Now, Istanbul is known for mosques. The Muslim culture is huge here and there are over 3,000 mosques in the city! The most famous one of course is the Blue Mosque. It was within a 5 minute walk from my hostel too, so that was great for me!
Although in the minority, there are other denominational churches, such as a Catholic Church (St. Antonio's) and Byzantine ones, such as Hagia Sophia (although this was once a mosque in the Ottoman period). Hagia Sophia was my favorite, because it was so old, yet so beautiful.
Another thing that Istanbul has lots of is palaces. And boy, are they nice!Well, the two main ones that I saw were. :) There are over 400 of them throughout the city. The first one built for the Sultan during the Ottoman period was the Topkapi Palace. Then, after attempts on his life, his son built a new palace, the Dolmabace Palace. Both were interesting and VERY different. The Dolmabace Palace holds the world's largest crystal chandelier, but we were not allowed to take pictures. And since I was in a tour group, it was hard to sneak one in.
I also did a Bosphorus Boat cruise. It shows you both the Asian and European sides of the city. Istanbul is actually split between two continents!! Along the cruise, we saw the Rumeli Fortress, as well as other lovely shots of Istanbul.
Also near my hostel (yes, I was in prime location) was the Grand Bazaar. Oh, man. This place was enough to overwhelm anyone. It was just shop after shop (same things over and over) and men trying their best to get you inside to "see my pretty shop". I did not buy anything here, as I didn't want to deal with the haggling, etc. I do enough of that in China. And once you buy at one shop, the others are like vultures. I knew I could find everything I wanted outside of here.
This was one hallway of about 20. The entire thing is like a mini-mall.
While out strolling around Istanbul, you are bound to run into the neighborhood stray cat. They are everywhere! They are friendly though, for the most part. Some are skiddish. And the people seem to really take care of them by feeding them. Also, in any city, you can often find graffiti. The bottom picture is some awesome graffiti that was along a side street.
I also did a day cruise to Prince's Island. It was a nice boat ride out to the islands. The island is quiet and no cars, which I always like. Instead, you can use bikes or horse carriages. We had a nice lunch on the water, and then several went swimming at the "beach". I use this term loosely, because there was nothing beachy about it in my book. This was the public one of course. If you go to a paid private one, I think there may be sand.
There was only one souvenir that I had to have before I left and that was a mosaic lamp. They are so cute. And, I was able to find one in my favorite colors of brown and yellow (with golds, etc.). I was thrilled that I got it home safely to China.
One my last day in Istanbul, a new friend and I went to Galata Tower. It was built in 507 by the Byzantine emperor. You can go to the top to get great views of the city, as well as have a lunch, which we did. This reminded me of Estonia. :)
Looking back at the pictures, I guess it is prettier than I gave it credit for. Still not my favorite city, but not a bad one to visit.