Beautiful Istanbul

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May 7th 2014
Published: May 16th 2014
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As this is an overnight stop, we had a leisurely breakfast before going ashore again to explore Istanbul a bit further. We walked over the bridge again as we couldn’t get any change for the tram. If you come to Turkey, everything is pretty cheap so don’t go getting large denomination Turkish Lira notes as no one can change them.

Luckily, the old city is a pretty small area. The area between the bridge and the harbour entry is called the Golden Horn and it is almost completely covered by the Topkapi Palace and gardens. It was the residence of the Sultan and his entourage but unlike many other palaces around the world, it has a more human scale with almost no buildings above 2 storeys. The gardens are beautiful and as we reached the entry, we realised the queue to get in was enormous… The main attractions inside are a huge diamond and some other jewellery and the Harem area, neither of which would be interesting for a three year old who just waited 2 hours in line. So we enjoyed the grounds then wandered over towards the Hagia Sofia. Part of the complex includes a group of smaller buildings which are the tombs of the Sultans. Free to enter and not part of the tour bus route (no crowds), they are decorated in the traditional Turkish style with beautiful red and blue patterned tiles. The sultan, his wives and their children were all buried in the same tomb and it was quite sad to see the number of small coffins in the tombs.

After exploring these tombs, we walked around to the main building of the Hagia Sofia but couldn’t even see the entrance for the massive crowd in front… The building from the outside is monolithic, looking like it grew out of the bedrock beneath.

We skipped the line and headed directly across the square to the Sultanahmet mosque, known as the Blue mosque due to its interior decoration. It is completely free to enter as long as you are outside of prayer times and the line was only about 10 minutes when we arrived. You have to remove your shoes and women must wear a full head covering in order to enter. Inside the columns are simply enormous and the dome towers far overhead, everything decorated in patterned blue tiles. The entire place is lit by thousands of dim lights which hang on frames strung from the ceiling on wires. The space is huge and at prayer time it is apparently full.

Back out in the sunlight, we had a break for snacks before moving on to the Grand Bazaar, the largest undercover shopping area in the world. It covers something like 60 acres and we had just a small taste of it wandering through the shops and stalls selling everything from traditional rugs and jewellery to mobile phones. It looks like it used to be an open air neighbourhood and all the streets have been roofed. Back outside, there is no real change except the roof disappears – the shops and the crowds keep going for miles around forming one giant bazaar full of chaos and noise. Eventually we worked our way down toward the spice market closer to the waterfront. What a sensational smell! Walking past shops that display hundreds of different spices, some that are familiar and many that we never see in the western world.

After all that, we decided to return to the boat for a rest and ended up playing in the pool for the afternoon before leaving port bound for Lesbos back in Greece. As we sailed out into the Sea of Marmara, we all played basketball and soccer on the top deck sports court. Em loved it and we got to see the view leaving port at the same time.

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