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  • Writer's pictureKristin


Updated: Feb 16, 2021

For the first time in Turkey, we ran into some cloudiness and cool temperatures while touring. There was a little drizzle in the morning, but we headed out to explore Istanbul, as we only had 2 full days to do so. We first headed out to check out the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia and the Topkapi Palace. We walked from our side of Istanbul across the bridge to the other side of the harbour where the sites were located. Luckily all three were in the same place.

Fishermen & Porters on the Hillsides

We could have taken the tram over, but walked across the bridge, which gave us the opportunity witness the local culture in action. While crossing the Fishermen's Bridge we saw the local fishermen trying to catch their fish.

Plus along our hilly journey, we not only got some good exercise in, but we got in some good people watching as well. In one of the more hilly business sections, we saw several ‘porters’, who would wear this unique backpack mechanism on their back, and carry items like boxes, rolled up carpets, etc. up and down the hilly streets.

Blue Mosque

When we arrived at the Blue Mosque we gathered our garments to make sure we were dressed appropriately and lined up to enter the mosque. Because it was a chilly day I just had to wear a head scarf, but Alex wore shorts so he had to wear a skirt. :-). The mosque is free and open to the public, except for prayer times - which is based on certain times of the day correlating with sunrise and sunset - and Friday mornings. You can view the assigned prayer times by day on this website.

We went inside and looked around. Unfortunately, right as we were in line and about to enter the mosque Connor had a stinky dirty diaper. At that point there was no point of return because they would be closing it for prayer time soon, so we powered through and got some interesting looks from people who probably caught a whiff of it! Oh the joys of parenthood!

The Blue Mosque was built between 1609-1616 by the Ottoman Sultan Ahmed. It was built to compete with the Haghia Sophia, which was a mosque during that timeframe. The Blue Mosque is the most important mosque in Istanbul as it has 6 minarets. It is still used as a place of worship for the Muslims.

After our visit at the Mosque we went to go get some lunch at a little cafe before heading to The Hagia Sophia. Along the way our daughter saw some roasted sweet corn by the street vendors so we stopped and got her some, and we also tried a version of Turkish cinnamon rolls. She and Connor quite enjoyed the Cobb of corn. :-)

Hagia Sophia

The Hagia Sophia was built in the same spot 3 different times, as it was destroyed by fire and an earthquake the first two times. The third, and current building, was opened for worship in 537 A.D. and was a Christian church, and was used for crowning emperors. At the time it was the largest cathedral in the world, until the Seville Cathedral was later built. For 916 years it was used as a church, but after the conquest of Istanbul by Fatih Sultan Mehmed, the Hagia Sophia was converted into mosque. As a mosque it was a place of worship for 482 years, until 1935 when Turkish founder Atatürk and the Council of Ministers decided to convert Hagia Sophia into a museum. While it has an impressive dome and the artwork is very detailed, what was most interesting is that there are elements of Christianity and Islam both in the building together. There are still images and the mosaics of Christ and his life that survived the conversion of it into a mosque.

Topkapi Palace Museum

We also went to visit the Topkapi Palace Museum. Both the Topkapi Palace and Hagia Sophia entrances were 40 TL. The Topkapi Palace was the main residence and administrative site of the Ottoman sultans during that time. The palace was originally built 6 years after the conquest of Constantinople but each sultan added its own component to the compound, slowing evolving it over time.

We explored a variety of the rooms and walked through the various gardens. At the library building, my daughter, another visitor and I contemplated whether the people in there were real. We came to the conclusion they weren’t after looking at the ones’ hands and the other not blinking, but they were pretty realistic. Towards the back of the grounds it provided some pretty picturesque views across the channel as well.

Sirkeci Train Station

We started to walk back toward the bridge, but stopped at Sirkeci Train Station, which was the last stop on the Orient Express. There’s not a ton to see history wise, as it is a modern train station as well, but there is still an old train station feel due to the architecture. There was a little museum there as well - looked like it was only 1 room with some photos and articles in it, but it was closing up right as we got there. But let's be honest, museums and our kids don’t seem to mix incredibly well. However, after the historic stop we boarded the modern day tram to take us back to our side of Istanbul for some dinner.

Hamam Turkish Bath House

That night while I put the kids to bed, Alex headed out for an authentic Turkish Bath experience! He said it was like nothing he has ever done before and he felt so relaxed during the entire process. He explained there was the rinsing phase, the sitting on the warm stone, then the full bath with being scrubbed down by the soap and sponge, followed by rinsing and drying. He went to the Allah Pasa Hamam Turkish bath house. They had female bath times in the morning until 4 p.m. and then from 4 p.m. onwards it is just for men. He paid about 300 TL ($60 CDN) and was there for about 1 hour and 45 minutes. He highly recommended it!

Shopping at the Grand Bazaar

On our final full day in Istanbul we headed to the Grand Bazaar to do some final shopping. It was a super windy day, especially along the waterfront. The Bazaar covered quite a large area and there were so many different shops. We headed in and did some perusing. We bartered with a few vendors, as they advised to barter. But a few of the vendors gave us very reasonable prices right from the beginning and were solid on their prices and not willing to negotiate. Our daughter got several compliments from the vendors too. One vendor gave our daughter a free bracelet and told her that she can come back in 20 years...ha ha!

Shops Quickly Close Down for Prayer Time

We also wanted to visit the Spice Market, but it was separate from the part of the bazaar we were in. We started to head toward there but stopped in a shop to look at some headbands. As my daughter and I were in the shop, the mosque started to broadcast the call to prayer and the shop owners told us that they were closing up. We quickly made our purchase, exited the shop and started to walk down the street. However, as we walked there were people coming out from all the different shops nearby and kneeling on their own carpets/mats and even cardboard. They pretty much filled up the entire pedestrian pathway so it caused quite the backlog of people; however, it was a great cultural experience! Later I figured out that Fridays (which it was) are the holy day for Muslims, so it was likely related to that.

Bosphorus Cruise

In the afternoon we headed to the waterfront for a 2-hour Bosphorus Cruise. You can pay an arm and a leg for a private or yacht tour of the Bosphorus, but we found a cheap alternative - the local ferry boat! Same views, a significant fraction of the price. The cruise provided a very scenic view of the city from the water and was one of the cheapest tourist things we had ever done - only $5 CDN for all of us (12.50 TL per adult). The Bosphorus is the main water channel used to access Russia, so there are many large ocean freight liners using this route. The following day on our way to the airport we saw probably about 50-60 ships just waiting to have their turn to make the pass.


In the evening we headed back over to Beyoglu, which is were we were staying. This side of the city is technically on the European side. To get there on this particular night we took the tram and then transferred to the Funicular, which was great to be going up in that versus pushing the strollers up.

Turkish Haircut....Plus a few more services than planned

We grabbed some dinner for the kids and Alex went to get a haircut from one of the barber shops. He went in thinking he was just paying for a $8 haircut, but he came out with about $38 in charges...ha ha! It was actually quite the experience. The kids and I were entertaining ourselves and I look over and he has green wax over his face, in his nostrils and around his ears! He was getting a full face wax! Then it was followed by some exfoliation and a little foil cap on the top of his head, which I still don’t know what that was for! The man providing the service didn’t speak very much English, so I don’t think Alex clearly knew what he was getting himself into.

Our Airbnb was located close to the Galata Tower, which also provided some scenic views of the harbour. There were always line-ups right around dusk/sunset, but we never went up the tower. But it was an iconic spot for Beyoglu.

Last Minute Shopping

After the kids went to bed that night, I headed out for some last minute shopping. I didn’t think I was going tohave much time as it was just shortly after 9 p.m., but several of the stores on the main pedestrian stretch were open until 11 p.m. which worked out perfectly for me. I was on the busy shopping pedestrian street and I felt very comfortable and safe by myself. My best find....a pair of jeans, sweatshirt and girls tights for 110 TL, or about $22 CDN Total! I probably couldn’t even find a pair of jeans for that amount back home!

Journey Back Home

Our journey home was relatively uneventful....which is good for travel days! We used Uber in Istanbul to get us to the airport. It was about 120 TL to get from Beyoglu to the main airport. We had a little leftover Turkish money that I thought we might just get something at the airport, but once we were inside all the duty free shops sold things in Euros and to pay by Turkish Lira you had to use the exchange rate of 7.5, which wasn't a good deal. Everything got a lot more expensive very quickly! Instead we just ended up buying a few snacks for the plane ride to London.

The flight to London was great! We flew Turkish Airlines and it was amazing the service they provided compared to North American Airlines. We got a hot meal on the 3 hr. 45 minute flight, free alcoholic beverages and our daughter even got a little complimentary toy bag with a plane, pilot toy and pilot hat in it!

We arrived London at what would have been 6 p.m. in Turkey (2 hour time difference) so we found some food and a little trail just next to the airport to play some hide and seek. Our accommodation that night was very convenient - right across from the airport at the Airport Premier Inn.

The following day we enjoyed a full breakfast at the hotel and boarded our flight back home to Calgary. It was a pretty uneventful flight and the kids did great! Our daughter changed between colouring and watching iPad/playing games, and our son watched some shows as well and even got a nap in, which was great! I have a love/hate relationship with the iPad, but on the airplane it is definitely a ‘loving’ relationship.

Adjusting Back to Home Time

Around 2:30 p.m. Calgary time (11:30 p.m. in Turkey) we got back home! The kids actually did great and made it to about 5:30-6, when we put them down for bed. I think they were just so excited to be back at home and see our cat and play with their toys. The transition back to their normal sleep cycles has definitely taken longer to adjust back than it did when we arrived in Turkey. However, adjusting back is just part of the of the experience for the fun and amazing trip we had!


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