Today the countdown app on my phone kindly alerted me that there are just 9 days until I board a plane to Istanbul, Turkey. My family, friends, and co-workers have been eagerly asking me, “Are you excited?!” And yes, of course, I’ve been planning this trip for 10 months and it’s been at the top of my travel bucket list for years…but I always have a brief moment of trepidation right before I depart for a new destination. How am I going to survive the 13-hour flight? What if I get ripped off by a taxi driver at the airport? What if the fish sandwiches make me sick? What if Erdogan detains me because I accidentally look at him funny? What if I get kidnapped by ISIS?
My mom helped me put all these fears to rest on Sunday. “You’ll be fine,” she told me, “because you have to be fine. Seriously, don’t get into trouble over there, I don’t have time to negotiate a ransom for you.” She’s right…my dad is a candidate for a highly invasive back surgery, and my brother and his pregnant wife have just moved in with them for the summer. Also, Scott is watching the NBA Playoffs and continues to be addicted to Angry Birds as if he’s a 15-year-old trapped in 2014, so he won’t be much use either if I’m sold into slavery.
Obviously I’m joking, and I would never willingly go somewhere that I actually felt was dangerous. But why exactly I chose Istanbul, the city where East meets West along the Bosporus Strait, is a fair question. I never had much of an interest in ancient history until I read The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova. This wonderful book, set primarily in Istanbul, exposed me to the rich and compelling history of the city, and soon I knew the city of Constantine would be my next international solo travel destination. I started reading other books about Byzantine and Ottoman history (including this one and this one and this one, if you’re interested) as I made my plans. I booked my ticket on Turkish Airlines in January and haven’t looked back since.
Over the past few months I’ve made an itinerary and booked hostels and hotel rooms around the massive metropolis, trying to include as many neighborhoods as I can while still making time for the archaeological sites. Since so many people have asked, I thought I’d share what I’m going to do while I’m there. I plan on posting photos here on the blog (now that I’m sans Instagram), so readers can know what to expect and when. Also, maybe there are some fellow travelers out there who would want to use the itinerary for their own trips:
Days One & Two: Trapped inside a giant, cold metal tube 7 miles above ground
- LAS -> LAX
- LAX -> IST
I’m in for 14.5 hours of travel, and Istanbul is 10 hours ahead of my current time zone. It’s gonna be a rough one. Constantine, your digs better be worth it!
Days Three thru Five: Sultanahmet District a.k.a. “Old City”
- Hagia Sophia (duh)
- Blue Mosque (also duh)
- Grand Bazaar
- Hippodrome/Sultanahmet Square
- Topkapi Palace
- Basilica Cistern
- Balat neighborhood (Jewish quarter)
- Chora Church
- Suleymaniye Mosque
- Valens Aqueduct
- Theodosian Walls
- Istanbul Archaeological Museum
- Mosaic Museum
- Panorama 1453 (the conquest of Constantinople)
Obviously I’m cramming A LOT into three days. All the Istanbul guides I read said that this is the minimum amount of time one needs to see the sites in the Old City, but I want to be sure to see as much I can of the other districts too.
Day Six: Beyoglu District
- Galata Bridge
- Galata Tower
- Istaklal Street
- Taksim Square
- Maiden’s Tower
Beyoglu is located across the Golden Horn from Sultanahmet, still on the European side. Taksim Square is more or less the epicenter of the city, and supposedly has all the best nightlife.
Day Seven: Food Tour & Kadikoy on the Asian side
- Culinary Backstreets “Two Markets, Two Continents” Tour: book here
I found this awesome all-day walking tour that starts on the European side, includes a ferry across the Bosporus to the Asian side, and ends in Kadikoy, which is one of the city’s best culinary destinations. If you hear news about an epic baklava shortage in the Middle East a couple weeks from now, that’s all me.
Day Eight: Relax at a fancy hotel
- Hamam (Turkish bath)
- Hanging out with rich Chinese people
- Resting my very tired feet
Almost every other day of my trip, I’ll be staying in private rooms in various hostels. I like this option because it’s cheap and provides a connection to the hostel community of younger, budget-minded travelers, but I can still have privacy. However, I once got some advice to splurge on a fancy hotel for at least one night of a trip–which I’ve followed and enjoyed ever since–so I chose a point in my trip where I’d probably be completely worn out and would really appreciate a fluffy white robe and an intense body scrub administered by a burly Turkish woman.
Day Nine: Besiktas
- Ortakoy mosque
- Ortakoy street market
- Dolmabahce Palace
- Galata Mevlevi Museum (whirling dervish performance)
I’ve read great things about the Besiktas neighborhood, particularly the street market held on Sundays. Also, rumor has it that Dolmabahce is even more opulent than Topkapi Palace.
Day Ten: Prince’s Islands
Depending on how exhausted I am or if I want to go back and see more of what I saw the previous nine days, I may or may not take the ferry out to the Prince’s Islands. This is where they used to exile all the dethroned emperors that the current emperor decided not to kill.
Day Eleven: Get back into the giant, cold metal tube
Assuming I don’t get kidnapped, detained, or simply refuse to leave the wondrous place that is Istanbul, I’ll conclude my trip on Day 11 and endure another full day of travel.