Hey guys, I'm now back in Dublin after an adventurous 2 weeks in Africa - I'll tell you all about it in the coming weeks! On my way from Dar Es Salaam back to Dublin I had the chance to spend a whole 22 hours in Istanbul and as I had never been to Turkey before (embarrassing, I know!) I was very excited to check out the city even if it was just for a day. And what can I say? I loved it and certainly want to go back to see more of it! Unfortunately, I was there on Easter Sunday and the Grand Bazaar as well as the Spice Market were closed. :( So that's certainly a reason to return one day. What's also quite high on my bucket list is Cappadocia in central Turkey and the ruins at Ephesus near Izmir. Some day... ;)
We arrived on a mid-morning flight at Atatürk Airport in Istanbul and after queuing for over an hour at passport control finally made it through to collect our bags. We were looking forward to our free night accommodation that we should have gotten through the airline as our lay-over was quite long. Unfortunately, there was a mix-up with some flight details and we ended up without complementary accommodation. The lovely people at Turkish Airlines, however, promptly sorted us out and we were checked into a beautiful 4-star hotel near Sultanahmet Square in no time. We had to pay for it ourselves but at least we had somewhere to sleep & leave our bags.
And off we went exploring... I was blown away by the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sofia (Ayasofya - meaning "holy wisdom"). I have a thing for cathedrals, mosques and temples - the incredible architecture gets me every time!
The Hagia Sofia was originally built as a church in the 6th century in the same place where two churches had stood before, built in the 4th and 5th centuries respectively. In the 15th century minarets were added and it was converted into a mosque. Today it's a museum celebrating both Islam and Christianity (the entrance fee at the time of writing was about €11).
The Blue Mosque or Sultan Ahmed Mosque was built in the early 17th century and still functions as a mosque today. It's free to get in but visitors should dress respectfully. Scarves, long skirts (for people like me who rock up in skinny jeans) and full length gowns can be borrowed free of charge for the time of your visit.
And then there's of course the whole city center to explore from some major shopping streets to the Topkapi Palace grounds and museums. As for food there are so many good restaurants serving wonderful veggie-friendly food like hummus, flatbread, stuffed vine leaves (my personal favorite!), eggplant salad and for desert just check out any of the numerous Turkish Delight shops! Traditionally Turkish Delight is made with corn starch instead of gelatin so it should almost always be vegan. If you're vegetarian and don't mind honey then Baklava is a yummy and seriously sweet treat. For dinner try to book a table in one of the many restaurants with rooftop terraces. The view can be incredible at sunset!