Experience the beauty of Istanbul

Blue Mosque Istanbul Turkey

Set aside for a moment any preconceived notions of what Western media has portrayed about Istanbul and get ready for an amazing vacation experience.

Like most when you mention going to Istanbul for a vacation, the thought often leaves persons wondering, “but why”? Planning the trip was like most others and we recommend online planning to save on your tickets and accommodations, however be sure to check your visa requirements as it’s necessary for some nationalities. Fortunately and quite conveniently they have an e-visa program which can be done within a few minutes online at a cost of just $20USD. This visa lasts for a period of 6 months and is valid for multiple entries into Turkey.

On arrival their immigration process is very similar to what Miami is (or was, haven’t been there in few years), long slowly moving snaking queue leading to a series of lines in-front of each immigration officers’ desk. This process took the greater part of an hour to complete. Collect the bags and take a trip outside to meet our transfer which was booked online by Suntrasnfers.

The drive to the hotel reveled two things, Istanbul has very clean and well kept neighborhoods; secondly, traffic is never ending. Despite that we made it to the hotel in the Fatih district and didn’t waste much time in getting settled and heading back out again to explore the area. If you love shopping then you’ll feel right at home here. There’s store after store on many streets selling everything including clothing, bags, jewelry, leather jackets and more. Prices rival those of what you may expect in NYC and in some cases even lower. Just be sure what you’re looking at is original as quite a few counterfeit items are also sold here. I guess being so close to Asia, it’s very easy to get goods from the mainland of China.

Turkish culture

Looking to visit a country where you feel welcomed and not like an outsider? If so then this is the place for sure. Within the first ten minutes we were relaxing with a shop owner drinking the legendary Chai tea. No matter where you go, you’re guaranteed to find someone being friendly, open, asking about your country, inviting you for Chai or just showing that amazing Turkish hospitality.

Hagia Sophia Istanbul

Don’t spend all you time shopping

Give the credit card a rest for a little while and take a stroll to experience the cultural side of Istanbul. When you’re booking your hotel, be sure to reserve one that’s near to some of the best local attractions. Being in Fatih, we were within walking distance to the Grand Bazaar, Spice Market, Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia. First on the list was the Grand Bazaar, famed to be one of the largest covered markets in the world with 60 streets and 5,000 stores. Though it did deliver on countless indoor streets of shopping choices, the vast majority were of jewelry. So if you’re in the market for great quality gold or diamonds, then you’ll find it here for sure. We did however find it was lacking quite a bit of the traditional souvenirs as would have been expected from such a location.

Next day out, was the Blue Mosque. This is actually in a location which allows you to also visit the Hagia Sophia and few others. Be sure to check your arrival time as the Blue Mosque closes for prayer during the afternoon. While waiting for it to re-open we once again experienced the great Turkish hospitality as the owners of Ottomania allowed us into their business and on the roof top terrace for amazing photos of the Blue Mosque and Bosphorus. This of course was followed by tea and a showcase of their amazing selection of rugs.

Finally it was time to take an inside look at the Blue Mosque for which there’s a strict dress code. Ladies entering the Mosque are required to have their hair covered and you’ll be provided with the appropriate attire free of charge before entering. Additionally, shoes are not allowed so you will also be provided disposable plastic bags to carry your shoes while inside. The view on the inside will be nothing less than awe-inspiring as you become engrossed in the amazing architectural details that went into this building. After you’ve had your time exploring the Blue Mosque, take a stroll and enjoy some of the other sights in the immediate vicinity. Blue Mosques is largest in the area and also currently the only one offering free admission.

Some other great ideas when in Istanbul would be to take a cruises on the Bosphorus, dining at some of their great restaurants and a trip to Emirgan Park to experience the tulip festival every April.

Do you love tulips?

As quickly as the time came, all five days in Istanbul were gone and it was time to venture on to the next destination. Departure from Istanbul, Ataturk is like any other except with a bit more security. Vehicles pass through an initial checkpoint before entering the actual airport premises; then each passenger is required to go through basic security before check-in. Despite these measures at no time did the question of safety cross our minds during the trip. This an incredible city with a rich culture and some of the most accommodating citizens around. If you’re looking for a vacation outside of the ordinary and a great story to share at your next social gathering, start planning that trip to Istanbul.

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