Our visit to Istanbul seemed even shorter due to when we arrived: our plane landed at 4:00pm, we got to the Shangri-La around 6:00pm, and by the time we showered and ate, it was already dark outside. Derik and I make a point not to wander the streets of anywhere we aren’t familiar with until after we talk to the locals a bit about safe/unsafe areas, so instead of venturing out our first night in Istanbul, we decided to turn in early. Plans were made to spend a full day exploring Istanbul before we began our cruise through the Mediterranean and Aegean seas the day after.
Although we visited Istanbul at a somewhat insecure time (when the mass migration from Syria and surrounding countries began), it was everything I had hoped for and more: the colors, the food, the lights and the distinct “East meets West” culture. I honestly wish we had scheduled a bit longer of a stay in Istanbul: 12 hours of daylight did not give us enough time to fully enjoy the city and all it had to offer.
After a quick chat with the hotel staff about taxis and learning what proper fares were around town (taxi drivers love to take advantage when they sense tourists don’t know what they’re doing), we hailed our first transport and started our morning off right with a tour of Hagia Sofia. As per usual, Derik and I decided on the self-guided audio tour and spent a little more time at the museum grounds than anticipated. By the time finished our tour, we were ready for a legit turkish lunch and coffee.
I’m not sure how I succeeded at eating lunch without taking a picture, but it happened; sorry about that. Am I a poor documenter or what?! We did manage to get a bit of wifi at the tiny hole-in-the-wall cafe we stopped at, and discovered the Grand Bazaar was only about 1.3km in walking distance (20 min), so we decided to hoof it ourselves over there and enjoy a bit of impromptu sightseeing along the way.
The streets of Istanbul were filled with eager tourists, food vendors, and some of the smallest closet-sized shops I’ve ever seen — it made quite the visual picture to walk through. The closer we got to the Bazaar, the more colorful the shops around the area became: filled with ornate light fixtures, fabrics, large rugs, jewelry, turkish delight and more!
I was worried the Bazaar itself was going to be insanely crowded due to our visit being at the height of the tourist season, but to our surprise, we only experienced a bit of congestion at the main entrance. The Bazaar itself was overwhelming, and we spent a good hour just walking around taking it all in before getting down to the nitty-gritty shopping/haggling experience (something I love to do but Derik hates). As a photographer, I also had problems figuring out what to take pictures of; there was SO MUCH color and stuff to look at! The lighting in the Bazaar is less than ideal (dark with a super yellow cast), so if you visit, be prepared for that. I think if we had the opportunity, I would have loved to go back a second day to shoot, as I would have been more educated with the setting of the Bazaar and what I should document picture-wise.
Once we felt like we had seen enough of the Grand Bazaar to say we had a true experience, we began the quest to find a honest and fair taxi driver to take us back to our hotel for the night, which was a trick in itself. Derik and I ended up having to walk another 2km and get away from the tourist scene, just to find a taxi driver that wasn’t trying to scam us. We finally arrived back at the Shangri-la at around 7:00pm, just in time for dinner. We then went to bed early to prep ourselves for our cruise adventure starting the next day!
I was so excited to arrive at our port of embarkation, because all the way up to the point of seeing the ship, Derik had no idea we were going on a cruise. I had surprised him with the trip for our 5th wedding anniversary, and he thought our 36-hours in Istanbul was the anniversary trip!
Boarding the ship and getting ready to sail was a process that took an entire day, but before we knew it, we were headed out to sea with the sun setting behind city lights. Istanbul captured my heart in a unique way, and I look forward to visiting again. The Turkish sunset turned into a beautiful starry night sky, and we found a cozy place on deck to enjoy it as we watched our first ‘Movies Under the Stars’ onboard Princess Cruises.
Our first cruise destination? Mykonos, Greece.