Published: June 17th 2012June 17th 2012
As I flew from Dubai to Istanbul we flew over Saudi Arabia, part of Iraq, and part of Syria. A few things crossed my mind: First, I knew I was looking down on one of the most dangerous places in the world. Within the land I was able to see there was a civil war that had been going on for years, a fragile democracy that wasn't able to protect its citizens from violence, and enough oil to run the world for the next 100 years. That was just to the right. To the left there were military forces killing its own citizens, a crackdown on western media, and a huge human migration heading to Turkey. Secondly, there was so much history I had to fly over and not get the chance to see because the situation on the ground wouldn't permit it. It's amazing how peaceful the desert looks from up above. How could so much violence be happening in a place that looked picture perfect 30,000 ft. up? Turkey
- The first thing I noticed about Istanbul was how much cooler it was than Dubai. It was a picture perfect night. It was even jacket weather
by sundown. I took the subway and tram to the section of town I was staying. I was pleasantly surprised with how clean and modern Istanbul was. The tram and people walking around made it feel like a northern European city almost. My hotel was situated just by the Blue Mosque. I couldn't believe the view walking to my hotel with the Blue Mosque on the left and the Hagia Sophia on the right.
After I dropped my stuff off I headed out to enjoy the cool evening. I walked around the mosques and then got dinner on a rooftop restaurant that gave great views of the mosques and of the waterway that splits Istanbul. I knew I was going to love this city. There were a lot of restaurants and open bars playing the Euro 2012 soccer games.
The next day I got up and switched hotels and then headed to the Basilica Cistern
that was built by Emperor Justinian. It's the largest of the hundreds of cisterns in Istanbul. After that I headed to the Topkapi Palace
, which was the primary residence for the Ottoman Sultans. The palace grounds were huge and had great views of
Istanbul and the strait. There were tons of people there as well. Everyone seemed to have to wait in lines that extended outside in the sun just to see the exhibits. The museum also housed Moses' staff and pieces of Muhammad’s beard. The palace had a lot of ground to cover. After the palace I went to the Blue Mosque
. The Blue Mosque looks amazing inside. I really like how the chandeliers hang down from the high ceilings. There were four huge pillars that hold the structure up. On a hot day it's easy to just sit inside and enjoy the cool air. Afterwards I headed to the area my hotel was and got a haircut.
The next day I went to the Hagia Sophia
. It was closed on Monday, the day before. This is definitely one of the highlights of my whole trip. The Hagia Sophia was originally a basilica, then a mosque, and now a museum. Sections of it had been plastered over and were crumbling to reveal the mosaics that lied beneath. The view inside is breathtaking.
Since it was my last full day in Istanbul I decided to do a Hop-on-Hop-off tour. These are
great ways to see the main points of a city. I even got to go back to Asia for a bit as Istanbul is the only city in the world that crossed two continents. I took 2 of the 3 routes and got see all the main points. Istanbul is very modern and efficient. I definitely have this on my "Return to" list. I would love to explore the whole country and see Cappadocia and Ephesus as well.
The next day I went to the bazaar to walk around. I only had a few Turkish lira left so I was being careful on what I bought so as to have enough money to get to the bus station. I lived off of chicken or lamb doner kebabs and fruit- so good! That night I took the night bus to Sophia, Bulgaria. Two things really impressed me. First was the quality of the highways. They were great, no potholes, and were smooth. A huge cry from the bouncy bus rides I took in Asia. Second, and most surprising, was that the bus had Wi-Fi and satellite TV. The quality was better than anything I experienced in Asia. I skyped with
my parents showing them the landscape as I traveled without interruption from my iPhone. Bulgaria
- The next morning we pulled into Sofia at about 6:00 am. I didn't sleep well on the bus and decided to walk to my hotel since I had some time to kill before check-in. I stayed at the Sheraton and they were gracious enough to check me in early, but I needed to wait until a room was ready. I decided to walk down the main street. I ended up walking to the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral
, the most famous site in Sofia. Here it was already 7:00 am and I had already seen the main site. I headed back to the hotel and took a nap for a few hours before walking around for the rest of the day. Sofia has a lot of cafes and restaurants. It reminded me a bit of Budapest.
The next day I found a hostel to do my laundry and I went to the bus station to secure my ticket for Skopje, Macedonia. I didn't see a whole lot in Sofia. Rather, I just enjoyed walking around the area and people watch during most
of the afternoons.
Next stop - The Balkans (Macedonia, Albania, Montenegro, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia)!
There are more photos below