After enjoying a jam-packed Day 1 in Istanbul, we thought we'd take it easy and sleep in. Just kidding. We got up at dawn, scarfed down our hotel breakfast, and headed out to explore. First stop: Topkapi Palace.
Waking up before the rest of a city has its advantages. Mainly, you have central attractions, like the palace, all to yourself. As one might expect, the palace was extravagant, gigantic and on a hill with awesome views. Though many of the individual palace rooms were closed off to the public, you could still peek into the rooms and take in the luxury. The tile and mosaic work in the palace was like no other. The colors, the patterns... I was in heaven. There was a museum exhibit explaining Islamic influences in Istanbul featuring a ton of historic artifacts and a small cafe where we enjoyed tea and creme brulee at 9 a.m. Ballers.
Sultan Ahmed ("Blue") Mosque
This 400+-year-old mosque (still in use!) is a highlight of any visit to Istanbul. It's massive, beautiful, and important to the culture, so you know you gotta go! After taking off our shoes, covering our heads, and separating by gender, we were led into visitor areas (which were pretty small, especially for women). There were a few people praying in there, which made me feel weird and voyeuristic, but they didn't seem to mind. We weren't there for too long since there wasn't that much for visitors to see, so we explored the courtyard (filled with cats!) and the surrounding area with ancient artifacts.
This is another "must see" for tourists. Although its basically a Disneyland-esque tourist attraction now (including an Ottoman Empire costumed photo op at the end) the cistern is still worth a peek. The cavernous structure built in 532 is filled with 336 columns, fish, and weirdly, Medusa heads.
You can't go to Istanbul without checking out the Grand Bazaar. Even if you aren't looking for souvenirs, you can still enjoy the giant maze filled with food, flea market finds from the Ottoman Empire, and tons of locals. Ang and I returned with the most amazingly bizarre (pun-intended) harem pants.
Istanbul at Night
After the bazaar, we wandered back to our hotel in the snow and grabbed some dinner. Since no trip is complete without at least a small sampling of the local nightlife, we headed out to some local bars and then to a club called Faces. Now, I have no idea how Faces is perceived by the locals, but we had an amazing time. We met a few locals, danced our faces off, and took way too many sweaty pictures. A perfect ending to Day 2.
Stay tuned next week for my recap of Day 3!