First full day in Istanbul

Istanbul Travel Blog

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Breakfast at the hotel

We had to get up a little early today because we were going on a guided tour of the city.  I was really apprehensive about this, I really enjoy walking around the city at my own pace and seeing the sites on my own schedule, but since it was included in the package, I went along with it.  Breakfast was on the top floor of the hotel and I really enjoyed the views from there, and they offered great breads and hard boiled eggs!  My patience wore thin as the bus to pick us up was about 30 minutes late, and I found out after we were on board that this bus was only taking us to another bus, which would take us to the sites we were going to see.  Apparently, there are buses that take you to one meeting point and then you are broken into groups depending on which tour you booked, and you have to wait for all the buses to arrive at this meeting point with the various people.

Outside our hotel
  It was a pretty retarded system that took well over an hour to orchestrate, but we eventually made it onto the final bus.  I kept thinking to myself that I could have walked here in half the time.

Our friendly guide, Sadi, told us a bit about where we were going today and we eventually pulled out of the meeting point, drove for only a few minutes, and then got off the bus.  Our first stop was the Hagia (Aya) Sofia, a massive Byzantine church converted into a Islamic mosque - and then converted into a museum for all to see.  It was originally built over 1000 years ago by Emperor Justinian.  I have to admit, it's a very unique place - incredibly fascenating!  Imagine (or just look at the pictures) a huge domed building with pictures of the Lord Jesus next to huge Arabic lettering from hundreds of years ago.

The Hagia Sofia
  The building looks spectacular from the outside as well, and is one of the most beautiful sites in the city.

Looking out from the Hagia Sofia, you can see the Blue Mosque.  This equally impressive building is one of the central places of worship for the Muslim population in the area.  We walked across the street (and took several photos) as we gazed in awe.  Once we were at the entrance, we had to take off our shoes before we were allowed inside.  I am not sure if there is a religious reason for this, but it certainly helps keep the place clean!  I think the ladies had to put a skirt-like thing on as well.  The place was packed inside with people, many of them tourists.  There didn't seem to be any worshipping going on, and it was very loud and unruly.

Inside the Hagia Sofia
  It was hard for me to appreciate for this reason.

From the Blue Mosque, we headed to the area still known as the Hippodrome, which was more or less right outside.  In Roman times, this area was the racetrack for the chariot races.  However, nothing at all remains of the track - it's more of a park now with souvenir shops.  In the middle of the Hippodrome are two obelisks, one sent from Karnak temple by Pharaoh in Egypt and the other is the Column of Constantine Porphyrogenitus, which was once covered in bronze but looted by crusaders.

Once we had seen all there was to see at the Hippodrome, we walked the streets of old Istanbul down to the Grand Bazaar.  This massive indoor shopping center is home to all sorts of crazy shops selling anything from apple tea to fake watches.

The Blue Mosque
  Wandering the hallways will get you lost in a hurry; each walkway looks the same as the next and before you know it you have no idea which direction you are facing.  From a marketing standpoint, this is perfect - you'll walk past all the shops a few times before you finally make your way back out the way you came in.  We were tempted just to exit a different way, but we had to find our starting point to meet the group for lunch.  I was all set to haggle should Cathy want to buy anything, but we decided not to at this time.

Our next stop was a neat little restaurant in the middle of the old city for lunch!  It was there that we were served an appetizer of assorted food from grape leaves to eggplant to lettuce all all sorts of sauces.

Egyptian Obelisk in the Hippodrome
  They then brought out some bread and some kebab with whatever meat we ordered.  There were options for dessert too, but I can't remember what I ordered.  :)  It was a fun time to get to know some of the other people on the tour.  There was a couple from Lebanon who were also on their honeymoon, so that was cool.

After dinner, we were herded back on the bus where we drove just another few minutes to Topkapı Palace.  This palace was the primary residence of the Ottoman sultans from 1465 all the way to 1853.  It was in this year that the sultans moved to Dolmabahçe Palace, but we'll talk about that in a few days!  We were given an introduction by our tour guide and then let loose on the grounds.

Checking out some Turkish rugs
  We were told to meet back at the entrance at 4:00 to take the bus back to our hotel...yeah right.  I'd rather not head back to the hotel at 4 in the afternoon and get stuck in traffic for an hour...there's so much to see!  The palace grounds were huge, with several rooms of artifacts and treasures that have been collected over time.  In one room there were two diamonds totaling over 80 carats in size!  In another room there were religious artifacts.  Articles include what is believed to be King David's sword and Moses's staff.  On the palace hill we had some great views of the city.

When we felt like we had seen enough, we left the palace and walked along a promenade to the Bosphorus.  Walking along the water, we were informed by a money-minded individual that he was giving boat tours for some cheap price.

Inside the maze that is the Grad Bazaar
  He showed us the route through the Bosphorus and told us we'd be sailing back into town as the sun set on the city.  It sounded like a good deal to us and we weren't that hungry yet, so we hoped on board.  The boat took us up along the coast past Dolmabahçe Palace before turning around and bringing us back down the other side.  It was a little cold, but we had a great time and got to meet some neat people on the boat.  At about the half way point, a non-english speaking individual came out and offered us some tea.  We asked the cost and he shook his head, so we assumed it was free.  The tea was great warm apple tea that hit the spot as the sun started to go down.  As we neared the end of the trip, the same guy came out with a calculator and showed us a number - the amount for the tea.
Entrance to Topkapı Palace
  I just laughed and told him no, and that was the last we saw of him.  Either someone else paid for us or he just gave up.

We disembarked and walked through the area known as the Egyptian Bazaar, known for it's spices.  The place smelled GREAT!  My mouth started watering at the pleasant aroma and I knew it was time for dinner.  We checked out the turkish delight (we wanted to take some home to family), but the prices were a little high there.  So, we wandered the streets away from the touristy part of the town and found a small area where there were several restaurants and more locals than you can shake a stick at.  We knew we were in the right place and had one of the best meals of our entire trip.  We ate so much food for about $5 each!

As evening turned to night, we found ourselves back around the Hagia Sofia and the Blue Mosque.

Sailing on the Bosphorus
  It almost looked like a festival was going on because there were street vendors everywhere selling food, nuts, candies, and toys and such for children.  We stuck around a little while to try to figure out what was going on, but we didn't have too much luck.  At the Blue Mosque they were reading from the Quran, but it didn't look like anyone really cared.  Go figure.  When we decided to call it a night, and we were a good hour to and hour and a half walk away from our hotel, I decided it was time to figure out the public transportation system.  I thought Istanbul had a subway system, but it turns out that they only had an above ground tram that could take us to the Asian side of the city.  After looking for a metro station for a good 30 minutes and asking someone at a hotel, we figured out we had to take the tram.
Sunset over Istanbul
  It was quite expensive for a single trip, and when we got to the place on the Asia side of the city where we had to change trains, they were going to make us pay to switch - what other city does that?  After looking at the map, I was determined that it would be a quick walk to the hotel, so off we went.  I was going to save that $2!  What I didn't realize (and should have) was that the quick walk was entirely uphill, and there was no direct route to the hotel.  After some trial and error, we did make it back - it took us 45 minutes and our calves were burning!

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Breakfast at the hotel
Breakfast at the hotel
Outside our hotel
Outside our hotel
The Hagia Sofia
The Hagia Sofia
Inside the Hagia Sofia
Inside the Hagia Sofia
The Blue Mosque
The Blue Mosque
Egyptian Obelisk in the Hippodrome
Egyptian Obelisk in the Hippodrome
Checking out some Turkish rugs
Checking out some Turkish rugs
Inside the maze that is the Grad B…
Inside the maze that is the Grad …
Entrance to Topkapı Palace
Entrance to Topkapı Palace
Sailing on the Bosphorus
Sailing on the Bosphorus
Sunset over Istanbul
Sunset over Istanbul
Inside the Hagia Sofia
Inside the Hagia Sofia
Inside the Hagia Sofia - arabic sy…
Inside the Hagia Sofia - arabic s…
Inside the Hagia Sofia
Inside the Hagia Sofia
Inside the Hagia Sofia - muslim al…
Inside the Hagia Sofia - muslim a…
Inside the Hagia Sofia
Inside the Hagia Sofia
Inside the Hagia Sofia
Inside the Hagia Sofia
Inside the Hagia Sofia
Inside the Hagia Sofia
The Hagia Sofia
The Hagia Sofia
The Blue Mosque
The Blue Mosque
A park and the Hagia Sofia
A park and the Hagia Sofia
The Blue Mosque
The Blue Mosque
The Hagia Sofia
The Hagia Sofia
The Hagia Sofia
The Hagia Sofia
The Hagia Sofia
The Hagia Sofia
The Hagia Sofia
The Hagia Sofia
Inside the Hagia Sofia
Inside the Hagia Sofia
Inside the Hagia Sofia
Inside the Hagia Sofia
Inside the Hagia Sofia
Inside the Hagia Sofia
At the entrance to the Grand Bazaar
At the entrance to the Grand Bazaar
Looking like a local - just kiddin…
Looking like a local - just kiddi…
At lunch
At lunch
The Hagia Sofia
The Hagia Sofia
On the grounds of Topkapı Palace
On the grounds of Topkapı Palace
Some procession at Topkapı Palace
Some procession at Topkapı Palace
The Blue Mosque
The Blue Mosque
Inside the Blue Mosque
Inside the Blue Mosque
Inside the Blue Mosque
Inside the Blue Mosque
Inside the Blue Mosque
Inside the Blue Mosque
Inside the Blue Mosque
Inside the Blue Mosque
Column of Constantine Porphyrogeni…
Column of Constantine Porphyrogen…
At the Hippodrome
At the Hippodrome
Walking through Istanbul
Walking through Istanbul
The view from Topkapı Palace
The view from Topkapı Palace
The New Mosque
The New Mosque
Dolmabahçe Palace from the water
Dolmabahçe Palace from the water
Enjoying the boat trip
Enjoying the boat trip
On the Bosphorus
On the Bosphorus
Sunset over Istanbul
Sunset over Istanbul
Waiting for dinner!
Waiting for dinner!
The Blue Mosque at night
The Blue Mosque at night
I wonder what makes it magical?
I wonder what makes it magical?
At Topkapı Palace
At Topkapı Palace
View from Topkapı Palace
View from Topkapı Palace
At Topkapı Palace
At Topkapı Palace
At Topkapı Palace - the hat room
At Topkapı Palace - the hat room
Topkapı Palace courtyard
Topkapı Palace courtyard
Topkapı Palace courtyard
Topkapı Palace courtyard
The Turkish flag waving over the b…
The Turkish flag waving over the …
Looking from Europe to Asia
Looking from Europe to Asia
Sailing on the Bosphorus
Sailing on the Bosphorus
View from the hotel
View from the hotel
The Sultans chamber in the Hagia …
The Sultan's chamber in the Hagia…
Istanbul
photo by: Memo