October just seems to have flown by in a blur of work, studies, and – luckily – a mini pre-Eid break in Istanbul.
After the long, hot summer and Ramadan, business returned to Dubai with a vengeance and everybody tried to cram as much as possible into the few weeks between the end of Ramadan and Eid al Adha, the “greater” of the two Eid festivals, which took place on the 25th & 26th of October. We decided to stay in Dubai for this year’s Eid and travel to Istanbul for a little pre-Eid break instead.
We wanted to go to Istanbul for a fair while, but it’s a popular destination and flights are often full or very expensive, so we never managed while I still had a ‘proper’ job and could only travel during holidays (if at all).
Alas, one of the advantages of my current life as a freelance hotel consultant is that I can travel more or less when I want to and that I can take my work with me, if necessary.
Travelling with a toddler does require a little more pre-planning, but we got there in the end and left Dubai on Turkish Airlines bound for the Bosporus and the Golden Horn.
We had booked a serviced apartment rather than a hotel room, because we preferred the little extra space and the ability to have breakfast ‘at home’. When we arrived at the Marmara Çamlica Residence, our temporary home in the Asian side of the city, we were pleasantly surprised to find that we’d been upgraded from a one bedroom apartment to a three bedroom apartment. Yup, even Max, the mini-consultant, enjoyed a huge double bed, albeit it that he looked a little lost amongst all the pillows and blankets.
The weather was perfect and we really liked seeing the autumn colours, which Dubai sadly lacks. We also enjoyed being in a city with an excellent public transportation network – again, not something that Dubai’s very good at, despite its newish metro system.
We’d walk to the nearest metro station in the mornings, grabbing a pain au chocolat from the local bakery for our second breakfast, take the train down to the Bosporus, jump on the next ferry, and eventually hit the old town with its mosques, palaces, and bazaars.
First on our list of sights to see was the Hagia Sophia, once the world’s largest cathedral, then a mosque, and now a museum.
We also visited the Sultan Ahmed Mosque (Blue Mosque), one of the imperial mosques built at the peak of the Ottoman Empire.
The Grand Bazaar, one of the world’s oldest & largest covered markets, was another fascinating stop on sightseeing route. Crowded, but pleasantly unintimidating, it’s a true all-weather destination crammed with shops selling everything from antiques, jewellery, carpets (not of the flying kind, sadly), books, jams, and much, much more.
Food-wise, Istanbul has much to offer, too. We love uncomplicated street-food and there’s certainly plenty on offer in Turkey’s largest city, though we also tried local cafes and restaurants. Eating out was affordable and ordering a beer or a glass of wine with a meal was positively cheap compared to Dubai, where alcohol attracts 30% tax when sold in shops and restaurants.
On our last day, we visited Topkapi Palace, which used to be the primary residence of the Ottoman Sultans for most of their reign and which appears like a true setting from the stories from 1001 Nights. A tour of the harem is both educational as well as visually stunning and I recommend it highly.
A long weekend isn’t really enough to see everything that Istanbul has to offer, but the time we spent in the city left us with very positive impressions and hungry for a return journey in the future.
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