Maria and Derek's Travels

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Istanbul - What To Do in One Day - Part One

November 10/11, 2016

Ancient history, the mix of Eastern and Western cultures and religions, great food and welcoming people.  Istanbul has everything you could want from a city.  Our flight to SE Asia brought us through Istanbul, so instead of just staying 4 hours, we extended the stopover by a day, so that we could see more of the city.

[Note - this often works out to almost the same price, if you book the multi-city trip on the airline's website with the same routing as the original flight, but just with a longer stopover.  In our example, it only cost an extra $9 on Turkish Airlines to add a day layover in Istanbul.  A few years ago, I extended a 3 hr layover in Fiji into 3 weeks for the same price.]

With a direct flight from Atlanta, we arrived in Istanbul just in time to see the late afternoon light fill the hillsides with a muted orange from the windows of the plane.  We hopped on the metro and transferred to the tram to make a super-easy connection from the airport to the heart of Old Istanbul, surrounded by mosques, museums and tons of history.

The week before we left, the US Dept. of State had issued a stern travel warning and actually removed all family members of the consulate workers based on potential threats in the area, targeting foreigners and tourists.  We were, of course, a little scared, but these warnings always must warn of the most extreme scenarios, so we decided not to let it change our plans, though we were certainly more watchful of our surroundings.  In the end, we felt completely safe and only found warm, welcoming people.

Walking off the tram, we were greeted immediately by the bright moon and a beautiful mosque in the Sultanahmet area.  Just minutes later, we were passing by the Blue Mosque to our right and the Hagia Sophia to our left - surely one of the most impressive streets and introductions to a city that you could possibly have.  We dropped our bags at our hostel and wandered the cobbled streets of the old town and around the mosque and museum.  Though tired from the 11 hr flight and a little chilly with a hint of winter coming in the air, we absolutely loved the area and had a hard time pulling ourselves away to go to bed.

The next morning began with a drizzling rain, so we first went inside to the Hagia Sophia (or Aya Sofya, in Turkish).  The incredible structure, almost a faded pastel pink color on the outer walls, is impressive enough on the outside, but the inside is even more incredible.  Built first in 537 AD as a church, converted to a mosque in 1453 and finally converted to a museum in 1935, this building has seen quite a bit of history, sitting at the edge of Europe, just across the river from the beginning of Asia.  The inside is filled with ornate drawings and tilework in various styles.  Most mosques don't display images of people (based on their religious teachings), but as this was a church before, there are intricate tile mosaics of figures such as the Virgin Mary and Constantine the Great.  The ceilings of the place are enormous, stretching hundreds of feet high in the main room, adding to the grandiose feel of the place.  We walked around the museum for an hour or two, amazed by the great detail and feeling of history.

As we exited, the sun was just beginning to come out from the clouds, so we headed just ten minutes up the road to Topkapi Palace, another historical sight in the old city.  The palace was home to emperors and sultans beginning in the 1450s and has a bit of a Forbidden City feel with multiple courtyards, each one more exclusive than the last.  The sultan also had a harem on the side where only the best and brightest women were allowed to entertain him while others took classes in language, dress, dance, music, etc, sometimes numbering up to 300 women in the back chambers at a time.

The palace also holds great fragments of history, ranging from ancient weapons (such as the Topkapi dagger encrusted in jewels) to religious artifacts (pieces of beard from the prophet Muhammed, the walking staff of Moses and other amazing articles).  Even more than the history, it's simply a beautiful and tranquil spot to wander the grassy courtyards and admire views out over the Bosphorus to Asia and across the river to the other parts of Istanbul.  After an hour or two, we moved on to find our next adventure in this action packed day.

The Blue Mosque (Sultan Ahmet), built in the early 1600s, sits on the edge of Old Istanbul, literally across the street from the Hagia Sophia.

Hagia Sophia (Aya Sofya) at night.  While I don't think of neon colored fountains when I think of history, apparently that's the look that the current tourism board is going for.)

The amazing view from the rooftop patio of our hotel.  You could hear the morning call to prayer from the Blue Mosque and had a front row seat to its regal beauty.  Also, looking back from this picture was a wonderful view of the water and the Asian side of Istanbul.

The impressive details of the inside of the Hagia Sophia, with it's mixed influences from being a church, a mosque and now a museum, beginning first in 537 AD.

The view from one of the top windows of the Hagia Sophia, looking back towards the Blue Mosque.

Maria and me along the top level of the Hagia Sophia

Check out the tiny guy in the bottom of the picture for some perspective on the size of this place.

An impressive mosaic as you leave the building.

Fortunately the weather began to clear during our day in Istanbul, giving us a nice final shot here of the Hagia Sophia.  Well, I guess it wasn't a final shot, as I took many, many pictures of the place.

The leafy entrance to Topkapi Palace - home of the rulers since the 1450s.

I believe this was the Baghdad Room.  Either way, it was one of the many, many impressive areas of the sprawling palace.

Looking out over the river from Topkapi Palace.  Galata Tower stands tall on the right side of the picture.

More beautiful tilework at Topkapi Palace.

This room within Topkapi Palace contained ancient artifacts such as a piece of prophet Muhammad's beard and Moses' walking staff.

You get the point...

The castle-like facade of Topkapi Palace.


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Taking advantage of our laptop lifestyle and wandering this world together. Maria Renee is an online health and fitness coach, and Derek is an actuarial seminar instructor. Traveling together since 2015. Also see

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