Arriving into Istanbul, we were met with a very long line for passport control. Unfortunately some people did not understand that this meant waiting, and multiple groups pushed past us. Be prepared to wait for a long time (and make sure you’ve done your e-visa beforehand)!
Once finally into the country, and having picked up our perfectly weighted suitcases (if you have no idea what I’m talking about, you can read all about our time in the Greek capital and find out), we were met with our airport transfer. Getting into the taxi was difficult because it seemed there were no rules about where/how/if ever to stop your car, and it became a much bigger challenge than necessary.
After about an hour’s drive, we arrived at our hotel, the centrally located Antusa Palace. It was a very affordable hotel, which looked a lot more expensive than it was. This, plus the excellent location (you can walk to literally everywhere worth going to within about twenty minutes), means I highly recommend it!
After settling into our room, we headed downstairs for dinner at the attached restaurant, Lekker. This seemed like a sensible idea, as it was already 8pm, and having not gone out into the city yet, we had no bearings, and didn’t want to end up in a dodgy area with dodgy people.
Nevermind though, because it soon became apparent that we had accidentally found ourselves one of those anyway…
He was the restaurant owner, and his name was Pedro.
Girls, you know those men that just give off creeper vibes and make you want to be anywhere else but with them? He was that. Times ten.
And it didn’t help that we were the only ones in the restaurant for quite a long period of time. After calling us his ‘angels’, asking everything about us, and showing off with his serving of the local dish (all whilst his cousin, the co-owner, asked him to lower the creeper vibes too), he asked us to go out with them one night. Needless to say, we politely objected and did everything possible to avoid doing that.
Still, Pedro was not wrong about one thing: the food was delicious.
The next day, after sneaking out past Pedro and his calls of ‘my angels!! Hello!!!’, we headed into the main tourist square, towards the Blue Mosque and the Aya Sofia. This was very easy to navigate from our hotel.
Starting with the Aya Sofia, we were mentally preparing to join the huge queue when a tour guide approached us and asked if we wanted to partake in a private tour with him. Despite Turkish men not having the best track record so far, he said the magic words ‘queue jump’ and we agreed to go with him.
And it was the best decision we could’ve made.
Taking us into the Aya Sofia, Omer was so informative, and as a bonus knew all the best photo opportunities and lighting. This is an iconic building and one worth visiting when in Istanbul. Incredibly, it has been both a cathedral and a mosque in it’s lifetime.
Once our tour ended, he asked if we would like to join him and go to the Basillica Cistern aswell. Of course we said yes.
If we were to do this ourselves, it really wouldn’t have made any sense: after all it’s literally a glorified sewer. But he told us the background and made it a little more interesting. If you’re going to visit this, you need to know the background beforehand, otherwise you will feel as if you’ve wasted your time.
From here he then didn’t even ask before leading us on to the Top Kapi Palace. This takes a good hour or two to really get around as it is so large, but the grounds are spectacular and the views over Istanbul are some of the best we saw.
Coming out of the Top Kapi Palace, Omer booked us in for a boat tour the following day, getting us a discount rate, before leaving us to go and find some lunch, and giving us his card should we want to use him again.
As we walked away from the Palace, a man approached us asking if we were okay or needed directions. We told him we were okay but he still wouldn’t stop talking to us, even following along with us down the street.
He led us to his shop where he basically was forcing us to buy something. After taking the free tea we were given, we finally got away, and went to find some lunch.
We went to the Green Corner Café, which was delicious, but again, the waiter asked for our numbers. Declining, we headed to the Blue Mosque.
You have to cover your head and ankles for this, but if you’ve not bought your own, don’t panic: you can rent some very attractive pieces for free of charge. Still a working mosque, you are only allowed in during certain times of the day, so make sure you check this out to avoid disappointment!
This attraction did not take long to appreciate, and besides, we headed back because we were very excited to have a Turkish Hammam booked for the evening.
Heading down to the spa, we had no idea what was in store for us. Hoping for a relaxing massage, what we received was quite the opposite…
First, we had to sit in a steam room for as long as we wanted. This was literally torture because it was too fucking hot and we almost choked to death on the steam (in hindsight this may have been our perfect out). We lasted two minutes before bursting out gasping for air.
Next, we were taken into a room for the pre-massage scrub down, in what was essentially a glorified water boarding. Water was thrown at us from buckets, and thrown at our faces without any pre warning. We were scrubbed until every layer of skin was shed (and fake tan @becca). We were also asked to remove our bikini tops at this point: so we are now VERY close friends.
Following this, we were sent to the relaxation room, to I imagine recover from that ordeal, where we were handed tea with bits in (after contemplating chucking this in the pool because it was literally undrinkable and we didn’t want to appear rude, but then realising it was purple and we would be caught out, we drank some). This was very relaxing for all of five minutes before we were barked at to come in for the main event.
And what an event it was.
I can honestly only describe it as half an hour of torture. This (I can only presume untrained) lady literally sat on top of me and starting clicking every possible bone (I actually had to check I could still move my neck because I was convinced she’d clicked my spine and paralysed me). I’ve never been in so much pain but at least my head wasn’t facing her so I could wince in the privacy of the hole on the bed. But then I had to turn over. And had the pleasure of all my toes getting pulled out of their joints. OH. MY. GOD. Becca hadn’t had this yet and after hearing *CLICK* ‘OW!’ five times asked not to have it: how I wish this was the other way round!
But it wasn’t over for me yet. I then got cramp in my foot. And when I asked her to stop so I could sort it out, I got told to relax… do Turkish people not get cramp? You cannot just relax. Becca’s laughing didn’t help either!
After this ordeal, they applied some weird cream to our hands and then just left the room, as it came to an abrupt end.
In hindsight it’s hilarious, but at the time I’ve never wanted something to end more in my life. At least it has provided a fantastic story for us both!
The next day we embarked on the boat tour. This took us all around the local area, and although it was windy, it was beautiful. And he experience was only slightly spoilt by the event runners who pestered us every five minutes to
get ripped off take part in a traditional costume photo shoot. We promised ourselves we wouldn’t give in and involved in this, and instead bought a hot chocolate and enjoyed the view.
As we all know, Turkey is half European, and half Asian. So it was completely surreal to sail down the part where it splits, and have Europe on one side and Asia on the other. You could literally step into another continent.
After enjoying the views for a bit longer, and despite promising ourselves we wouldn’t get involved in the dress up, there seemed to be no takers so we felt bad and agreed. And what a great fifteen minutes. They then tried to barter all of my lira off me for the pics (and managed to get two pics out of us- but how could we go home without what have possibly become my favourite photos EVER??)
We were a bit of a loss for activities after disembarking the boat. And that is how we ended up in the Carpet museum. Honestly, what with those photos, and this experience, this was shaping up to be the best day ever. This really was the best ten Lira (£1.28), I have or probably will ever spend. Hours of fun. We learnt all about the different patterns and symbols embroidered in the carpets, and what the different colours meant. (I honestly couldn’t believe what our lives had come to. Or that carpet had so much meaning.)
Following this, we went home to get ready for our last night. Being the classy girls we are, we opted for a rooftop restaurant called 360 Istanbul, with great views over the city. And of course we couldn’t go away without taking pics/simultaneously annoying everyone else in the restaurant with our constant door opening.
The food here was delicious, and so would the drinks have been… if they weren’t waaay too strong. Our cocktails seemed to be 99% alcohol with a little bit of mixer: a recipe for disaster. We even managed to overcome our Britishness and sent them back, asking for them to be remade, a testament to their bad taste. Unfortunately, they didn’t seem to understand the problem, and they came back almost exactly the same (although probably featuring added spit). Of course we pretended they were perfect, and grimaced our way through them. What a way to end a very eventful holiday.
I would recommend Istanbul as a great city break. Bursting with activities and culture, it certainly is a Turkish delight.