Friday & Saturday – 03/01/2020 & 04/01/202 | Istanbul to Jeddah and Jeddah to Johannesburg

Today, we woke up to the Istanbul skyline for the last time. Normally, whenever it’s time to leave a place, I’m very, very excited to go home. I can’t wait to go home to my own bed and my own bathroom. Today, this was not the case. My heart hurt to leave Istanbul in all its splendour. The minute we left the hotel and said goodbye to Istanbul, I began to miss it. 

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The drive to the airport was about an hour, before we knew it, we were walking through the security checks. Istanbul Airport is amazing. We had Carl’s Jr for lunch, read salaah and then it was time to board.

I spent the flight finishing the Fault In Our Stars and the Netflix series You. We had aisle seats this time so there was no window for me to watch the sun go down. 

A granny who was sitting at the window seat saw me looking at the sunset and then called me over to come see it nicely (and also let me take pictures). I was super psyched about this and she made my heart very happy. 

We landed in Jeddah and as soon as I felt the desert air, my heart felt a pang because I was so near to the Ka’bah and I wouldn’t be seeing it. It’s a different heartache being so near, yet so far. 

So began our six hour transit at Jeddah airport. I alternated between writing blog posts and watching series on Netflix, thank goodness there was wifi! 

Once again, my brother got someone to go and buy for us Al Baik for supper and we had Baskin Robbins. I had the brownie bowl (for my cousin, Fati) and everyone else had scoops of cookies and cream, sherbet and cotton candy. Holiday calories don’t count. 

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We spent the remaining time browsing through Duty Free, the riyal was almost at 4 to the rand so we didn’t shop except for some chocolates for my grandfather. 

It’s amazing how slow time passes by when you want it to fly past. I was anxious to board and I counted down the minutes until we’d be on our way home. Eventually, at 1am, we boarded. 

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My siblings and I spent the flight sleeping and only woke for fajr and to watch the sunrise. Soon after, the pilot was announcing our descent to Johannesburg and with that our holiday came to an end.

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At 8am, my Mamajee was waiting for us at Arrivals and I couldn’t have been more happier to see him. We came home to samoosas and pies and viennas and eggs for breakfast by my aunty and grandmother and khari kitchri (which I had been craving the entire time) for lunch. I saw the rest of family for supper when we had Mochachos and then I went to nap. When I woke up, my ten year old cousin had unpacked my handbag that was filled with souvenirs from the trip and she packed everything in its place, exactly where I would’ve packed it. 

Friday step count: 11 826

Saturday step count: 5 733

 

Turkey was absolutely amazing. I had saw everything that I had only ever read in books, saw in movies and were a part of my dreams. I fell irrevocably and completely in love with Istanbul and if you told me right now “Let’s go to Turkey”, I would go online and start looking for tickets. 

Thank you everyone for following me on my Turkish adventure. I can’t tell you how happy it makes me when I see any of you and you tell me that you’re following the posts or that you’re waiting for the next one. If you need any advice on booking your Turkish adventure, I’m more than happy to help and if you have any questions I’m more than happy to answer any of them. The competition closes on Friday at 12pm, so you still have a chance to enter, the competition can be found here. 

Thursday – 02/01/2020 | The Spice Bazaar

Today is our last full day in Istanbul so we spent it doing everything we could possibly do in the little time that we had left. We went to the Spice Bazaar, I absolutely loved shopping here. 

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It’s a huge undercover bazaar where they sell a variety of things. Spices, Turkish delight, baklava, keepsakes like key rings, purses, pillow cases and even pots for making tea and coffee. We spent about two hours walking around in here looking at everything. 

We found a shop that sold everything my mum wanted to bring home. We bought rose flavoured and hazelnut flavoured Turkish delight, especially for my grandfather and teas and salep for winter, some chilli flakes to add a bit of Turkish spice to our food at home and some saffron which the shopkeeper gave us a gift. 

I had the most amazing pomegranate tea in this shop and as I write this post, I find myself craving some. 

After the Spice Bazaar, we then walked through another bazaar on the streets. This bazaar sold everything from clothes to scarves to material for wedding dresses. 

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We were really hungry after this so we stopped for lunch at Baldir’s which we found on the way walking back to the hotel. We bought a cheese basket for starters which was absolutely delicious and cheesy steak rolls for mains. Our meal was completed with the usual complimentary Turkish tea. 

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After sorting out everything in our rooms, packing our bags to go home and admiring the Istanbul skyline from our hotel window, we set out for our last adventure Turkish night adventure. 

We took a short walk from our hotel and ended up at Hafiz Mustafa for dessert. We had the Künefe, Havuç Dilimi with ice cream and Karamellı Trileçe for dessert and salep, juices and Ottoman Coffee for drinks. The Karamellı Trileçe was the best and my Ottoman Coffee was a caffeine high in a shot sized mug. 

While we were at Hafiz Mustafa, my mum bumped into one of her old friends so you can imagine how excited they were to see each other. What ensued was seven South Africans talking and laughing loudly (which earned us a few stares from the locals). It was good food and even better company until past midnight. But the night didn’t end here. 

My siblings and I decided to take the last tram to Eminönü. We spent the next few minutes enjoying the view of the Asian side from the Bosphorus and then started to walk back to our hotel. Along the way we met a couple who photobombed the pictures I was taking on the street and then came across an old man selling sandwiches. 

I couldn’t resist buying some for us to taste. We watched as this old uncle took the fresh fish (that he probably caught moments ago on the Bosphorus) and grilled it. As he was grilling it, he gave us pieces to taste. It was easily the best fish I’ve ever eaten. He then put the grilled fish on a roll, added lettuce, tomato and onion and then some fresh lemon juice and wrapped it in paper. We took it to the hotel where we shared it with our parents and wished that we had bought more. With this, our night ended. 

Step count: 13 354

Wednesday – 01/01/2020 | Fatih Market

There’s a market near the mosque in Fatih that happens every Wednesday and even though it was New Year’s Day, they were open. This is a market that everyone tries to go to so if you’re coming to Turkey, make sure you’re in Istanbul on a Wednesday for this market.

We took the tram to Yusufpasa from Sirkeci and then a taxi to the market. The taxi driver dropped us off at the market and at first glance, it didn’t look like much but boy, were we wrong because this was an absolute treasure.

The market had everything from fruits and vegetables to phone covers to pyjamas and bags to hoodies to fish. It was amazing to see how the people of Istanbul shop. I’m sure locals fill up their homes for the week at this market because it takes care of your every need. Be prepared to walk a lot.

I think the market was worth it because you’re supporting the people of Istanbul. These people are kind, helpful and genuinely good so if you want to shop, support them.

We also found a supermarket in this area. My mum makes sure that we take home the food that we liked when we were on holiday, chocolates, biscuits, noodles and even gums and Turkey’s ketchup and mayonnaise.

After this we went to the room to layer up as it got really cold and then went for lunch (again) to Esmer Cafe Chef (proof of how much we loved it!).

I wanted to go on to the Bosporus so we took the ferry from Sirkeci to Prince’s Island. As we set sail, the sun started to set. This sunset blew my mind. It looked beautiful as it set on the many landmarks in Istanbul, Galata Tower, the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia and Maiden’s Tower. It took my breath away. I braved the cold winds and stood outside, watched the sunset and took pictures.

Instead of getting off at Prince’s Island, we rode the ferry back straight away. A man started singing on the ferry, an old lady started dancing, people joined in and started singing and clapping along. It was the highlight of my day and as I turned and watched as the sun set completely on the water and against the Istanbul skyline. This is the moment that I realised that I was completely and irrevocably in love with this city.

My siblings and I spent the next few hours exploring Sirkeci and it’s cobblestone lanes. I spotted a crescent moon between a tree and a mosque and again marvelled at the wonder of this perfect city that Allah blessed.

Step count: 14 753

Tuesday – 31/12/2019 | A tour around Sultanahmet & Old Town

This morning, for the first time this trip, my sister and I went out on our own. We spent the morning catching trams, walking in Old Town and eating street food (hello Nutella bagels, you’re a favourite).

After zohr, we met our parents back at the hotel to go for our Blue Mosque Tour. Once again, we caught the tram to Sultanahmet.

Turkey is a country with more than 8 500 years of history. It’s called the Historical Peninsula. The middle of Constantinople used to be opposite the Hagia Sophia. It was the centre of the world. The monument here says “Welcome to the Capital of the world.” It was zero ground. The beginning of everything started in Constantinople.

There’s a German fountain in the city centre. It was given to the Ottomans to form good relations between the Germans and Ottomans and it still stands today. Legend has it that if you drink water from this fountain, you’ll come back to Istanbul.

In the city centre lies Hippodrome Square with some part standing. The people used to play horse riding games there. There also used to be beautiful gold horses in Hippodram Square but it was moved to Saint Marcus square in Venice.

When the fourth crusade came, they saw the gold on the monument so they took the gold pieces therefore it no longer shines like gold. Funny thing is, it wasn’t gold, it was yellow metal. The guide described this monument as the definition of success because it was brought without ship/plane/etc, it was brought by 100% manpower.

The Blue Mosque was our next stop, the construction order for the Blue Mosque was five by Sultan Ahmet, who was the youngest Sultan at eighteen. It took eighty years to build and it has 31 000 blue tiles hence the name Blue Mosque, it’s currently under construction. It’s still really beautiful inside, it has Surah Noor in calligraphy (like Hagia Sophia) on a dome. There was a lot of tourists inside and it was really busy but the feeling inside was one of peace.

Outside the Blue Mosque, the Turkish government has put up posters about Islam spreading Islam in a subtle way. These posters answer questions about Allah, Nabi ﷺ, the Qur’aan, the five pillars and hijab amongst others.

After we left the Blue Mosque, asr athaan went. It went on for about ten minutes coming from a few masjids in the city centre. It didn’t matter how many times I heard the athaan in Turkey, I was still amazed by it being called out from so many masjids at the same time.

I found a small (compared to other masjids in Turkey) near the tram station in Sultanahmet that I adopted as my own. I would pray there and then catch a tram to our next stop. This masjid quickly took a place in my heart. I now get why my dad, grandfather and uncles are attached to their masjids.

We then went to Old Town and walked around for a bit. We came across a shop run by Egyptians and the reason we actually went in was because they recognised that we were South African. I was mistaken for being from India, Pakistan, Saudi and Dubai but no one assumed South Africa. This shop sold baklava, Turkish delight, saffron and teas for everything, beauty, sleep, detoxing, high cholesterol, diabetes, stress and even anxiety. We brought some home, we’re going to give it a try and see if it gives us the clear skin the shopkeepers promised.

As we left Old Town, the sun was setting. It was the first Istanbul sunset I got to see since we landed on Friday. I was really excited because, as you all know, sunsets make me very happy.

Before we went back to the hotel, we went to the Grand Bazaar because how could we come to Istanbul and not go to the Grand Bazaar. The Grand Bazaar used to be used to support the Hagia Sophia. But today, everyone we spoke to warned us that we should not shop in the Grand Bazaar because everything is overpriced. I thought that everyone was over exaggerating. But, it turned out I was wrong. Things we saw in Old Town were seven times cheaper than the Grand Bazaar.

The Grand Bazaar was literal hell for me because everything I saw I wanted and I couldn’t buy anything because they would clearly be ripping me off. After walking like 100m, I told my mom I couldn’t just window shop, so we left.

We went back to the hotel to pray and recharge for New Year’s Eve. I would just like to say that I think NYE is highly overrated and it’s my least favourite holiday of the year.

We went to Cafe Esmer Chef for supper. They were really busy but the service was great. We got seated inside and then proceeded to order. We had prawns for starters and burgers, chicken strips, pasta and pizza for mains. Unfortunately, we were too full for dessert but the chocolate soufflé looked amazing.

My sister insisted that we go to Taksim Square for the countdown. So my siblings and I took the tram and then the funicular to Taksim. It was absolute madness, there was a major police presence to make sure that the crowds were behaved and it was safe. The lines were long at all the restaurants so we ended up just sitting on the stairs.

There was a really nice vibe in the square which made it worth the cold. It was 3°C. When 00:00 hit, everyone started screaming and a few firecrackers went off. We watched for a bit, then made our way to the funicular so we could get to the hotel before the crowds. A new year had dawned upon us opening a new chapter.

Step count: 18 847

Monday – 30/12/2019 | Topkapı Palace & Madame Tussauds

Our day started at 9am, we caught the tram to Sultan Ahmet and sat for a bit outside Hagia Sofia. The majesty of the Hagia Sofia blew me away every time I saw it.

We then took a short walk to Topkapı Palace where we waited for our guide in front of the III. Ahmet Fountain.

Topkapı comes from the words “top” meaning cannon and “kapı” meaning gate.

First courtyard
It is covered with vaults from even before the Ottomans. It was the Center of the whole city. Istanbul used to be Constantinople, the capital. We entered through the Imperial Gate, Bab-ı Humayun. The entire palace is seven thousand square meters. The gate has the signature of Mahmood II. When you see a signature, it is a sign that you’re entering an official place. The gate also has verses from the Qur’aan on it.

The first courtyard holds the royal mint, which was the central bank of the Ottoman Empire. As our tour guide put it, it’s the world’s largest ATM.

We then passed the Executioner Fountain. It was said that if you received sherbet, it meant that you were going to get killed but if they gave you water, you’re free to leave.

To get to the second courtyard, you have to enter through Bab-us-Salaam, the Gate of Salutation. It was built in the 16th century by Sulaymaan the Magnificent.

2nd courtyard
After passing through Bab-us-Salaam, you entered the council square. The Ottomans managed thirty two countries from a small chamber.

There is a tower of Justice here that is 32 feet high. It is the only high structure in the palace.

The magnificent palace’s kitchens are on the right hand side of the courtyard. In the 16th and 17th century, between 5 000 and 10 000 people lived in the palace, the kitchen was huge so it could feed these people three times a day.

Topkapi Palace’s weakness is the seaside. It used to be protected by 5 000 soldiers and two major walls.

This is where our tour ended with our guide and he suggested that we do the Islamic relics first. To be honest, the only reason we came to Topkapı Palace, was for the Islamic relics.

Third courtyard
There are four rooms housing various Islamic relics (I have included the list below). Everyone, whether Muslim or not, is allowed to visit here. You aren’t allowed to take pictures and it’s very very crowded. But definitely worth it. I was amazed by all of the relics that we saw, the relics that we only heard about in Islamic history. It was great to see the history I learnt over the years come to life. There was a huffadh in one of the rooms reciting Qur’aan which could be heard in every room on the speakers. The only thing disappointed me about this room was the fact that the people were very disrespectful. Many times while standing in the line to see a relic, we had to bite our lips to not tell someone off. I think if you’re in a place that holds so much of significance for people, you should be respectful even if you’re just there as a tourist and these things hold no meaning to you.

Islamic relics

  1. Kaabah key that is kept by the sultans of the ottoman
  2. Nabi Dawood (A.S)’s sword and a tablet explaining the story of it.
  3. Nabi Moosa (A.S)’s staff
  4. The saucepan of Nabi Ibraheem (A.S)
  5. Turban of Nabi Yusuf (A.S)
  6. Arm relic and casing of Nabi Yahya (A.S)
  7. Skull relic and casing of Nabi Yahya (A.S)
  8. Model of dome of the rock
  9. Footprint of Nabi ﷺ
  10. Destimal
  11. Mold of destimal
  12. Kaabah gutter
  13. Case of the Hajr-e-Aswad
  14. The repentance door – Abbasid period
  15. Sword of Sayyidina Zubayr bin Awwam (R.A), Sayyidina Ammar bin Yassir (R.A), Sayyidina Jafar al Tayyar (R.A) and Sayyidina Khalid bin Waleed (R.A) and swords of other companions
  16. Case of the banner of Nabi ﷺ
  17. The beard of Nabi ﷺ
  18. Case of the beard of Nabi ﷺ
  19. Case of Nabi’s ﷺ tooth
  20. Soil from Madinah
  21. Case of Nabi ﷺ patten
  22. The stamp of Nabi ﷺ
  23. Hilye Saadet
  24. Beard of Nabi ﷺ
  25. Sword of Sayyidina Abu Bakr (R.A)
  26. Sword of Sayyidina Umar (R.A)
  27. Sword of Nabi ﷺ
  28. Sword of Nabi ﷺ
  29. Bow of Nabi ﷺ
  30. Sword of Sayyidina Uthmaan (R.A)
  31. Sword of Sayyidina Ali (R.A)
  32. Sword of Sayyidina Ali (R.A)
  33. Case of Sayyiditina Fatima (R.A)
  34. Mantle of Sayyiditina Fatima (R.A)
  35. Symbolic Sarcophagus cover of Sayyiditina Fatima (R.A)
  36. Cloak of Sayyidina Husain (R.A)
  37. Soil of Karbala
  38. Cup from which Nabi ﷺ drank water
  39. Beard of Nabi ﷺ
  40. Soil from Madinah

After we saw the Islamic relics, we decided to skip the harem and go somewhere inside and warm. It was freezing and we didn’t want to get sick.

So, our next stop was Madame Tussauds. We took the tram from Sultan Ahmet to Kabatas. At Kabatas, you change to the funicular which takes you straight to Taksim Square. Madame Tussauds is on Istiklal Road. I loved the vibe here, everyone was shopping, there’s a buzz in the air, people are just having a good time.

Madame Tussauds really was an experience, I would definitely do it again in another country. I’m not sure who had more fun here, my siblings and I or our parents.

They have wax statues of people from different categories, music, film, art, science and even politics. Michael Jackson, Albert Einstein and Johnny Depp to Demi Lovato, Sabiha Goken and Angelina Jolie. We spent one and a half hours here. There’s a souvenir shop on your way out which isn’t badly priced.

After visiting Sephora (why don’t we have one in SA yet?) and drooling over make up that I’d barely used, we went to H&M. South Africa’s H&M are terrible compared to the ones I’ve seen in other countries. This one was five stories and had everything for everyone, men, women and kids, make up and skincare and even home. We just browsed through because at this point, the hunger was kicking in.

We went back to the European side of Istanbul for supper. A lot of people had suggested Burgerillas so that’s where we went. The burgers were really good, my dad had a normal cheese burger and the rest of us had mushroom stack burgers. Our staple snack for our trip has been onion rings so those went down too.

Step count: 16 283