Well the stories begin no further than customs in Turkey. Britton and I went straight through, Irfan wasn't so lucky. They went through his passport with a magnifying glass making sure it was legit; asked him tons of questions like where he was from, where he "bought" his passport and where he parents were from. After about a half hour, we went back over to him to see what's going on (this is after the 8 armed guards left him). They asked if we were with him and obviously said yes.. so they took our passports too. After taking Irfan into the back and interrogating him some more, including asking him to sign a blank paper to compare the signatures, they let us go through. An hour after that mess began, we grabbed our bags and found the driver that was taking us to the hotel (this is all at around 1am, btw)
The hotel was pretty nice.. really small though. But for the price, cleanliness and proximity to everything, the size was OK with me. The Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque, Basilica Cistern, metro station and many other things were only about a 5 minute walk down the street.
Because of our late arrival, the next day we got a pretty late start. We had some really good local food and walked around this nice little park (that was an accident, we were looking for the Basilica Cistern). We finally made it and realized it was hiding in plane sight. Basically, it's an underground water basin kept to make sure the church (later turned into a mosque) above it had water. I'm not sure of the exact story of it, though.
We did some shopping; looked at some nice carpets and Irfan fell in love with a baby lamb leather jacket. This begins my new addiction to Turkish apple tea. Everywhere you go, they give you turkish tea. Usually they just give it to you unless you're in a cafe or something, then you obviously order it. Its delicious and I ended up buying a few packages of it to take home.
The next day we went to the Hagia Sophia (pronounced hi-ya sophia). This place was pretty amazing. I didn't read too much about it, so I couldn't tell you much, but I do know it was originally and orthodox patriarchal basilica, later turned mosque, later turned museum. This place is amazing! It's so absolutely beautiful and you can spend hours in it looking at all the architecture and calligraphy.
Of course on this day we also walked around the streets, ate some amazing food and just had a good time. We were standing in this courtyard when we ran into one of the guys that sells the leather jackets Irfan was looking at. They talked some prices and we went back. After some more negotiation, they were still on different pages about the prices and we left empty handed.
For the third day, we decided to take a pre planned tour with a tour company. We saw a company in one of the areas we were in a lot and picked out one that looked good. It was an all day tour that picked you up from your hotel and provided lunch for 65 Euro/140 Lira/ $110. We started at the castle of 7 towers, which, mom, close your eyes for the next sentence, is a liability waiting to happen. It was really cool to see it, though. It's not a castle, its a fort, I'm not sure why they insist on calling it a castle. You can go up on the walls where the guards would be, but there are no railings or walls to keep you from falling off.. nor are there railings on the flimsy staircases going up or down (don't worry, we only lost a few people at that stop)
Next was the Chora museum. Not too exciting, just a small church with a lot of mosaic artwork. There was a small cafe outside and some more shops, but nothing extravagant happened here.
Then onto Pierre Loti Hill. We parked the bus and took cable cars to the top of this incredibly steep hill. It had a great view and we took some pictures then went into a cafe for some turkish coffee and tea (are you beginning to see where my addiction came from yet?).
Next was lunch; more turkish kabobs. Then the Rustempasha mosque; just another mosque. The next stop was the spice bazaar. We only had about a half hour to walk around inside and told specifically to meet back at 2:20. There were only 6 of us to begin with and 3 of them didn't show back up. We waited for a bit longer but had to leave them behind because next was a Bosphorus cruise that we couldn't miss. The Bosphous river connects the Black sea and the Sea of Marmara (basically the Mediterranean to the Black sea). This was nice to just sit back and watch both the European side and the Asian side with a tour guide who could tell us about all the buildings on either side.
That pretty much sums up that day. Busy, but a lot of fun.
The final two days consisted of meeting up with Caitlin and Irfana (each on a different day), going to the grand bazaar (some serious bargaining was going on there), the Blue Mosque, and the Topkapi Palace.
So after a great 5 days in Istanbul, we headed home. Unfortunately this meant we got back to our dorms at around 8am.. So I slept most of the next day :-)
All in all it was a great trip, and one of the best spring breaks ever. Definitely worth the expense!
As always, there are tons of pictures on my facebook, so check them out! If you don't have a facebook, I can send you some if you'd like!