Day 2 in Turkey, our first full day, and I finally got to see the city in the daylight! We booked a private tour of the city and our guide and driver met us in the hotel lobby on time. Along the way to the first stop, our guide taught us a lot about Turkey and Islam, and we got a better understanding of the region and what was going on in the world. As we walked to our first stop, I had to grab a simit. This is a round bagel sort of bread that can be found everywhere. I had one in Vancouver before leaving and wasn’t impressed. That one was shaped like a simit but had the texture of a cookie. The ones I had in Turkey were more chewy and the sesame seeds gave it that extra burst of flavor. I would have them often in Turkey for breakfast. They are delicious!
I grew excited as the Hagia Sophia came into view.
…and then saw the massive line.
This is where having a guide comes in handy. He suggested we go to the Blue Mosque first and then return later when the line died down. The Blue Mosque had no line, maybe because it was under construction and the interior dome was covered with scaffolding. It was still a beautiful sight.
Here is the Blue Mosque from the outside, with the line from the Hagia Sophia in the foreground.
Our next stop was Topkapi Palace. Again, this is where a guide comes in handy. The main entrance was packed but our guide knew a smaller side entrance which we were able to use, and only waited in a short, 5 minute line.
We toured the palace and then went to a smaller church close by, Aya Irini.
By then, the line at the Hagia Sophia was much shorter and we were finally able to enter and see the grand splendor! This was truly a sight to see, and if you could only choose one of the above, I would recommend this.
Finally, it was time for lunch. This is where the guide failed miserably. I explained what I wanted, but he still took us to a place called Baran 2 Restoran (look it up on Google, it has a rating of 2.1!). I think either:
A) he has an arrangement with the restaurant for bringing in tourists or
B) he thinks this is what tourists want or
C) some combo of the above, plus miscommunication due to language
In any event, the restaurant is horrible. Here was the menu.
The doner was a 2/10. The meat was dry, the bread was flat and dry with very poor texture, and the whole thing was dripping oil!
The kebap was a bit better but still the worst of our trip.
This was disappointing as I still had not tried a proper kebap or doner on the street! I asked the guide what he rated the place and he said “8, there are no good places in this area”. Anyway, after lunch we headed to the Grand Bazaar. I would skip this. Its basically a large market with people selling knock off goods and a lot of junk. Our guide took us to a few jewelry stores but I did not know about the authenticity. He also kept asking if we wanted to look at knock off bags. In all, if you must, I would see the place for its history and to awe at the shear number of people, and then leave.
He then took us to the spice bazar which was much more interesting.
Still, I could not help but wonder how the places we were being taken to were selected. Many had the same sales pitch: give you free tea, show you a bunch of stuff, and use guilt to get you to buy something. We did ended up buying some lokum at this one place.
After the spice market, it was time to head back to our hotel for what would be one of my favorite dinners of the trip. In fact, it was so good, it deserves its own post which will be tomorrow. I will also tell you how to avoid being scammed by Uber or a Taxi. Crossing back over the Galata bridge to our hotel, we were able to catch our first glimpse of the beautiful city from the water.