Three years of dreaming and planning to visit this beautiful city, finally culminated in the most wonderful week long trip early this month! Roshnai and I visited the ancient and beautiful city of Istanbul, in Turkey. Not intending to give you the Wikipedia description of Istanbul here, but Istanbul is the largest city in Turkey and the only metropolis in the world to be situated on two continents – Europe and Asia. Having a rich history of more than 2000 years, it was earlier known as Byzantium and later Constantinople. The historic old city areas around Sultanahmet were added to the UNESCO World Heritage List. Today, Istanbul is known for its history and historical monuments, architecture, ancient bazaars, the Bosphorus, delicious food, and vibrant cultural life. Go ahead and get a glimpse of most but certainly not all of that in our pics below.
Below is the map of Istanbul (from Google Maps) – as you see, the entire metropolis is split in three by water. The main strait Bosphorus divides Europe and Asia, while European Istanbul is further divided into north and south by the Golden Horn. The southern tip was the location of the old city of Constantinople, and has most of the historical monuments and tourist locations.
The Eyewitness Travels’ guidebook on Turkey was very helpful in making the most out of the trip but Saudi Arabian Airlines deserves a special thanks for providing really affordable non-low-cost flight tickets – almost 40% less than the current market rates. So far, I’ve had the best airline food in Saudi Arabian Airlines, even better than Emirates and Etihad, and for the price I pay to fly SV, I would not mind flying with them again!
I typically do not take photos from the aircraft, but found it difficult to resist the amazing Cumulus mediocris cloud formation!
Once in Istanbul, we first walked straight to the Blue Mosque. It was the first mosque I ever entered, and also the most beautiful one!
The dazzling Iznik tiles give it the name of Blue Mosque, and is considered to be the last great mosque of the classical Ottoman period
Right in front of the Blue Mosque, stands the much much older Hagia Sophia, or Ayasofia. Hagia Sophia, was a church from around 400 AD to around 1450 AD when the Ottoman emperor Sultan Mehmet ordered it to be converted to a Mosque.
In 1931 it was secularized and converted into a Museum. Today what you see inside is unmatched to anywhere else in the world. Christ and inscriptions of Allah in the same building!
Completed in 1660, the Egyptian Market or the Spice Bazaar is one of the largest markets in Istanbul. What you see inside is hundreds of shops selling pretty much the same stuff – all kinds of spices, sweets, nuts and dried fruits. Since the bazaar now focuses on tourists, if you go a little outside the market into the by-lanes, you can get better rates ;) and more variety.
The Grand Bazaar, completed around 1700 AD, is one of the largest and oldest covered markets in the whole world. You will find around 3000 shops selling a large variety of things from carpets to lanterns, t-shirts to magnets, porcelain to gold, and many more things. It is a shoppers’ paradise but you need to be smart while spending and learn to haggle. Again, you would get the best deals if you venture out of the market and into the by-lanes – you will find a lot of whole-sellers, who would give you much better rates that would not require you to bargain.
On the other side of the old city, the New Mosque and Suleymaniye Mosque adorn the landscape, and are two of the most prominent features of Istanbul visible from the Bosphorus.
The Suleymaniye Mosque and the Shehzade Mosque overlooking the busy ferry docks at Eminonu. Both these beautiful mosques were built by famous Ottoman architect Mimar Sinan around 1550 AD.
Other popular places in the Sultanahmet square are the Historical Turkish Bath, and the Hippodrome. The pillar in the image below (right side), is the Obelisk of Theodosius imported from Aswan, Egypt and re-erected in Istanbul around the 4th century AD. It is one of the only few structures of the ancient Hippodrome of Constantinople that remain standing today.
You may spend anything between 4 Turkish Lira (about 2 USD) to 200 Turkish Lira (about 100 USD) for a cruise over the Bosphorus, the strait that connects the Sea of Marmara (Mediterranean Sea) to the Black Sea and links the Asian side of Istanbul to Europe. One trip was not enough so we took two! You get to see beautiful palaces along the Bosphorus, Yalis (seaside house), Mosques, and some very interesting perspectives of both sides of the megacity!
One of the most interesting things about the city is the multiple modes of transport that it offers its citizens and tourists. It has a very good mix of old traditional trams, to the most modern trams, subway trains, suburban trains, underground funiculars (trains that climb inclines), buses, ferries, and taxis!
No trip to Turkey is complete without having a traditional Turkish bath and watching a live belly dancing performance. Unfortunately, constrained by time and budget, we decided to spend our resources on something else. Having said that, I will rephrase – “No trip to Turkey is complete without having traditional Turkish food and sipping cay (chai/tea) and salep at a traditional Turkish tea shop!”
All we had for 7 days was Doner Kabab, and Simit breads, interspersed with gracious amounts of baklava, Turkish delight and coffee. Even though we both walked almost 5 km every day, we ended up gaining 1.5 kg each!
Turkish people are pretty! Especially the women ;) Most of the citizens follow Islam, but Turkey is a secular and open-minded country. Wearing the scarf or going to the mosque is not compulsory!
I think I have more photos of myself in this trip than all of my photos every taken all put together! Of course we had a great time shooting each other (with the camera), different poses, different backgrounds – but unfortunately, similar clothes since it was cold and we had just a couple of winter jackets!
Overall, it was a great trip! Great place, great food, and great memories! Unfortunately, you cannot do justice to Istanbul in less than 10 days, and to Turkey in less than 2 weeks. We could not visit any place outside Istanbul – the amazing hot water springs, the white sand beaches, Cappadocia rock formations and balloon ride… hopefully we will visit again, and cover what we missed!
I cannot end this post without mentioning for my dear friends and readers who would now like to visit Istanbul, that it was a budget trip for us and our total expenditure (for two of us) was Rs 1,00,000 or USD 2,000!
Lakhotia, Ramya and the rest – thanks for dreaming about Istanbul with me, made my resolve to travel stronger!