THE BLOG

Istanbul on a Whim

22/04/2014 16:54 BST | Updated 22/06/2014 10:59 BST

When I boarded a 9.30am plane to Istanbul I had only decided to go the night before, at 11.30pm. I do not usually do things like this.

I had a bit of a breakthrough (rather, breakdown) the day before. In short, I had entrusted someone with a crucial part of my career, and after 18 months of waiting for results from the person, he basically split. It dawned on me, "What am I waiting for?!" I'm always waiting on something; a man, a deal, a friend. Not least of all waiting to travel to places I've always wanted to see. Fast forward 10 hours and I'm en route to the land that joins the East and West.

Needless to say I was slightly ill-prepared for my journey (like thinking Turkey's currency was Euros). It is in fact Lira, but Euros are accepted if you don't mind getting taken advantage of on the conversion rate.

Upon arriving at my hotel, I come to find I've been upgraded to a suite in an even more central and nicer hotel. For a traveler's hotel it was perfect; great value, very helpful and considerate staff, good food, ideal location, and safe. Faros Hotel, Old City.

The best way to experience a city is to walk or run it. I was limited for time so the first thing I did was go for a (slow) jog covering about six miles. The route started with crossing the street to see two of the most iconic Turkish sites, Hague Sofia and the Blue Mosque. I then headed from the Sultanahmet area to the Galata bridge to Beyoglu and up to the Galata tower, which sits on top of a cobble-street shopping area. There are so many hidden streets and gems to explore in this area before hitting the main shopping street, Istiklal. I recommend exploring the side streets as Istiklal is similar to any major Western shopping street.

Later that evening, I went for a seafood dinner off Kennedy Cd in what was meant to be one of the main lively nightlife areas. The infamous buzz of Turkish nightlife was very present.

Topkapi Palace was my first stop the next day. The ticket lines were insane so I ambitiously persuaded the paid guides to sell me a ticket. I had less than 48 hrs in Instanbul and couldn't afford to wait in line (tip: buy your tickets or multi-pass card well online in advance). The Palace sits atop all of Istanbul with breathtaking views in addition to extensive structure of the Palace itself which is steeping in history, so plan on a couple hours to get through it all. Around the time I left the air filled with song for the Oglu (midday Muslim prayer).

Close to this is the Blue Mosque. It was nice except the whole place smelled of feet as shoes are not allowed inside holy places. (Tip: Women have to cover their heads so I recommend carrying a scarf with you.)

Next was the Basilica Cistern ("Sunken Palace"), a Roman catholic underground church that reminded me of places I've only seen in movies like Indiana Jones. Everyone tends to gather around the legendary Medusa Heads.

After a quick bite and glass of wine at a restaurant overlooking the harbor I took a short walk to the Grand Bazaar and the Egyptian Bazaar. Both are massive and packed with independent stalls peddling everything you could imagine (truly). Be warned though, the Turkish are aggressive salesmen so even a glimpse at a shop window or a restaurant menu will get them trying to sell you.

Public ferries run from Fatih (where I visited) to Uskudar every few minutes and cost only a couple Euros. I completed my day by taking a roundtrip journey which took less than an hour. The city is stunning at night.

Disappointingly, the next morning I was not allowed in Suleymaniye Mosque as my jeans were cropped mid-calf which is not allowed on women. Nonetheless, the garden and exterior structure were well worth visiting especially as they preside over the whole city.

My city ended with a trip to a 300-year-old Turkish Bath. The marble inside was healing and I felt refreshed in its presence. However, I would skip the "scrub and massage" service which basically consists of a lady throwing water at you several times over, brushing your skin raw with a washcloth, rubbing not massaging, and reminding you constantly to tip upon leaving.

Overall I had such a fantastic time in Istanbul I decided to commit to travelling to 12 countries I've never been to within the next 12 months. If you want to see how I'm getting on with that, check out my new post! I'm certainly not waiting anymore.

#12countries12months