Can you do Istanbul in 48 hours?

Following my whirlwind trip, I thought it would be worth sharing a few recommendations for sites and restaurants. As mentioned in my previous post, I explored mostly in the Sultanahmet, so my recommendations only fall in this area. I stayed in this area because of my lack of time, but most people tend to stay in Beyoglu which is the newer part and has more hotel options. 

The Sights

Blue Mosque, Hagia Sofia, Basilica Cistern: These three places are quite close to one another and I did them in one morning, in that order. I arrived at the Blue Mosque right after morning prayer when it opened at 8:30 (double check the hours when you go because it closes throughout the day for the 5 prayers). Remember to carry a scarf with you at all times to cover your head, you never know when you'll want to duck into a mosque. In Hagia Sofia across the courtyard, check out the wishing column and be sure to go up to the second story balcony. The Cistern is worth seeing, don’t fail to walk back to the far back to see the Medusa heads. These three places become packed in the afternoon, so I highly recommend the morning.

Topkapi Palace: As with the other main tourist areas, be sure to arrive right when it opens at 9 AM. Buy a ticket for both the palace and the harem or consider getting the museum pass for your stay depending on what you are going to do. Visit the harem first, its on the left after you enter and I've heard it can get crowded. When I went I ended up being alone, the guards were super friendly and willing to share a lot of their knowledge about the harem. 

Spice Market: Small, but beautiful indoor market filled with sweets and spices. This is where I faced the most aggressive vendors trying to sell me goods. 

Rustem Pasha Mosque: This mosque is right next to the spice market, although a little hard to find as it is tucked back into the outdoor market (which is a real maze). When I was visiting the mosque was closed for renovations, but it is supposed to have stunning tile work so I’m including it on the list in the hopes that someone else is able to go.

Grand Bazaar: Depending on if you are actually shopping or not, this market can take as little or as much time as you want. Everyone will try to sell you something as you walk by. Stop at a cafe and try the salep!

Nuruousmaniye Mosque: This mosque is quite close to the Grand Bazaar., and though the interior is beautiful, not that the visiting area is more restricted. If you are here for the afternoon call to prayer, you can go up to the terrace level and see/hear the call to prayer across the city. 

Hamam (Turkish bath): An absolutely unique experience that I can't recommend more highly! There are several famous Hamam's throughout the city, ask your hotel front desk which one they recommend. Every hamam has a separate bathing area for men and women, or have different time slots for each gender so double check. I did the full package experience, a scrub done by an attendant and an oil massage. Bring a bathing suit bottom as that will be most comfortable, but prepare to go nude on top (if you’re a woman) as this is standard in the Turkish culture. You will never feel cleaner in your entire life. 

The Food

Food/drink to try: 

  • Pide -- a Turkish calzone of sorts

  • Salep (sahlep) -- a hot milk drink made with orchid root, such a great way to warm up

  • Turkish Coffee -- Take note that you have to tell them when you order how much sugar you want because you cannot add sugar after

  • Kofte -- Turkish meatballs

  • Lahmacun -- thin, crispy pita with lamb

  • Borek -- Turkish pastry stuffed with cheese

  • Doner -- all the kebab stand will be amazing

Aslan Restaurant: Nearby the Grand Bazaar, this restaurant serves a typical Turkish lunch. They have a set offering for the day and you select what you want from the options available. It's on the second floor looking towards the Grand Bazaar. 

Hafiz Mustafa:  A dessert shop located near the blue mosque, it has a massive selection of Turkish desserts. 

Kybele Hotel: A restaurant near the Hagia Sophia, but off the main path a bit which is nice. Has a neat interior and large Turkish menu. 

Kunefe at Hafiz Mustafa

Kunefe at Hafiz Mustafa

Pide at Kybele

Pide at Kybele

salep at a cafe in the grand bazaar

salep at a cafe in the grand bazaar

Istanbul or Constantinople

My first trip to Turkey is in the books, and already its back on the bucket list. I had 48 hours in Istanbul for a weekend trip, which I know is not enough to see the city but I’m just happy to have been able to go at all. The flight from Basel was 3 hours and the price tag $100 — you can’t beat an opportunity like that. Additionally, my Swiss passport allowed me visa-free travel to the country, a luxury given that Turkish-US relations are constantly fluctuating. I limited my time in the city exclusively to the Sultanahmet area, also known as the old city. While this ignored the Asian side and the ‘new city’ or Beyoğlu area, there was too much to see without venturing over the water, plus I had to leave some things for my next trip. I packed so many things into my time, that I don’t think I’ll be able to cover them all. In another post, I’ll include a list of recommendations for anyone who is interested!

It became apparent quickly that Istanbul is not a city of early-risers and so I played this to my advantage by visiting the most popular tourist sites first thing in the morning. Saturday I started at the Sultan Ahmed Mosque, known most famously as the Blue Mosque, right after the morning call to prayer. This was my first experience entering the mosque, and before visiting I made sure I read up on the rules and expectations so I was well prepared. With my headscarf pulled up over my hair, I walked through the complex shoes in hand. Built in 1609, the mosque has 6 minarets, 200 stained glass windows and thousands of tiles. Most of the interior is blocked off from visitors for prayer, and the mosque itself is shut to the public during the five prayer times of the day as it is an active place of worship. Even though the renovation scaffolding covered much of the interior, the beauty of the building was clear.

Across a great courtyard from the Blue Mosque lies the great Hagia Sophia (Ayasofya). Originally constructed as a Greek Orthodox church in 563, the building was converted into a mosque by the Ottoman Empire in 1453, before moving into its final form, a museum, following WWI. Although the Ottoman’s covered over much of the Christian symbolism and decoration, since they did not destruct but rather paint over, conservationists have been able to reveal the layers of history on the interior. It is striking to see a large painting of Mary next to Islamic script, it almost serves as a symbol of coexistence. I tried my luck at the wishing column which is rumored to have healing and/or wish-granting powers. All you have to do is insert your thumb into the well-worn divet and turn your hand in a full 360-degree rotation. If you find that your thumb is when you pull it out your wish has been granted. I, unfortunately, was not so fortunate.

view of the blue mosque from the hagia sophia

view of the blue mosque from the hagia sophia

My afternoon in Istanbul was spent wandering the various markets (indoor and outdoor) and eating, lots of eating. In the evening I visited a local hamam, a Turkish bathhouse. I’d heard before going that people either love or hate the experience, but after my visit, I’m not sure how anyone could hate it. For roughly 30 euros, you experience the ritual that is a Turkish bath and scrub, and, if you’ve splurged, an oil massage. Hamams are historical social places and many in the city date back to the 1500s, their stunning marble interiors and beautiful tile work make them living reminders of the bygone ear of the Ottoman Empire. Every bathhouse is segregated by gender, there are separate areas for men and women or there are certain times of day for each gender, this is in accordance with Turkish social etiquette. (Note: if you are a family or a couple looking for a mixed hamam, I think there is one in Istanbul but you have to do some research.) There was something so refreshing about being in such a beautiful bathhouse filled with women of all ages relaxing and indulging in self-care. Armed with a towel, and not much else, an attendant leads you into the sauna and then through the various stages of the ritual including a scrub (a serious scrub) and massage by an attendant, several showers, and hot and cold water submersions. You are free to stay as long as you wish to relax in the sauna, pool and enjoy the overflowing basins of hot and cold water. Treat yo self.

cheese and olives at an outdoor market

cheese and olives at an outdoor market

lamps being sold in the grand bazaar

lamps being sold in the grand bazaar

Sunday I spent the morning exploring Topkapi palace before my flight. The harem was my favorite of the sprawling complex. I have to admit my modern Western understanding of what the word harem means, led me to think that concubines and a harem implied the same thing. I stand corrected and better informed. Harem means ‘a sanctuary’ or forbidden place, and its where female members of the royal family lived within a palace including the sultan’s mother, sisters, wife (wives), and female household caretakers. Whether or not there were concubines in the harem, or if the sultan chose to take multiple wives, does not change the essence of a harem; it is a place for women only.

I left much to be explored in Istanbul, but I’m grateful for the 48 hours. 1,000 photos of stunning tile-work later, I boarded my flight back to Basel (which was a 6-hour debacle filled journey including emergency landings in Stuttgart and ambulances).

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Tile-work ceiling in the Topkapi Palace

Tile-work ceiling in the Topkapi Palace

standing outside the harem

standing outside the harem

Let them Eat Eclairs

Every time I visit Paris I fall in love with the city for a new reason. Thanks to a ridiculously cheap flight, I found myself up at 4:30 AM to catch a Saturday morning puddle jumper to Paris for 36 hours of exploring. After flying from Basel to Paris, checking into my hotel, and walking to the Seine, it was still only 9:30 AM — a full day ahead of me.

The morning was leisurely and started with breakfast at Shakespeare & Co. I was surprised to see how much the shop had expanded since I was there just two years before, the store feels different. Although though I’m not sure how I feel about the tourist-oriented changes, I stuck to my tradition of purchasing a book. I stopped by L’Affineur Affiné for a delicious cheese plate (my kind of lunch) before heading over to Fragonard for a cologne making class. Making my own signature perfume had been on my bucket list for a while. When I booked the class initially I was nervous, afraid the concoction of smells I would make would be absolutely terrible. Thankfully it became clear early on in the class that there was no way to go wrong with the essential oils provided; no matter what you combined the cologne would smell good. After a brief history and olfactory lesson, we were left to our own devices of mixing and matching 11 scents at different proportions to create 100 ml of our own personal perfume. In the end, I combined mandarin, orange, lemon, verbena, and lavender to make something I was happy with.

After class, I walked across the street to Palais Garnier and enjoyed an audio tour of the Phantom’s opera house. The architecture is beautiful and I've added seeing a show here to my bucket list. That's the problem with travel isn't it, although you're crossing things off the ‘to see and do’ list, you end up adding on to that same list at twice the rate. Following some classic Parisian wandering, as they would say une flânerie, I found myself back at my hotel and hungry (13 miles will do that to you). A hamburger and absinthe gin & tonic later, quite the combo, I know, and I was ready to call it a night.

Ever the early riser, I was one of the first people inside the Musee de L'Orangerie the next morning which meant I had Monet's water lily's almost exclusively to myself. I made fast friends with an elderly tourist who wanted her photo with every painting, so I too now have 100 photos with every over-sized canvas Monet created. Although the Monets are the highlight of the museum, there was also an impressive collection of impressionist paintings in the lower level. I was a big fan of a few of the Renoirs and Matisses, always favorite artists of mine.

Leaving the L'Orangerie I indulged in an eclair for breakfast, I mean when in Paris, right? And walked across the Tuileries to the Louvre for the afternoon. As I mentioned in my Strasbourg post I'm a huge fan of period rooms, so most of my afternoon was spent in the royal Louvre apartments and decorative arts section. I also stopped by the Mona Lisa since it had been 10 years since last I saw her, she was as small and crowded as I remembered but hasn’t aged a day. Getting out of the Louvre took nearly 45 minutes since from the Mona Lisa I got lost in the Islamic art section and then took a wrong turn at the Greek statues before finally finding my way back to the glass pyramid. The Louvre is never ending.

My final meal before flying home fittingly consisted of steak au poivre and gratin, with an obligatory glass of French wine.

Monet’s water lilys

Monet’s water lilys

the classic english bookstore in paris

the classic english bookstore in paris

sampling fragonard scents

sampling fragonard scents

my new favorite corner of paris

my new favorite corner of paris

parisian breakfast

parisian breakfast

London Calling

London was a trip necessitated by a two-day meeting for work, but it provided the opportunity to fly in early and experience the city. Fortuitously, my aunt, Amber, was also in town for work with the Smithsonian so we had a weekend rendezvous centered around highly coveted tickets to the infamous Hamilton musical. Of course, it's only right to see a movie about American independence from Great Britain as Americans in Great Britain.

Saturday started with a long walk from Trafalgar square past Parliament to Westminster Cathedral. As I’d never been inside before, we picked up an audio tour and diligently walked through the enclaves and tombs of British rulers and notable citizens. I mean this with all due respect to the deceased royals, but the cathedral itself feels a bit like a grandmother’s house filled to the brim with hodgepodge items wherever they fit; in this case tombs and statues. As my aunt said, I would not want to be near Westminster the day the dead rise.

After a quick lunch at Nando’s (a spicy fast food chicken restaurant that I highly recommend), we found our way to the Victoria Palace Theater for the main event: Hamilton. We counted ourselves among the lucky few to get tickets to the show, it was pure felicity that I called the theater the day they opened up a few new seats and we booked the last two available. The tickets were more reasonably priced than on Broadway (where the fee is your first born child) and far more hospitality was involved. Our tickets came with a personal guide, a bottle of champagne, a reserved table pre-show, and seats at the center of the house. I feel a million different things after witnessing this perfect piece of production, but all I can say is that all the hype and adoration around this show is 100% deserved. Never have I experienced something so truly revolutionary (pun intended) on stage. If you’re ever in London the effort to score the tickets is worth it and if you live in NYC, consider flying to London to see the show – trust me it's cheaper.

Still in shock and awe from the afternoon’s show, Amber and I found ourselves that evening at a cocktail hot spot in the theater district called The Alchemist. With menus arranged like a periodic table and served in beakers, the drinks did not disappoint. We tried several different drinks, with each more dramatic in presentation and creation. Highlights included the ‘Light bulb Moment’ created with dry ice and served in a light bulb shaped beaker, and the ‘Bubble Bath’ which had never-ending bubbles frothing over the martini glass it came in.

Sunday was a more leisurely day, the morning was spent in Notting Hill shopping the length of vintage stores and ogling the pastel townhouses. In the afternoon we went to the Leighton House, the home of painter Frederic Leighton. It was recently reopened as a museum showcasing his paintings on the backdrop of his uniquely designed home interior. Most exquisite was the Persian tiled entertaining area complete with Egyptian window blinds. I was most pleased to find out that Frederic Leighton and his mistress are thought to be the inspiration behind Professor Higgins and Eliza Doolittle in Shaw’s Pygmalion – the basis for my favorite Audrey Hepburn movie, My Fair Lady. In the evening I found myself at a hot spot called Tonight Josephine, a millennial pink hideout with neon proclamations like “well-behaved women don’t make history”, before enjoying an obligatory meal of fish and chips at a local pub called Sherlock Holmes.

Until next time, London.

westminster

westminster

the classic london shot

the classic london shot

notting hill’s character

notting hill’s character

the greatest show, dare I say ever?

the greatest show, dare I say ever?

fish & chips are always a must in the Uk

fish & chips are always a must in the Uk

the london eye at night

the london eye at night

tonight josephine’s instagrammable signage

tonight josephine’s instagrammable signage