Wednesday, November 11
Arrive at Ataturk International Airport in Istanbul. Meet your local guide and transfer to either the Hagia Sophia or Ottoman Hotel. Both hotels are centrally located and just steps away from Istanbul's most popular attractions such as the Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque,Sultanahmet Square, the Hippodrome and the famous Grand Bazaar.
Upon arrival enjoy a welcome briefing and orientation walking tour of the hotel area. Your guide will show you nearby restaurants, shops and sites. The remainder of the evening is at leisure.
Thursday, November 12
After breakfast at the hotel, depart at 9 am for a full-day sightseeing walking tour of the Old City. We have two days to explore Istanbul, the capital of three legendary empires. While we go from one site to the other, we stroll in the streets of this old town enjoying its different moods and sentiments. If you feel energetic and enthusiastic enough, we are happy to expand the tour to include other interesting sights hidden in the less touristy areas of the district.
Hippodrome: The ancient Hippodrome, an enormous public entertainment arena that once seated as many as 100,000 zealous fans witnessing chariot races, executions, and mock battles. Once the center of Byzantine civic life, it is still decorated by the Egyptian Obelisk, the Bronze Serpentine Column, and the Column of Constantine.
Blue Mosque: With its massive central dome flanked by six slender minarets, the Blue Mosque stands as the single most recognizable monument on the Istanbul skyline. Built between 1609 and 1616, during the reign of Ottoman Sultan Ahmet I, the enormous complex also included a hospital, caravansary, public kitchen, marketplace, schools and the Mausoleum of Sultan Ahmet I. The mosque’s immense interior, flooded with sunlight streaming through 260 windows, is decorated with more than 20,000 precious Iznik tiles detailing traditional flowers of Ottoman design. In fact, it is the deep blue glow of the tiles in sunlight that gives the building its name.
Ayasofya (Hagia Sophia): This famous basilica was constructed in the 6th century A.D. It is often described as the greatest work of Byzantine architecture. Once the Church of Holy Wisdom, Christendom’s crowning glory, and now a museum, the church once glittered with mosaics, and art treasures filled every corner. Today, Hagia Sophia is the fourth largest building constructed as a church in the world. It was dedicated to Hagia Sophia which means Divine Wisdom, an attribute of Christ.
After this visit stop for lunch on your own at one of Sultanahmet’s many local restaurants, and then continue to the Basilica Cistern.
Basilica Cistern or Underground Palace: Istanbul was one of the most often besieged cities in the world and has always needed permanent water supplies. As a result, many underground cisterns were built during the Byzantine Empire. Water was brought to these big reservoirs from far away sources through aqueducts. The largest and most ornate of these cisterns is Yerebatan Sarayi. In its construction, columns and capitals of earlier temples were used and this provides a very decorative appearance.
Grand Bazaar: The area of the Grand Bazaar was a trade center during the Byzantine period. Two bedestens (domed masonry structures) were built by Sultan Mehmet the Conqueror to enrich the economic life in the city. Later on as people needed more places for trade, they added other buildings outside these structures. Today, the atmosphere of the Grand Bazaar is very interesting and has consequently become a very popular place for visitors to explore a labyrinth of streets and passages housing eighteen entrances and more than 4,000 shops.
In late afternoon, return to the hotel and enjoy an evening Welcome Cocktail Reception.
Friday, November 13
This morning we meet again for another full day of sightseeing. Our first visit is to Topkapi Palace, a pleasant and cozy oriental style palace, once home of the Ottoman Sultans who ruled their vast empire spread across three continents from this very place. This complex is a museum today, housing the spectacular artifacts found in the palace, such as the famous treasury of the sultans, their exquisite robes (kaftans), beautifully ornamented weapons and huge collection of Chinese and Japanese porcelain. We will also visit the famous Harem. After several hours exploring the extensive grounds, we continue to the Spice Market.
The Spice Market was built as part of the Yeni Cami complex and has since been an exciting covered market filled with the fragrant scent of spices from the Orient. This is a great place to buy nuts and othe edible gifts. After this visit, you can have have lunch on your own at one of the near-by restaurants, overlooking Golden Horn Bay, which separates the old city from the modern city center.
After we will go to the Marathon Expo to pick up our bibs, chips and t-shirts. Later, transfer back to the hotel for an evening at leisure.
Saturday, November 14
Today is a free day to explore Istanbul at your leisure. There is so much to see and do and we are happy to make suggestions. Some of the neighborhoods you should explore on your own include Ortakoy and Beyoglu/Istiklal Street.
Ortakoy: Ortakoy is a picturesque sea-front old city quarter located at European side of the Bosphorus Strait. Because of its very special location, it has been favored by Istanbul residents since Ottoman times. Among historical buildings there are the baroque-style Ortakoy Mosque, Esma Sultan Palace, built for an extraordinary Ottoman princess, and the remains of Etz Ahayim Synagogue. Now the lively streets of Ortakoy are dominated by various craft-work sellers, restaurants and cafes. Great place for a walk along the Bosphorus and a meal at a café.
Between Galata and Taksim Square, you’ll find the Beyoglu neighborhood’s Istiklal Street: This pedestrian street is the heart of Istanbul’s city center, where one can feel the dynamic vibe of metropolitan life. Perhaps every resident of Istanbul had a date starting at Istiklal. On both sides of Istiklal Street there are many shops, restaurants, bars and night clubs which are the most favored entertainment options for locals and guests in the city. The small side streets of this area are filled with bohemian pubs and cafes, preferred by local intelligencia.
Istanbul's Istiklal Avenue — the name means "independence" in Turkish — the beat goes on. It's a distinctly global rhythm. About two million locals come to this three-kilometre pedestrian strip every weekend. And while there's still a historic tram and the odd Turkish ice cream or kebab vendor here, a new generation eager to embrace Western culture is turning a once run-down district into a buzzing cosmopolitan hub. "It's a place where you see a girl wearing an Islamic head scarf walking arm-in-arm with a girl with a nose ring and the latest Levi's jeans.
If you like, end the day with dinner on your own at the historic Flower Passage. The Flower Passage has this name because it once was one of the great flower markets of Istanbul (remember, the Turks invented tulips). An inscription above the entrance reads "Cite de Pera". During the Ottoman Empire, this district of Pera was the home of foreign embassies, and there remain many examples of typically French architecture to delight those who avert their gaze from street level to the buildings' upper stories and roofs. The Flower Passage itself is a small L-shaped galleria, four stories high with a glass roof. One end of the L opens on Istiklal Street, the other on a long covered alley which is one of the great delights of Istanbul. It is both market and dining area: first there is about 100 feet of traditional fast food, then comes a glorious fruit and vegetable market which is open till midnight, and finally about 60 busy restaurants, with gypsy bands performing in many of the restaurants in a raucous cacophony.
Tonight is your included pasta dinner at the Hagia Sophia hotel.
Sunday, November 15
Race Day! Transportation included to the start of the race. The finish on the Hippodrome is a short walk from your hotel. Your guide will plan an evening restaurant celebration for those interested.
Monday, November 16
You will have a transfer to the airport for your flight home today.