When planning my annual vacation, I always tend to first glance at my ever growing travel bucket list and then follow my gut instinct. My favorite travel partner is and perhaps always will be my dad for two main reasons – 1) we don’t believe in shopping for anything other than small souvenirs 2) we are completely touristy even if it means getting up at 06.00 am.
Well since we both had USA visas, applying for the Turkish visa was easy… apply online and 24 hours later its in our email inbox. And hence began the prep work.
Going onto the then newish website tripadvisor.com, we decided to search for accommodation in the much more practical Sultanehmet area versus the more posh Taksim Square vicinity (by the way best decision that we made). Sent an email out to Idrees at Haseki Sultan Apartments and began the gentle negotiation / booking process.
Landing in Istanbul on 7 March 2014, we reached the Apartments early afternoon. Of course the first thing we did after dumping our luggage in the room was spread out all the brochures Idrees gave us and starting working on a plan of action.
Instead of taking a boring daytime 15 minute ride across the Bosporus we opted for the more practical and fun option of dinner and musical show on a ferry. A 5 course fancy meal coupled with belly dancing and a skit of Ajooj Majooj was the perfect vacation kickoff.
Determined to miss the early morning rush, we did the 10 minute trek up to the Topkapi Museum at 09.00 am only to find the entrance blocked by a dog snoozing in the morning sun. We were provided with head sets that doubled as our personal guides. The museum is one of those must visits in Istanbul and we enjoyed both the artifacts and the beautiful architecture.
On our way out of Topkapi and en route to the Blue Mosque the roasted acorns were an unavoidable temptation. The Blue Mosque as I remember was a true reflection of Turkey’s architectural history.
Next on our agenda was a full day trip to Troy. The pick up came early morning and we sat down with a group of 6 other tourists form Australia and UK. For all the history buffs or those fascinated by the story of Helen, this trip is a must. As history depicts, the walls of Troy definitely appear impenetrable; not only is the entrance curved but every 2 blocks are interconnected in a unique jigsaw pattern. Of course one cannot miss out on the famous Trojan Horse from the Brad Pitt movie, (Hollywood gifted it to the Turks for display in Troy).
While at it, we also had some fun peeping out of the windows of an older version of the Trojan Horse.
Next day we decided to take it slow and limited ourselves to the Grand Bazaar, Haga Sophia and a roadside meal of Koftas. We loved the Grand Bazaar with all the colorful artifacts and in true Pakistani fashion haggled at the prices. Haga Sophia though we found to be a tad bit overrated and overpriced. After lunch we took the 45 minute tram / bus to Taksim Square more out of curiosity than anything else.
Since both my dad and I are sticklers for history and culture, next morning we took a flight for a 2 day trip to Izmir. Very convenient especially since we left our luggage at Haseki Sultan and carried only an overnight bag… piece of advice make sure you check the hotel the local tour agency books in Izmir; Hotel Paris was filthy beyond description. However, the trip itself was amazing, we managed to cover the entire Dardanelles belt including Pergamon I and Pergamon II.
The general architecture including one of the biggest theaters and libraries was a sight for sore eyes.
Whilst at Izmir we were also shown Mary’s (Hazrat Maryam) last residential place. As per history a Russian nun saw this very place in her dream and described it clearly. Till date this is a practicing church.
On the extreme insistence of some of our close family and friends we decided to take the bus to the mausoleum of Hazrat Ayub Ansari. BIG waste of time!!! Firstly no one there knows any english, secondly took us eons to locate the place. Once we did, it took us exactly 5 minutes to finish the tour. The rest of the vicinity consisted of hills with thousands of graves. Not recommended at all.
Our last day in Turkey we decided to revisit Taksim Square for some gorgeous royal blue roses that we had seen. Wanted to get some for my mom, however at USD 20 a piece we decided to stick to just one. We hand carried it back home almost like one would fragile glass and Mom loved the rose. Advice … never buy exotic colored roses, chances are they are dyed.
Even though its been almost four years since we visited, Turkey still presents memories to last a lifetime. Loved it and one of the best places I have seen to date.