First full day in Istanbul
Istanbul Travel Blog› entry 3 of 44 › view all entries
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.