Warren had the bright idea to just show up without hotel reservations (a prospect I had a hard time getting behind) and take the first hotel shuttle that showed up at the airport. Luckily, this worked and we got a great deal on the Wyndham we ended up staying at. So we dropped our stuff off, and headed downtown.
First stop: Topkapi Palace.
We actually didn't get to go in because about a million other tourists had the same idea we did, but at least 20 minutes before we did. Next time!
So then it was off to the royal tombs surrounding the Hagia Sophia.
It didn't take me very long to become obsessed with: 1. medallion ceilings; and 2. tile work. All those sultans can't be wrong, right? Warren was incredibly patient as I snapped iPhone photo after iPhone photo of the detailing.
Let's also talk about the incredible woodwork and inlaid mother-of-pearl. Those Ottomans, I tell you!
We then walked next door to the Hagia Sophia itself. Unfortunately, a lot of it was covered in scaffolding as they restore it, but there was still plenty of gold leaf to be seen. It was fascinating to see Byzantine iconography juxtaposed with Quranic calligraphy.
And Warren and I in front of the ablution fountain outside the Hagia Sophia.
Maybe my favorite part of Istanbul was the Basilica Cistern across the street from the Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque. This is definitely a hidden gem, but we absolutely loved it. It's an underground cistern the Byzantines built which was forgotten about after it became an Ottoman city. It's totally eery and romantic. I only have one picture because it was here that my battery died.
I tried but failed to persuade Warren to get a picture here. You know those kitschy stores they have at the beach where you can pay to take old-timey photos of yourself and your friends dressed up like you're in the Old West? They had a stall like that, except with Ottoman costumes. Absolutely ridiculous, and a total once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, but Warren's pride stood between us and the greatest Christmas card ever and Warren's pride won.
We also visited the Blue Mosque, the Sultanahmet Mosque, the Spice Bazaar, and a few other mosques we found en route. I love that Istanbul is so walkable. At the end of our day, we had the ultimate feast of baklava and Turkish delight at the Grand Bazaar. To die for.
Turkey, we'll be back.