But I feel the weather is mostly Northern European at best, and this is a minus for me. The temperatures have been hovering around 50 degrees Fahrenheit at the end of April! It is colder than Denmark right now. Tourism also seems to have picked up since the city's renaissance of the 1990's and the right to become the European Capital of Culture in 2010. The area around Sultanahmet specially now, during the Spring break, is very crowded, although very convenient to visit the main historic sites.
I spent my week visiting the obligatory Blue Mosque, Ayasofya and Topkapi Palace. Following the list were visits to hammams, which I am sure, if I stayed here longer, I would discover less touristy ones than the beautiful Cemberlitas Hammam. Designed by Sinan, the same architect who designed the Suleymaniye Mosque and many other architectural jewels across Turkey, this Turkish bath is from 1584 and it has been restored to its modern glory more recently. Although gorgeous, there were so many giggly teenagers there having their first hammam experience, that it was almost impossible to relax. It is a very touristy place!
Gedkipasa Hamman was built in 1457 by one of the viziers of Mehmet the Conqueror, one of the oldest hammams in Istanbul. It was recommended by the hotel where I was staying. Although it must have been somewhat remodeled since it was built, the walls were a bit moldy, the place did not feel very cozy, and I felt rushed by the staff to get my scrub/massage, although the place was not busy. The pool of water was also cold, so there was only a sauna and the bucket style baths to make me feel warm in the rainy day when Emma and I went there. So, if I ever return to Istanbul, I will need to do some serious research on other local Turkish baths.
One of my favorite things to do in Istanbul was to jump in a ferry or boat tour, and go to Asia for the day. There was more of a local feeling there and it was a good way to see the whole city, and enjoy the views from the boat.
The one hour and a half tour to Bhosphorus Island was very good. As we passed in front of palaces, forts and mosques, someone behind a microphone told us what we were looking at. The hot tea served on the boat kept me warm and I only ventured outside the enclosed windows a couple of times. It was a particularly cold day.
The long boat ride to Prince Island was also good. Once we disembarked, there were horse carriages and bikes for rent to explore the island, but I preferred to walk and stretch my legs after sitting on the hour and a half ride. On another day I went to Kadikoy, where the impressive Haydarpasa train station, built between 1906 and 1908 is located. An imposing Neo-Renaissance style building, it is surrounded by water on three sides.
Walking around Taksim, Pera, Karakoy, Besiktas, Kadikoy, and Beyoglu gave me a good sense of local life in this amazing city. Turks are very friendly and the food is absolutely delicious, not to mention the Turkish delights. I had to watch myself here, as my weight is starting to creep up again.
Tonight I head out to Pamukale and I have put in my request to God for warmer weather and no tourists there.