Hello, Travel Friends!
We’re back to talking about Istanbul, my favorite city in the whole world, thus far. I think it’s the ever-evolving history of it that is most fascinating for me. And here are simply some things that absolutely cannot be missed if you’re in Istanbul, even if you’re there for just one day.
#1. Hagia Sophia
The locals spell it Aya Sofya, and it has been standing since the Byzantine period, through earthquakes, political change and religious reformations. Who knows how much longer it will survive? One giant ground shaking and it can all wind up a pile of rubble tomorrow.
Not that I truly believe that. I have a feeling the old girl will be around for a few more centuries at least. Still…one never knows.
When I was there in 2006, archaeologists were uncovering all of the old, Christian art which had been painted over by the Ottomans in the 1400s as they converted it into a mosque. You’ll probably get to see a lot more than I did.
TIP: Hire a local guide hanging around the entrances – you’ll get interesting bits of information as you walk around. I picked the oldest one of the bunch: a charming, sweet man who kept pulling my leg the whole tour, to see if I would believe every single thing he said. Luckily, he had a tell: a slight twitch of the lips and a glint in the eye. I THINK I always knew when he was joking!
#2. Turkish Bath
The second thing you must see (and do) is a hamam. Yes, go get a Turkish bath.
The attendees will scrub you down to the deepest layer of skin, removing dirt you had no idea you’d been carrying around for years. Then they’ll anoint you in lotion and by the time you’re finished you’ll feel like a new-born baby.
Seriously, after the rough scrubbing part of it, I felt like a very small child being given a bath by my mother. All I wanted to do was sleep for several hours…and I did.
TIP: My guidebook at the time said that the natives go naked at the hamams. My guidebook lied. All of the other women (Turkish and Tourists) kept their panties on, so bring a pair you don’t mind getting wet, and then bring another pair to change into afterwards. Unless you like walking around in wet panties.
#3. Shop & Talk
The third thing on the MUST DO list is the Grand Bazaar, grand-daddy of all souks of the world. It’s massive, and you’ll probably get a little lost wandering the halls. Don’t panic, it will be worth it. And you’ll notice that the Grand Bazaar is divided up in sections, the gold sellers in one, textiles in another, etc. etc.
Anyway, it wasn’t the size and the great selection of shoes that most impressed me. It was the people doing business there, many of whom invited me to have a cup of tea and chat. Some of them just wanted to practice their English and others were truly interested in American lifestyles. Either way, I was content to be social, even though I practically exploded my bladder in the process.
This was how I found out about the required army service for young Turks, and how most of the natives serve the green apple tea to the tourists, but drink plain tea themselves.
TIP: Istanbulis don’t really like to talk politics with the tourists.
Anyway, aside from great conversations, I also wound up with a fantastic new purse, some souvenir items, and a fabulous pair of shoes. No problem mixing business and pleasure in the Grand Bazaar. Be prepared to bargain and be prepared to walk away from the goods if you’re not getting the price you want. You’ll figure it out.