By the way, I mentioned Capadoccia here: T&A Bucketlist)
On our last day, we weren’t allowed to go to the bazaars as we were with Americans and emails blasts have warned American tourists not to be in crowded places. Every establishment we entered had security check. Istanbul is on alert because of possible attacks, so I thought you might also consider this when planning your trip.
I bought bath towels for pasalubong and when I gave them away, my mother in law called my attention to the little trinket that came with the items. In Turkey, it is what they call the “evil eye.” It is their symbol for turning away evil and if you are like me, who doesn’t want to incorporate anything spiritual from different cultures, I think I ought to tell you that we must heighten discernment in places that are heavily laden with rituals and symbols, for our own good.
Time Difference (For Filipinos)
No problem adjusting when we got there as it is only a few hours behind the Philippines. But coming back was a pain! Be ready to stay up until 5 or 6 in the morning when recovering from the time in Istanbul. Moreover, I didn’t go back to normal until after a week and a half which makes it worse than the lag I experience from going to and fro the U.S.
But then again…I say it’s worth it! 🙂
More photos from our trip will be posted tomorrow. Hope to see you again! 🙂