Having jetted out of Denezli on the first flight, we arrived in Istanbul a little worse for wear. We hustled our way through the city by metro and tram, dragging luggage behind us, until we finally found ourselves at our hotel.
We were welcomed with a cold drink and an intro to the city, including restaurant recommendations, maps and sightseeing tips.
We decided to cross Aya Sofya and the Blue Mosque off the "to see" list first, as they were both within spitting distance of our hotel.
Although fully aware that the interiors of Aya Sofya were said to be much more opulent that the outside suggested, I was not fully prepared for it's beauty.
Elegant, low hanging chandeliers made the space feel intimate despite the vast domed ceilings, and the sunlight streaming through the windows dramatically bounced of the walls.
We trotted over the road to the Blue Mosque and I was left somewhat disappointed.
Don't get me wrong - the inside is very beautiful, however, not only was it's thunder stolen by Aya Sofya, but also the architecture is so ostentatious, I just expected...more.
On our second day in the city, we tackled Topkapı Palace and The Basilica Cistern. We were told to allow 4 hours for the palace alone, so we ventured there first.
We started at the Harem, which was so enchanting that it probably deserves its own post. Tiled room after tiled room, linked by sunny courtyards formed the sultan's harem. What struck me, was how current the aesthetic of these rooms were, despite the tiles and detailing being so old.
We carried on through the palace grounds, and although it was very hot and busy it was still quite relaxing just wandering through the gardens and taking in the bosphorus views.
Our next stop was the Basilica Cistern. We were in and out within 30 mins.
Oddly enough, there wasn't much to see here, bar the decorative up-lit columns and fish swimming in the shallow water. Still, this alone was striking, thanks to the lighting and the reflection of the columns in the still pool.
But my most memorable Istanbul experience of all was surprisingly the Spice Bazaar.
Maybe it was because I had ZERO expectations, but it was pretty awesome. Like the Grand Bazaar, the shops were all identical, so it was only by chance that the first shop we stumbled into was a gem.
We were helped by the lovely Ahmed who was hilariously funny and trilingual. Suddenly, a stop for a few gifts morphed into a full fledged shopping trip and assault on the senses, complete with turkish delight, dried fruit, and tea sampling.
It was only when Ahmed began applying "aphrodisiac" oil to my arm that I thought "OK, time to go!"
We left that shop about 5lbs heavier, £60 lighter, and in very good spirits.
In addition to seeing the big sites, we also spent a lot of time wandering around, getting lost and bar hopping.
We checked out the Turkish and Islamic Arts Museum, Galata Tower, and of course took a Bosphorus cruise.
It seemed like the entire trip was over in a flash, and I have to admit, I was not so happy to return to London.
I'm finally starting to feel a bit more settled (even after a quick jolly to Venice last weekend), but alas, I think I left a little piece of me in Turkey. I look forward to when I can return.