At the end of our time in Turkey we had three amazing days in Istanbul. After being in much less populated areas, Istanbul felt very crowded and bustling! We arrived at 5.45 am on a night bus from Bergama. As we were about to get onto the free shuttle from the bus station to Taksim Square, we realised that we had left our jackets on the bus we had been on…the bus that had just pulled away! After a few hours waiting we did manage to get them back, but it was not an ideal start to our time.
We stayed at an apartment that we found on Air BNB – we have really been enjoying using this service! We had a cute little top floor apartment with a view of the city – it was lovely to be able to cook and relax here. From here it was just a short walk to Taksim Square, where each day we took a funicular and then a tram to Istanbul’s highlights in the Old City. On our first day we explored the Hagia Sofia, an amazing building which was originally a church, and was then converted into a mosque. When it was converted, the amazing religious mosaics were painted over and the whole place was redecorated. It has now been secularised and turned into a museum, and some of the mosaics have been uncovered – it was fascinating to see the different elements of Islam and Christianity in the same building.
Our next stop was the Blue Mosque (in the top photo), a famous mosque that was very beautiful. We were careful to make sure Reubs had long pants on and I had a head scarf – however, the people working there were a lot more tolerant than I would have been with tourists who didn’t wear a head scarf even though they had one around their neck so we probably would have been allowed in regardless.
We also strolled through where the Hippodrome had been and popped in to see the tomb of Sultan Ahmet and his family. On our second day, we joined the mobs of people visiting Topkapi Palace – this was the most crowded tourist site that we went to in Turkey! The most interesting parts were the harem and the collection of “Holy Artifacts” – including the staff of Moses, the turban of Joseph, and parts of the Prophet’s beard. No photos were allowed sadly!
After the palace, we explored the Grand Bazaar and the Spice Bazaar…it wasn’t easy not to buy any of the beautiful things that we found but sadly our packs don’t have much spare space! Generally this rule stops us from buying tacky souvenirs but there were some truly lovely things at the bazaars.
On our last day exploring Istanbul we went to the Basilica Cistern, an underground cistern that is eerily lit, has two statues of Medusa, and has giant fish swimming through it – we weren’t sure what to expect but this was great.
After that, we went to the Archaeological Museum and then headed down to the river to experience fish kebabs – you buy your piece of fish in bread from one of the boats bobbing on the river, then perch on a stool and eat it washed down with a salty yoghurt drink. It was good but picking out the bones made it not my favourite way to eat fish!
We then walked over the Galata Bridge and back, then took a ferry to Asia! (Istanbul straddles both Europe and Asia, so this was a fast ride). Once there we strolled around and checked out Asia before taking a ferry back to pack before yet another early morning trip.