After almost two weeks of wonderful discoveries in Turkey we were now heading to Istanbul.
The citiy's skyline had always held a magical and romantic image. I think perhaps this was one time that I had built it up too much but in saying that what we did see and do was wonderful.
Its a huge city and impossible to see and do everything so we’d chosen stay in the old quarter. Once again Airbnb came up with a very central spot which we could either walk from, or if heading further afar could jump on the metro or buses.
Our initial taxi ride from the Taxim Square to our apartment was probably the most exciting and hair raising you could ask for. Believe me we didn’t ask for it but what an experience, just thankful we got to tell the tale. I think the three in the backseat enjoyed it far more than me perched up in the front seat, “nominated co-pilot”, or navigator. Our experienced turkish taxi driver was determined to give a ride through rush hour traffic that we’d never forget!!!!
We did what we do best and took time to sit and sip coffee on the sidewalk cafes, although first stop felt a bit seedy as we wandered into a dark and smokey environment. It seemed to be men only, although I gather women do partake is this tradition nowadays, all sitting around looking decidedly chilled to as they smoked their Nargile or Turkish water pie. I gather there is nothing shady about this 500 year old tradition and they only smoke various flavours of turkish tobacco. Originating in India, it became a popular pastime during the Ottoman Empire and to smoke with the sultan was seen as the highest honour.
But this morning we were after a big screen to catch a bit of the World Cup rugby and the boys had spied one in here. Even though they say the whole reason to smoke the gargle is to to relax, slow down and enjoy the calming vapours we couldn’t quite get into that groove!!
A great walk through the chaotic action packed streets and we arrived at the Sultanahmet area. Where we are surrounded by history and there is so much just within meters of one another.
First stop was the huge square which was the Hippodrome of Constantinople, which contains the two ancient obelisks and the serpent column. Then just behind is the amazing Sultan Ahmed Mosque or known better as the Blue Mosque which almost faces the Hagia Sophia and then only 10 minutes walk further down the road is the majestic Topkapi Palace. David Lines lead the charge and his timing was perfect as we slipped straight inside the Blue Mosque with only a couple of minutes of queuing. A pretty awe-inspiring place to be, although no photos do justice to the wonderful blue tiles lining the interior. It’s from the outside that you really admire this as one of the city’s most striking images with all those domes and slender minarets.
We delighted in the contrasting sights, action, smells and sounds that continue throughout the day. Whether its the street sellers advertising their wares, or the many different languages being spoken, or the powerful, melodic call to prayer, it all seems never ending. The smell of the hot sesame bagel like bread rings, the huge cone like chunks of meat roasting in the Kebab shopsor the constant lure to taste the many flavours of fresh Turkish delight, which was our downfall.
But amongst the hustling and chaos of Istanbul's 15 million people there are some pretty unique spots and top our list was discovering the enormous underground Basilica Cistern. As you step downwards into this cool calm but grand environment you can see why its been referred to as the Sunken Palace Cistern. With 336 marble columns rising up out of the water, it covers nearly 1000 sq metres and has a capacity to handle nearly 80,000 cubic metres. This vast underground cistern was built under one of the grand public squares during the 6th century by a late Roman or early Byzantine Emperor. Water was transported via the huge aqueducts from reservoirs near the Black Sea more than 20 kms away as it was designed to service both the Great Palace and surrounding buildings. But with changes to the city it was left unused for many many years and even becamea dumping ground for corpses until it was finally treated with the respect it should have in 1985. Cleaned and renovated it has become one of the most popular tourist spots in Istanbul.
The Grand Bazaar was amass with people, colourful and chaotic, buying and selling, transactions happening all around us. With over three thousand stalls selling everything from jewellery and fashion, textiles, ceramics, carpets, tasty treats etc its one of the oldest and largest covered markets in the world. And the stats tell us more than a staggering 95,000,000 people visited last year.!!!
We did a short cruise up the Bosphorous Strait which divides the East and West parts of the city, just using the traditional Sehir Hatlari ferry boats. There were lots of options almost all based down on the Eminiou docks which is just off the Galata Bridge, from Private full day cruises to just zipping across to the Asian side, but this was ideal. It costs next to nothing and we got some wonderful sights on both sides as we cruised up to just beyond the Fatih Bridge.
To the Western side it almost looked like parts of Auckland Harbour interspersed with a vast number of highrise buildings and huge towers to some grand Ottoman …... down near the sea but the best was the wonderful silhouettes of the mosques on the horizon as we headed back towards the old city.
And to finish off on a great note Judy and I did some very successful shopping on our last day and took home not only glorious memories of our time in Turkey but full suitcases!!