WOW. There is so much to see in Istanbul. I have always wanted to go, and honestly visiting it was a dream come true! I love history and seeing a city that has undergone so many transformations over the years and is the bridge between Europe and Asia… it was neat-o, for sure. Also it was years before I realized that Constantinople is now Istanbul, and that makes me a little sad because calling it Constantinople makes me think of emperors and crusaders and merchants and spices and so many things that were the stuff of my childhood imaginings.
I am sure that I come across as anti-guided tours on this blog, but that is not true at all because I love ‘em! I would love to have someone who knows what we are looking at show us around, but we have found from experience that that is not a really a good fit for us with a toddler. And I am too cheap to hire a private guide, so that is why we usually rely on our guide books. Topkopi palace was a place where I was really wishing that we had a guide, but I had my trusty Rick Steves and I just did my best to narrate where we were going. Epic fail.
Honestly, we got the worst pictures at Topkopi palace too and Isla was being naughty, naughty, but we did the best we could! She was soooo tired of her backpack at this point – part of the reason why we decided that we weren’t ready to give up on strollers and also why we decided to trade in a for a lighter model on our Toro. I really wanted to wait in line to see some of the treasures and jewels, and see the famous Topkapi dagger. So we did, and it was pretty unpleasant trying to take turns keeping Isla happy. They didn’t allow pictures inside though…
We also paid extra to visit the Harem, and I had a lot of fun explaining it to Nick. There was an excellent section about it in our Rick Steve’s guide book, and apparently my husband had many misconceptions about what exactly went down at a Harem.
Upon learning that the women all had separate bedrooms -
Nick: You mean it wasn’t just like one big, girls’ locker room???
Upon learning that the Sultan did not get to sleep with hundreds of women, but only a select few, in addition to his wives, and that the “nighttime arrangements” were kept on a strict schedule (arranged by his MOTHER no less) -
Nick; Yes, but could you SCHEDULE two women on the same night???
Upon learning that there was usually a favorite wife and/or concubine who received extra privileges -
Nick: Don’t worry, Stori. I would have made sure that YOU were the favorite.
I don’t know if other women would appreciate his sense of humor, but he always keeps me laughing, and those who know Nick, know that I have nothing to worry about from him and other ladies !
Anyway, we looked around the beautiful palace and then we were on our way!
The Blue Mosque
We also got to visit the Blue Mosque, which was very interesting. I had never been inside a mosque before. I came prepared and even bought a head covering before I went inside since my guide book warned me that they would often not let you in if you weren’t well covered, but they weren’t too strict about what people were wearing. They even had pieces of cloth to hand out for people to cover their heads or their arms, etc. Even with that though, the dress code was much more lax than I had been lead to believe. Also, I know our pictures are bad, but our camera’s battery died because I forgot to charge it before we left Russia and I also didn’t bring the charger, a mistake I will never make again! So all of these photos on this post are from Nick’s iPhone.
We arrived during prayer time, so we had a few minutes to kill. Isla entertained us by dancing in the courtyard.
Awkward family photo… its also a little bit disconcerting to see myself with a hijab on.
It was too immense to get good photos on the iPhone, but here is the beautiful blue dome.
As I mentioned before, whenever we are in another house of “worship” we always make a point to pray as a family that Jesus would be known as Lord even there, and that one day everyone who worshipped in that place would acknowledge the risen King. However, we try to be respectful about it, so we usually pray quietly just the three of us in a corner; it was fairly quiet in the Blue Mosque even with all of the tourists.
As soon as we were done praying, we lifted our bowed heads and Isla said at the top of her lungs -
“Isla pray Jesus! Isla pray Jesus! Isla pray Jesus!”
She was sooo proud of herself, and kept repeating herself very loudly and smiling, and we didn’t want to shush her for being so excited about praying, however we did hightail it out of there as fast as our little Christian legs could carry us!
Her look says it all “Why are we leaving Mama?” I also love Nick’s expression, he’s proud, but not sure what to do.
I love ancient engineering! LOVE IT. We are so arrogant in our modern times over the things we have created and invented, but people have been creating amazing inventions for centuries that help improve people’s quality of life… including ancient plumbing systems! And they didn’t even have forklifts or cranes or bulldozers or computers or calculators! Ok maybe they DID have an endless supply of cheap, replaceable labor… . Still its cool to see and hear how people used to manage and build things for basic necessities that we take for granted.
Ok I am reviewing my pictures from the Cistern and these are the worst iPhone pictures EVER! So if you want to see what we saw click HERE and see how incredible it is! You can also see the famous giant Medusa head!
Another random comment, I also really wanted to go here because I read that it was “kid friendly” and thought it would be good for Isla! I have learned though that “kid friendly” does NOT equate to “toddler friendly”! Although Isla loved the fish swimming in the shallow water and kept pointing to and saying “fishy”, she also wanted to leap in the water! If you look at the picture above on the far right, you can see that the guardrail along the sidewalk was not even remotely kid proofed. So we had to carry a very unhappy girl the entire time because all she wanted to do was run along the walk ways and dive in after the fish!
We wen to Hagia Sofia on our last day, and I am so glad that we did because we thought we might not make it! Isla was asleep when we got there so we just decided to go in separately with the guidebook, while the other waited around outside… because of this we had to take dorky self portraits!
The dome was HUGE and incredible! It was built in the 6th century and the dome is one of the largest ever built! Talk about impressive early engineering… of course my structural engineer LOVED it. Nick took this picture and you get a better idea of just how massive this place is.
It makes me sad that this was once a Christian church, but is now a mosque. However, the Turkish Muslims are very sweet and are making an effort to recover a lot of the Christian history and make it easy for Christians to visit there. They don’t require any special clothing to visit, and there are several areas where they are excavating Christian frescos and other things.
So no visit to Istanbul is complete without a cruise on the Bosporus! Our friends had told us that you could take a cruise for almost nothing on a public boat and we considered doing that, but we decided that we wanted a guided tour in this case since Isla would be free to move about the boat and we wanted to know what we were seeing. We made huge mistake however because booked an inexpensive tour, and the guide was terrible! This is one of those instances where we should have just cheaped out all the way and gone on a public boat with no tour or paid extra and done a really good boat tour!
Still I am glad we went. We greatly enjoyed ourselves! Who doesn’t love riding in a boat?
We were also able to go down below the deck and let Isla run around freely and play with another little girl, which she loved!
Random City Shots
One night we went to a big mall near our hotel and ate McDonald’s ice cream and did a little hunting at their big supermarket for American foods that we cannot get here in Novo. Just wanted to include it here although its not that interesting…
Istanbul is famous for its Spice Market and Bazaar! We went and walked around, but it was a little bit overwhelming because it was so crowded. Nick was encouraging me to buy a nice carpet in Istanbul, but I admit that I froze and couldn’t decide what kind to get! Nick and Isla were with me, and as sweet at Nick was being, they are not the best shopping partners and who knows which vendor is a good one? Maybe one day I will come back with my Mama…
Oh, another thing – we were there while they were filming a new James Bond movie with Daniel Craig – best James Bond EVER! I am torn between thinking that’s really cool, and being annoyed because so many of the streets were roped off from tourists!
Our little backseat driver!
Someone is a leetle tired of the crazy crowds!
Just the two of us… and little bit of Isla’s hair!
I love what a great dad Nick is, seriously, the best Dad I have ever seen. He takes so much pleasure in spending time with Isla… and me too, which also makes him the best husband I have ever seen! Is he perfect? No, but he’s pretty close!
On Our Way Home
I mentioned before that all of the flights to and from Russia leave at ungodly hours! So we had Isla dressed in her jammies before we left.
Of course we couldn’t get her to fall asleep until around 1 AM, right before we were finally allowed to go through security even though I had spent hours walking her all over the airport… thankfully security just let us take her right on through!
I’ll never forget when I traveled with Isla at 8 months old within the USA and she had little pink, pleather baby booties (you know, the kind that don’t even have soles) that were about a millimeter thick and security made me go back through and TAKE THEM OFF! They have also let me take a sleeping Isla through in Russia in her stroller too… I am so glad that airport security in other countries is generally staffed by people who are smart enough to realize that a BABY is probably not going to be a threat! It makes traveling with children so much easier…
Anyway, I am definitely coming back to Istanbul one day, even though we saw most of it, and I also really want to return to Turkey and see more of it. It was such a nice, relaxed vacation, and I am so thankful that I was able to finally see the city that I had always dreamed of visiting!