We arrived Istanbul at around 6pm. The airport far less crazy than expected, maybe related to Ramadan?
Turkish Airlines has a program where if you are laid over overnight, they give you a free hotel room. The website was very vague about how it worked, it just mentioned going to the Turkish Air counter to do it. So we left customs and found the counter. It was so easy, they took our boarding passes to make sure we were actually laid over and then called our names 15 minutes later, led us to a shuttle, and we arrived at a Marriott on the outskirts of town.
I use T-mobile and had cell signal and data with Turkish Telcom. Since I have month-to-month service and no contract, I pre-pay, which means I never worry about roaming rates anywhere. I’ve been traveling on this account for many years and highly recommend it, my bill is exactly the same every month and I get service included in every country I go to!
We decided to drop our stuff and take a cab to Istanbul’s Old Town. The cab driver had no idea what we were asking – we tried names of big things (“Blue Mosque”) and I even looked up a random restaurant on TripAdvisor and gave him my phone with the map. Still no understanding. So he got out at the hotel and asked for someone who spoke English – that person looked at my phone, said a few words to him, and we were off!
It was the first day of Ramadan (Ramazan), and when we arrived in the Old Town, it was the call to prayer to break the daily fast (Iftar). The cab driver was able to explain that the lights on the top of the minarets turn on at that time signaling time to eat.
We went to the restaurant I had found on TripAdvisor and had a decent meal, but it was definitely a tourist place.
Then we walked to the oldest part of Old Town. I am a compulsive hand-holder, but I was afraid that PDA wouldn’t be acceptable, so I held Dave’s arm as I noticed most people seemed to do.
We went into the courtyard of the Blue Mosque. The signs outside warned that women needed to cover their heads even on the grounds. I saw a guard and gestured to ask if my hood was ok, he nodded, so I put the hood of my hoodie up. I wouldn’t have thought, but I guess any head covering is enough.
At the Blue Mosque there were many many people bathing outside (hands, feet, head) and preparing to enter to pray. There were men praying outside too, maybe because it was too full? There was also an interesting display with posters explaining the Muslim religion and things like the bathing rituals, hijabs, the Koran, etc.
Then we walked through a market (not the bazaar) that had all kinds of booths selling food, drinks, puppets, crafts, and Turkish coffee made over hot coals. We bought a rose drink which tasted a bit like drinking perfume.
After walking around until we were exhausted, we took another cab back to the hotel and slept until our flight the next morning to Croatia.