Before heading to Istanbul enjoyed fresh fish, delicious kebabs, and exotic Baba Ghanoush, I made a day trip to Bursa- a city not too far away from Istanbul that is well worth a visit.
Bursa has an impressive 14th century Grand Mosque which is said to be one of the most impressive in Turkey. There is also a labyrinth of a bazaar near the grande mosque that’s worth visiting while you’re there. However, the main reason I went to Bursa was for a very traditional restaurant that is the home of the Iskander Kebab is a delicious dish that can be found throughout Turkey, but the original home for this kebab is at this restaurant. The only thing on the menu at this restaurant is their famous Iskander kebab.
It was sensational.
The meat was so tender, the sauce had the perfect amount of spices, the yogurt contrasted the flavor making the dish blend together in perfect harmony. After lunch I wanted to try some traditional sweets and was told that around these parts candied chestnuts are well-known. They are also absolutely delicious and I’m kicking myself for not bringing any home.
Istanbul Day Tour I
This vacation I was lucky enough to vacation in style. This time I booked through a tour agency that happened to find a tri-lingual private tour guide and a very spiffy hotel right in the center of the famous Taksim square. The first day of the tour I woke up and had an amazing continental breakfast and met my tour guide, Kurkut. The tour began by riding over the Golden Horn towards Chora church, one of the finest examples of byzantine art and murals in the world.
The next area to visit was the Eyup neighborhood, a very quite area with cafes. We made our way to the St. George’s Cathedral, which is the principal Greek Orthodox church in Istanbul. I had never heard of Greek Orthodox and found the cathedral to be quite interesting. The people of the church were singing and praying and it was a surreal experience. Since I’m not Greek Orthodox, and these people were in the middle of doin’ their thang, I didn’t want to gawk any longer and decided to respect them and leave.
Then, just before we stopped for lunch, we stopped for a quick walk around Süleymaniye Mosque. I don’t know much about mosques, but this has to be one of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen, both inside and out. If you get a chance, have a walk around the mosque and look at the sea that is gleaming below. It’s breathtaking. The lunch place that we went to was just the best quality, I loved it and the view that I had while eating it.
Our next stop was Topkapi palace. which resembles a medieval castle from the outside. It had a colorful courtyard with beautiful flowers, trees, and greenery. The tour guide took me around the palace and the Harem. The best part of the palace IMO, is the Harem. I learned about the women in the sultans life and family who lived there protected by the eunuchs. Even though I found the sultans privy and throne rooms to be very majestic, I found his pool to be even more impressive. I could definitely see myself vacationing here with the sultans back in the day, for sure.
Istanbul Day Tour II
We started our second day of the Istanbul Tour with a boat ride on the Bosphorus. I enjoyed the boat ride, but it is definitely not for people who are easily seasick. This driver was zooming through the water like a speed racer and my poor body could not handle it. I was dying to be on land again. That being said, it was definitely a beautiful and scenic ride that is well worth the sickness. There are many beautiful mosques and spires jutting out throughout the mountains that make you imagine what it might have looked like back in the time of Constantinople.
The next stop was a quick run through the Grand Bazaar and Egyptian Markets. These are magical places where everything smells like spices and tea, and people are pushing each other to enter the tiny shops and haggle for different products. I love the chaos of the bazaar and suggest everyone who visits Istanbul to visit either one of these before they go. You can’t leave without trying Turkish Delights and taking home an array of teas.
After we shopped at the Bazaar we went to the Hagia Sofia. On the way there we were met with a huge crowd. I looked up and there was a military grade helicopter, snipers standing on top of the Mosque and, in front of me a chain of police and black cars. According to Kurkut, our guide, Erdogan- the current leader of Turkey- was making an appearance to his people. This made me super anxious because I’d already grown weary of being in large crowds, and being this close to the leader of Turkey definitely filled my stomach with butterflies. Especially because of the travel ban of US citizen to Turkey and Muslims in the US.
Once we squeezed past the crowds, we finally arrive at the Hagia Sofia, this is really a treasure of Istanbul. The Hagia was once a Catholic Church with paintings of Jesus and the Virgin Mary. Currently, there is scaffolding reaching the ceilings in which they are trying to uncover what is hidden within. The mix of Islam and Christianity murals is a marvel, I was just in awe.
We finished the final day of the tour with a 25 minute walk through Sultanahmet Fatih, AKA The Blue Mosque. Unfortunately, the area for prayer was under restoration and I could not see it. I was, however, able to see the large court just on the inside. The size of this mosque is impressionable.