We arrived in Istanbul at 3pm and managed to find our way to our hotel in Sultanahmet using the public tram. We got off at the bus station first to confirm and pay for our booking of the overnight bus from Pamukkale to Cappodoccia at the Metro Turizm office.
My first introduction to Istanbul: It was hot and busy. Luggage in tow, we came up the escalator at the bus station looking for the office, which is when we were accosted by a young Turkish man. He asked us where we wanted to go, and being the cynical South Africans we are, we immediately went on the defensive thinking that he was trying to lure us somewhere, or book some or other tour with him. I replied that we were fine, we had already booked something and we didn’t need any help (when it was quite obvious that we were very lost). He was insistent and kept asking us where wanted to go – I finally relented and told him and he directed us to the correct Metro Turizm office (as there were many). The Turkish people are VERY helpful and kind.
Back on the tram to Sultanahmet to find our hotel, Sultanahmet Suite Life, another young Turkish volunteer helped us locate our hotel on our map and thankfully it was within walking distance to the main tram stop. We chose the Sultanahmet district instead of the newer, more modern side of Taksim because we wanted to be in close proximity to all the major historical sites.
We finally reached our hotel Sultanahmet Suite Life Hotel, a review of this can be found on Tripadvisor:
The evening was cool and clear – we took a walk to see the town and have dinner. We came upon the Blue Mosque which was closed for the day but we took some fabulous pictures outside:
We found a lovely restaurant outside of the Ayasofya hamam where there was live Turkish music and whirling dervishes. We had our first Turkish tea and smoked a hookah pipe underneath the stars and enjoyed the beautiful show.
We woke up early to start our day of touring all the major sites:
We began at the infamous Topkapi Palace where you are allowed a glimpse into the life of a wealthy sultan! We packed our guidebook and did our own tour. You need at least 2 hours to see the main places including the Harem (which you pay extra for). The highlight for me was having a look at all the beautiful clocks, jewels and gifts that were exchanged between the wealthy of the Ottomon Empire displayed in the Imperial court.
Next up was the Ayasofya, a huge imposing Roman basilica built in the 6th century that was turned into a Mosque after the invasion of the Ottomons in the 15th century. Now it is a museum that has very beautiful mosaics (go up the ramp to the top). There is very little ventilation making it hot and stuffy, there was construction underway and it is devoid of markings/ explanation boards so a guide would probably be needed here.
We left to have lunch at one of the many kebab houses in Sultanahmet and then took a break from the midday sun by going to the Basilica Cistern. .
This is an impressive underground water supply system built by the Romans. Massive pillars, very moody lighting and those Medusa head statues gave it a strange atmosphere that I loved! It shouldn’t take too much time to see, 20 minutes depending on the crowds, but the coolness was a welcome relief (that and pistachio ice cream!) from the hot sun.
We took a walk to see the Hippodrome, it’s a central area that has tall obelisks with hieroglyphics and some other interesting artefacts from the time of Theodosius (the great Roman emperor who ruled from 379-395) which Hubster found particularly interesting.
We went to the Blue Mosque. Please wear long pants (both women AND men) and a scarf (if you are a woman), unless you want to lose your place in the long line to put on the ones they have available, they will turn you away from the entrance if you do not have the correct attire. Remove your shoes and put in the packet they provide for it. Don’t know if it was just us but we found it very underwhelming. It was packed and had a smell of old Cheetos inside with all the sweaty, smelly tourist feet. I couldn’t appreciate the architecture because of the lights suspended from the ceiling.
We then took a tram to the Grand Bazaar, lots of shops selling very similar things. I had wanted those lovely mosaic lamp chandeliers but it would never have survived the remaining trip in my luggage and the cost of shipping to South Africa would cost almost the same amount as the product so after haggling with some very aggressive sellers we decided against buying it.
We were now thoroughly exhausted but I wanted to experience a Turkish bath! We went to the Cemberlitas Hamami, which is close to the Grand Bazaar. It was an interesting experience, I think I would have enjoyed it alot more were it were it not for the bad service. You can see my review on Tripadvisor at the following link:
We arrived back in Istanbul at approximately 10am. After checking in, we headed straight for the Eminonu pier via the tram to get a Bosphorus cruise.
See my Tripadvisor review here for more info: http://www.tripadvisor.co.za/ShowUserReviews-g293974-d1657485-r232064860-Bosphorus_Strait-Istanbul.html#REVIEWS
Don’t forget to have freshly fried fish in a roll and drink some ayran at the harbour!
Afterwards, we went to Taksim square. This is the modern side of Turkey with fancy buildings and stores. All the designer shops are here and you can easily spend a whole day shopping. There is also a much better variety of cuisine which was a welcome relief as we were kebabed out!
Let me know if you need any further information, or have any questions or comments below!
……Next Post: Selcuk and Ephesus!