We're back from Istanbul and now it's time for my trip report! I'm breaking this into two posts so you don't have to scroll through an opus on every page. :0
We arrived around 3:00 at the Istanbul airport. Transfer was waiting on us - used the Istanbul Airport Shuttle which was great with one tiny exception (more on that later). After I made my peace with God more than once on the ride to the hotel, we arrived in one piece.
We stayed at the Best Western President hotel in Beyazit. It was an easy block and a half up the street to the main boulevard through the older part of town and the tram line. We had arranged for our hotel to obtain an Akbil for us before we got there - GOLDMINE! The Akbil rocks. I'm not sure why Rick Steves doesn't like them, but we loved it.
We managed to avoid any jetlag naps and make it down to the Blue Mosque and the Hippodrome area. It was actually a nice time of day to visit the sites - the crowds were virtually non-existent. I did cover my head with a scarf at the Blue Mosque, but no one was monitoring my entrance and did not make me do so. I did not do so throughout the rest of the trip at other sites and it was not an issue.
As we were walking around in the little park between the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia, we heard a voice from behind us asking if we were Americans. We told the Turkish guy who asked us that we were. He asked what state. When we said South Carolina, he said, "oh, my wife is from Charleston!" After reading all the pick up lines from crazy salesmen on here, I thought, "yeah right, buddy." Then when he found out the town we were from, he named one of our city councilmen and knew all these details about him. Turns out this guy works as a wholesaler of carpets and has dealt with this guy from our hometown pretty often. He asked that we stop by his shop sometime during the week and we agreed.
Back to the hotel for a quick freshening up and then to the Orient House show. While touristy, it was a good activity for us on the first night we were there because it was in our hotel and kept us awake for a while. :)
The next day, we got up bright and early and hit the Basilica Cistern and Hagia Sophia. Hagia Sophia in particular was just beautiful and HUGE. Hubby was very excited to get a picture with one of the famous Hagia Sophia stray cats sitting on a column.
We had a nice, quick lunch at Sultanhamet Koftecisi - meatballs and kebabs and piya (the white bean salad, which was as good as everyone on here advertises).
We then hit the Archaeological Museum, the Tiled Kiosk and Oriental Exhibit. The Archaeological museum was awesome. I was not as thrilled with the other two buildings, particularly the Tiled Kiosk - just not too much to it compared to other sites. If we had been limited for time, I would have felt okay skipping this part. By the way, the grounds surrounding the museum and Topkapi were beautiful. It was close to 70 when we were there, and all the tulips and other flowers were out - gorgeous!
Afterward we walked through the Grand Bazaar for about thirty minutes (once you've walked around for a little bit, it's pretty much the same thing over and over). We bolted after a little bit, but not after being asked, "hey lady, how can I hustle you?" and "Oooh, those shoes (hubby's shoes) look like they are from Arizona." Much better than the Grand Bazaar to me were the streets between the Grand Bazaar and the Spice Market - we were literally the only tourists back there.
The Spice Market was wonderful - smelled great, lots of neat things to look at. We hit the goldmine at Malatya Pasari - we stopped by three times for more dried fruit during our trip. :)
That evening we had supper at Hamdi restaurant, which had very good food (try the pistachio kebap)with a nice view of the city. Unfortunately, as others have mentioned, we also felt very rushed. I think they basically had far too many guys on the floor waiting to serve everyone so they are a little too on top of things for my liking.