Excitement in Istanbul

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September 15th 2011
Published: June 28th 2017
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What an amazing, action packed day in Istanbul we had today! By the time we settled into our hotel, Q-Inn Old City, it was about 1:30 am this morning. Our driver was waiting at the airport, as arranged, and we drove through the dark streets to our hotel, so thrilled to finally be in Istanbul. I can't quite believe we are really here! We both slept well last night (which was good because I got no sleep on the planes and we had been travelling for over 24 hours). We got up at 8 am, and enjoyed a Turkish breakfast in the hotel. We had Turkish tea rather than coffee, as the only coffee on offer is instant. I think we will be having tea with breakfast, and Turkish coffees at every other opportunity!

Our Peregrine trip doesn't start until tomorrow's evening meeting, so we are on our own for the next two days here. We have a guide this afternoon, but this morning we went on our own to the Hagia Sophia, a short walk from our hotel. It was fabulous, with amazing mosaics. We hired a guide there to give us a tour, which was well worth it as it also meant we didn't have to wait in the long line up. He gave an us an excellent tour, then we wandered around on our own for a bit. The guide recommended we also visit the mausoleums behind the Hagia Sophia (sultan tombs), which are not to be missed. I'm so glad he pointed these out to us, otherwise we might not have thought to visit them. They had exceptionally beautiful domes.I have discovered I love the decoration on the interior of domes.

Hagia Sophia was constructed between 532-537 (so it is almost 1500 years old!), and was first, of course a church, then it became a mosque (from 1453-1931), then in 1934 Ataturk (the founder of the modern Turkish Republic) converted it into a secular museum. It is an enormous space, and it was very moving to touch the pillars so many had touched over the years, and to walk the well-worn steps where so many had walked before us. The mosaics in Hagia Sophia are beautiful, and were preserved when the church was converted into a mosque by being plastered over. I loved the combination of the Christian and Islamic features.

After touring Hagia Sophia and the mausoleums we headed back to our hotel, stopping on the way for ice cream. The ice cream vendor put on quite a show scooping out my ice cream cone, and it was a lot of fun. The ice cream was good, but with a slightly gummy texture.

Our guide (from Backpacker's Agency) picked us up and we were off on our "Bosphorus Cruise and Eminonu" tour. The traffic here in Istanbul is insane, so they were late picking us up but eventually we got on our way. We first went to the Rustem Pasha Mosque - I had heard it had beautiful Iznik tiles and I wasn't disappointed. The mosque was very lovely and peaceful and full of the most beautiful blue Iznik tiles. I don't think I could find the mosque again, it seemed tucked away, almost hidden in the midst of the bustling city. There were some men praying at the mosque and it felt a bit intrusive to there at first, but we really enjoyed seeing it and would highly recommend it.

After the mosque we took a quick walk through the Spice Market, stopping at a booth the guide recommended to buy some teas and saffron and peppers, and of course, Turkish delight (lokum). We sampled different Turkish delight and bought several boxes to take home with us. It is really delicious. The Spice Market is very lively and aromatic with all the spices and other food items. There are lots of other things being sold here, not just spices. Susan hovered around a booth selling gold jewellery but luckily we had to keep moving to keep up with our guide!

After we had left the market our guide realized we were 1/2 hour early for our boat, so Susan and I had a fish sandwich by the ferry boat - just like on the Rick Steves Istanbul show! This was something I really wanted to do so I was very happy. The fish is caught in the Bosphorus and is sold from floating cafes. Yumm! We then had a 1 1/2 hour cruise on the Bosphorus. It was a beautiful sunny day today and the scenery along the Bosphorus was lovely. We passed the over the top Dolmabahce Palace (the palace used after Topkapi Palace), and many beautiful homes. I took a picture of the Galata Tower from the boat, which is one of my favourite photos (and is my screensaver at work to this day). The boat was crowded and we didn't have a seat by the window, so I repeatedly got up to take photos. We enjoyed a Turkish tea from the tea seller. It is quite strong, and served with sugar, in small glass cups. I think we will be enjoying many cups of tea on this trip!

After our cruise we were driven back to our hotel. It took forever because of the crazy traffic. I think we could have walked back to our hotel in about 10 minutes if we had realized how close we were and knew the way. After we got back we went to a restaurant close by called "Home Made Istanbul", and enjoyed a Turkish coffee (the first of many on our trip) and a vegetarian mezze plate. Yumm! It was really good. We found ourselves a bit thirsty so we had beer (Turkish beer called Efes). Then the waiter brought us apple tea, and Susan finished off with raki. We chatted with a woman - Karen - at a neighbouring table who was from Saskatoon. We walked around the neighbouring streets after dinner. The streets are really pretty here at night. We picked up some more Turkish delight for gifts, a beautiful hand painted mug, and some pistachios and dried apricots for snacks. I love the colours and designs of Turkish pottery. We visit a pottery factory on our trip so we will wait till then to buy more.

Tomorrow we are on the "Chora Church and Walls and Golden Horn" tour. It sounds interesting and we will be able to see things we wouldn't be able to easily see on our own. We will finish about 1 pm-ish. Then our plan is to go to Topkapi Palace on our own, and then to the Grand Bazaar. We meet our travel group at 7 pm for a meeting and optional group dinner. Then on Saturday the trip starts - we visit the Blue Mosque and the Hippodrome, then in the afternoon we are off to Ankara. We were supposed to travel to Ankara on an overnight train, which meant we wouldn't be leaving until late and would have also had the afternoon in Istanbul, but the train is not running right now so we have to go via mini-bus instead and stay in Ankara overnight. I'm hoping we can fit in a walk up the Galata Tower tomorrow after the Grand Bazaar; it's supposed to be a great view from there, but we don't have much time so we will have to see.In any event it should be a fun, full day!

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29th June 2017

Amazing Istanbul
It's one of our favourite cities, and we loved every minute of our time there. How gorgeous is Hagia Sophia? I think I could spend days wandering through it... So glad you've decided to blog this trip :)
29th June 2017

Amazing Istanbul
Thanks Ren! I did love the Hagia Sophia. It will take me awhile to blog the whole trip, since my travel journal scribblings need some augmentation, but it's amazing how the memories come back, even after 6 years.

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