Alison’s Adventures: Istanbul, Turkey

Blue Mosque in Istanbul

Blue Mosque in Istanbul

After 26 years as a travel agent, it has been suggested that I blog about my trips and offer up some advice. I just returned from 18 days in the Mediterranean, so I will start there. Today’s city – Istanbul.


When planning a trip to Turkey, you will learn that US citizens are required to have a visa to visit the country. Tour companies and cruise lines will usually offer to obtain a visa for you prior to your trip, but if it will cost you more than $20 it is not worth it. I was travelling on OCEANIA cruise line (more about Oceania another day) and they charge $49 to obtain the visa, which I did not do.

Arriving in Istanbul, the first thing you do, right next to passport control is get a visa. It is well marked, and costs $20.00 USD. They also take CAD and Euros, but only cash. With visa stamped in your passport, you go to the next line, passport control. After passing passport control, claim your bags and exit past the customs agent. I did not see them stop anyone, but obviously if you are stopped they can search your bags. Once through the sliding glass doors you are met with a multitude of greeters. It reminded me of Miami or San Juan airports – throngs of family, tour operators and private transfer companies.

I was escorting a cruise group this trip and only had one night in Istanbul. Some of our group went out a day early and I do recommend it because there is quite a bit to see in Istanbul.

I am neither a historian nor a political expert – only a traveler – but Istanbul is fascinating in many areas.

First of all, the city is partly in Europe and partly in Asia, the only city in the world to have this distinction. The history goes back thousands of years, and the area has been under the rule of many different nationalities. It had a prime location on the Bosporus it was the center of trade routes in the area. Early in its history it was called Byzantium and when it was the capital of the Roman Empire it was called Constantinople. The buildings reflect Roman, Greek and Ottoman styles. As you travel through the Mediterranean, there are repeated references to Constantinople especially.

Second, it is an Islamic nation with a secular government. Ataturk wanted separation of mosque and state. Our guide says people are encouraged to follow their religion with their hearts and not by government regulations.

We were in Istanbul October 3 and 4 and the weather was rainy but moderate temperatures in the 60s. The city is clean for a city of 12 million.

Top tourist sights

St. Sophia – Built as the Church of Divine Wisdom in the 4th century, at the time it had the largest dome in the world. After many conquests it was converted to a mosque and all mosaics were covered. It now is a Byzantine- Ottoman museum.

Blue Mosque – Interior is decorated with magnificent blue tiles

Hippodrome – followed the model of the Circus Maximus in Rome

Grand Bazaar (closed Sundays) – everything and anything you could possibly want you can get at the Bazaar

Cisterns – One of my personal favorites, these underground cisterns were built during the Roman period to store water in case of siege.

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