I spent two days in Istanbul with my friend Felix. We had booked an hotel in Sultanahmet, right next to the Hagia Sofia and the Blue Mosque.
It was ramadan, and so there were great celebrations past sunset. There was traditional music, singing, and dervishes. I was surprised to note that there were relatively few tourists from Europe and from North America. Most of the tourism was from other moslem countries (no doubt because of Ramadan). I should remark that we were always extremely well treated of course, even though we were obviously foreigners.
The hotel was very close to the Blue Mosque and to the Hagia Sophia, and so we began our visit by these two great sights. The Blue Mosque is first and foremost a mosque, and so it is important to note when the prayer times are, so as to let the moslem pray in peace. It costs nothing to visit, but I did leave a donation at the end. It is a most impressive sight, inside and outside. The Hagia Sophia, however, is now first and foremost a museum, and so it can be visited whenever you please, and it costs... 25TL. Still, it is
worth it a plenty!
Also in the "25TL (but still worth it!)" category is the Topkapı Palace. It is the former palace of the sultans. I wanted also to visit the archeological museum that's just nearby, but, sadly, I forgot that museums tend to be closed on Monday.
Just close by the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque is the Basilica Cistern. It is a very large undeground structure meant for storing water. This in itself might not sound all that interesting, but the quality of the site (it is wonderfully well preserved!) and the eery athmosphere make this cistern a worthy sight. There are also two gigantic medusa-heads that form the bottom rock of two columns, at the back of the cistern. One annoyance: the high number of tourists somewhat ruin the experience.
At the end of our last day, just before leaving (taking the overnight bus to Ankara), Felix and I were tired. So, we booked a short cruise over the Bosphorus, and enjoyed a relaxing time!
it can get very hot and humid. I cannot stress just how humid it can get, especially when near the water.
Traffic is also
an issue. I had booked a shuttle from the airport, but after a while, things got so bad that my driver asked me if it would be ok if we walked it. He helped me carry my luggage, of course. We arrived faster than by driving.
The merchants are very, very aggressive. It is hard to turn them down with a semblance of politeness.
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