Date visited: October 2006
Post written by Laura
I’m now on a mission to bring to life a few more of my past trip notes and photographs. This time I’m reflecting on my second trip to Turkey which was a long weekend in Istanbul (my first being to the Turkish beach resort of Kusadasi in September 1988).
My first dilemma was where to put this post in the blog menu… Europe or Asia?
Istanbul sits across both continents and as such is often referred to as ‘The Gateway to the East’ (or presumably the west if you are coming from the other direction). The Bosphorus Strait which connects the Black Sea with the Sea of Marmara, is the geographical line separating Europe and Asia.
This is a short post which highlights some of my Istanbul activities and while I did this trip 17 years ago, I would imagine that they are still popular and relevant today. One such activity is to take a stroll through the Grand Bazaar which is one of the largest and oldest covered markets in the world. Markets are not really my thing however if you wish to buy something be prepared that the prices will start much higher than the value of the goods, so you will need to haggle.
Shops in this area sell all manner of items from spices to fake goods to bags and leather jackets.
Another busy and chaotic place is the banks of the Bosphorus with hundreds of fishermen and stalls selling cooked fish, bread and kebabs. This is also the place where there are packed ferries and thousands of cars and taxi’s (taksi).
Istanbul is full of mosques and with its 6 minarets and huge dome, the Blue Mosque is one of the most famous. Its official name is the Sultan Ahmed Mosque and it was constructed between 1609 and 1616. The architecture is a blend of Ottoman and Byzantine styles.
It might be different now but in 2006 in October there was no queue, entry inside the mosque was free and it was necessary to remove your shoes and carry them around with you in a plastic bag. Back then this may possibly have been the first time I had been inside a mosque and I was amazed at the size and scale even though we were only allowed in the tourist area. With its intricate tile decoration and stain glass windows it was quite spectacular and well worth a visit. The mosque is open daily although closes for 90 minutes for prayers.
The Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sophia are located as part of the same site and separated by pleasant gardens are almost next to each other.
The Hagia Sophia’s is much older than the Blue Mosque having been constructed in 532–537. In 1935 the Hagia Sophia was changed from being a mosque to a museum and in 1985 it was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site. There was a charge of 10 lira to enter.
After dinner in the dark, my companion and I walked back to Blue mosque naively thinking it would be empty and deserted but hoping it might be lit up. But it was packed! It felt strange and surreal that this historic site was like a fairground full of people, candy floss, balloons and delicious smells of roasting nuts and corn on cob!
Not yet done with exploring grand and magnificent buildings, next up was the Topkapi Palace.
Ww walked to the Topkapi Palace which was built between 1475 and 1476. Ottoman Sultans lived in this palace for almost 400 years. With its lavish mosaics and statues, this is an amazing place to explore. Then the entry cost to the museum was 5 lira per person.
As a break from all of this sight seeing was necessary it was time for a snack! This woman was sitting in a window making pancakes – a delicious chocolate pancake was the result 🙂
As mentioned, Istanbul is divided by the Bosphorus and there is a wide selection of boat trips which can be taken at different times of the day and in the evening.
The Bosphorus cruise lasted between 3:30 – 5 pm and offered a different perspective of the city.
After breakfast the following morning we took a tram to the University Gate with the intention of going up the tower but unfortunately the tower was closed.
The Beyazit Tower is located within the campus of Istanbul University and was built to watch the fires during the Ottoman period.
From the University we walked down a hill to the section of the Bosphorus known as the Golden Horn so called as this is the colour of the water during sunset. Unfortunately the weather had turned a tad rainy so the Golden Horn was not looking it’s best!
From there we took a tram across a bridge over the Golden Horn towards the Galata Tower which is an old Genoese tower in the Galata region of Istanbul. This was built as a watch tower and is now a museum and exhibition centre.
From the top of the tower you could see views of the Golden Horn, the Marmara Sea and the Bosphorus. There was also a very good cafe at the top – I had a toasted cheeses sandwich which came with stilton, edam and cheddar type cheeses, complete with olive, tomato, gherkin and egg!
The flight was with EasyJet from Luton and after a slightly late departure and a fairly non-descript cloudy flight a somewhat worrying experience was to be had as we approached Istanbul! The pilot began to descend the plane and we got fairly low and then without touching the runway the plane began to ascend again! The pilot took the plane round in a circle, had another go and thankfully we landed OK the second time!
Upon arrival we had to get a tourist visa for 10 pounds per person and had to queue up for a while for this.
As we left the airport we found a bus to city centre (there were several buses going to different areas of Istanbul). That time neither of us had done any research of Istanbul so had no idea where the hotel was. The bus dropped us off in the city centre and with no Google Maps or Booking.com but a recollection that the hotel was in the Old Town we got a taxi the rest of the way to the hotel.
Our accommodation was the Hotel Orient Express for 3 nights from Saturday afternoon to the Tuesday. This hotel was located in the Old Town and within walking distance of the major sites including the Grand Bazaar and Blue Mosque. This part of the city is surrounded on 3 sides by water!
The hotel had a roof garden on its 8th floor from where you could see fabulous views across the city, right towards the Bosphous. This was a lovely place to relax with a glass of wine away from the mayhem of the streets below. Even for October the weather was pleasant and warm enough to sit outside in the early evening. Up here I spoke with an elderly Australian couple who were on a round-the-world trip… maybe that was some early inspiration for the trip Chris and I would complete 10 years later in 2016! (And that conversation was over 3 years before I met Chris 🙂 )
Finally on the hotel, my trip notes informed me that the breakfast was excellent with a selection of cheeses, some cooked items and even a dish of Turkish Delight! Hopefully that is still the case for anyone staying there now.