Naturally every visitor to Istanbul is drawn to the famed attractions of Istanbul: the Blue Mosque, the Hagia Sophia, the Topkapi Palace Museum, the Grand Bazaar, and more. But therein lies the problem. These sites are packed with tourists and tour guides. For a respite from the crowds and the opportunity to experience the real people and places of Istanbul, the Circle Istanbul proved to be an outstanding choice.
Starting at 9:00 am and continuing until 10:30 pm, our guide Polat led our group of six through bakeries, meat and produce markets, coffee shops and cafes, street vendors. a Bosporus cruise, a variety of intimate neighborhoods, a Turkish bath (a new experience!), and a concluding dinner at a traditional restaurant. Coordination with the driver of our van enabled us to visit widely scattered places on both sides of the Bosporus: we walked back streets, chatted with shop owners and vendors, watched men playing backgammon, and sampled foods (who knew there were so many varieties of Baklava?) and beverages as we went along. Our concluding dinner was a special treat, featuring yummy authentic Turkish cuisine and live music that grew ever more lively as the night wore on.

The big attractions of Istanbul were awesome, but the Circle Istanbul tour provided me with a deeper appreciation of the people and culture of Istanbul.