On our way back from Christmas in the States, we stopped in Istanbul for three nights. We stayed at Side Hotel & Pension. Especially considering the holiday, Side was fairly affordable. Although the room and the breakfast were simple, the location was perfect. The terrace offered a view of the Bosporus Strait, the Sea of Marmara, Hagia Sophia, and Sultan Ahmet Mosque (also known as the Blue Mosque).
Not too far from our hotel was Topkapı Sarayı. This palace, dating back to the Ottoman Empire, was a home to several sultans over a period of several hundred years. Today it is a museum with rooms and rooms of historic items. The buildings are beautiful inside and outside. We would have liked more time to see the relics and artifacts, but the crowds were unbelievable due to the holiday. On a side note, there was a Chinese exhibit and we got to see four terracotta soldiers and a horse.
We also visited Sultan Ahmet Mosque. It is commonly referred to as the Blue Mosque because of the blue tiles that decorate its interior. It was built by Sultan Ahmet I and is a major tourist attraction in Istanbul. Because the mosque is still in operation, Leah was required to cover her head.
On New Year’s Eve Day, we walked a few blocks from our hotel to The Grand Bazaar. (The Grand Bazaar was featured in the opening scene of Skyfall, the new James Bond movie.) The Grand Bazaar is said to be the world’s first covered shopping mall with construction dating back to 1455. It has 60 streets, 5,000 shops, and sometimes as many as 400,000 visitors a day. We did a lot of looking, got some coffee, and purchased our 2012 Christmas bulb.
For New Year’s Eve, we decided to try the local fish. Many restaurants had all-you-can-eat New Year’s packages that ran €100 or more. After perusing around the Galata Bridge area, we found Odessa Restaurant. We were pleased with our service and the fish was tasty. We found ourselves trying to recall the deboning skills we acquired at the Wisconsin fish boil with my family. Our waiter was hospitable and offered us a complimentary dessert. We were impressed by the affordability. Since Leah doesn’t like to stare at fish heads, they even removed the head off her fish before serving.
After eating, we made our way to Taksim Square. Taksim is where many Turks celebrate the New Year, kind of like Times Square in New York. After walking several blocks shoulder to shoulder with the crowd, we decided being there for a few minutes was enough and headed back near the Galata Bridge.
Although the fireworks did not launch from where we thought they would, we watched other fireworks over the Golden Horn set off by some of the local restaurants. There’s no ball drop in Turkey – we had to keep an eye on our watches for the count down!
While in Istanbul, we were also able to meet up with some friends. We were happy to fellowship with Mike and Sharon, who recently moved to Turkey. We were also excited to learn Kennie and Lizzy were visiting Istanbul. We met them this summer at training. They are teaching in Kenya and visited Turkey over their Christmas break.
We enjoyed exploring Istanbul and getting some rest before we headed back to Ankara to resume school.