Istanbul was another of those places that I hadn't visited since 1980 when I had a year overseas, and Pete had never been here. It is a city that straddles Europe and Asia across the Bosphorus Strait, so the blast of warm air that hit us as we stepped off the plane made us think that we were back in the east. Then when we arrived into town, the hawkers selling their wares, restauranteurs touting for your business and street stalls offering roasted sweetcorn and chestnuts all enforced this feeling. These were all characteristics we have missed over the last 15 months.
The next 3 days we played tourists to the full, flitting from one attractions to the next. A change from visiting castles and cathedrals over the last few months, this was all about mosques. We purchased a museum card that covered our entrance fees for the main places we wanted to see, and more valuably allowed us to bypass the long queues at most places.
Starting with the Blue Mosque (which in my opinion was the most beautiful of them all) the exterior is a cascade of domes with 6 slender minarets. Shoes off, legs and shoulders covered and a pashmina over my head, we ventured inside. The interior is decorated with blue Izmir tiles and give the building its name. The central prayer space is huge and surrounded by 260 windows, most of them stained glass. It is truly a beautiful building, and photos don't seem to do it justice. The only negative is the permanent smell of foot odour that must be imbedded into the carpet from the thousands of people who visit daily. Ugh!!!!
The Blue Mosque in the distance, visited by up to 100,000 people daily
Gold leaf decoration Topkapi Palace The courtyard of the Blue Mosque
The beautiful blue tile also used extensively throughout the Topkapi Palace
From there we went to the Topkapi palace, the largest and oldest palace in the world to survive to modern times. It is situated on the acropolis, the site of the first settlement in Istanbul and commands an great view of the Golden Horn, the Bosphorus and the Sea of Marmara. There are 5 km of walls surrounding the palace with monumental gates that open onto beautiful tree shaded courtyards, a restful place to wander for a couple of hours.
Another stop was the Hagia Sophia. It was originally built as a Christian basilica, then it became a mosque and is currently a museum. Another massive dome 55 meters above the floor and supported by 4 pendentives. On the mezzanine level you can see mosaics from the Byzantine period depicting Christ and his followers. Unlike the blue mosque, the floor on both of the levels is marble so thankfully that overpowering foot odour smell was not an issue. I don't think it is as beautiful as the Blue Mosque, but spectacular none the less.
Outside the Hagia Sophia, Istanbul
Gold leaf and blue tile mosaic in the Hagia Sophia
View from the mezzanine level Colourful stained glass windows
Colourful domes really are spectacular
Panorama shot - just learnt to do this. Have to do the holiday again now!!
The Grand Bazaar was also amazing. Very similar to what we had seen in Marakesh however the walkways up and down the alleys were as wide as a road in most places which was great that you didn't have to barge your way along. There were entire sections given to one trade - lighting, jewellery, pashminas, silver, art, ceramics - down one street just stall after stall all selling the same thing. The sellers there must be able to look at westerners 'features' and almost guess their origin, as in various parts of the bazaar as we pass, they would catch our eye and then hear "Aussie, Aussie, Aussie" coming from them (with a huge grin)! How did they know?
Room to move down the laneways of the Grand Bazaar
We had a lovely long walk across the Galata bridge and up passed the Galata Tower to Taksim Square where the Monument to the Republic is located. Late afternoons most days we tried to find ourselves a rooftop bar with a great view to watch the shadows lengthen, the sun set over the city and to watch it come alive after dark. They have a very modern tram system that rounds right through the centre of the city.
Galata Tower The Monument to the Republic - Taksim Square
The view looking out across the Bosphorus Sea from a bar top at sunset
Another day was spent with a ferry ride up the Bosphorus. Boarding our boat around 10.00, we spent the next 1.5 hours zigzagging our way towards the Black Sea stopping just short of the entrance where a new bridge is being built to join the two land masses. It is currently known as the 3rd Bosphorus bridge, assuming it will be given a name on completion and it is stated to be the widest suspension bridge in the world, including a rail line.
A great view of the 3rd bridge over the Bosphorus being built
The grand Dolmabahce Palace on the Bosphorus
Impressive gates to enter the Dolmabahce Palace
We arrived into a small town just short of the new bridge where we had a 2 hour stopover for lunch and a look around. A relatively short but steep climb to the top of a hill to where the ruins of an old castle still stand, we had a fantastic view both up and the water. The temperature was warm and time for a cold drink to refresh ourselves. Unfortunately, these spectacular views didn't come with any beer so it was an iced tea for now until we got back down to the bottom where we had lunch.
A beer was what we really wanted but had to settle for an iced tea instead
Just nice to sit back and enjoy the view
Another view of the surrounding countryside from our river cruise
Inside views of another smaller but spectacular mosque that we visited
Sulaymaniye Mosque - Istanbul
On the last day, we got first in the queue to enter the Basillica Cistern, a huge underground system built to supply the water to the palace. There are 12 rows of 28 marble columns in total, each column being 9 meters high. Floodlit with underwater lighting, the effect is quite magical - lovely cool air and soft music playing in the background. And it was so lovely to be the first inside and have the place to ourselves even if just for a minute. Somehow that magical effect wouldn't be the same with hundreds of visitors crammed into the system.
So that was Istanbul done and dusted. Back to the hotel for a shower then await the arrival of our car to take us to the airport and an evening flight to Dubai then on to Kuala Lumpur. It's back to the east for us now. With some wonderful memories of places we have been, and people we have met. I am glad I have had the opportunity to return to some places that I hadn't seen for 30+ years, and for most of those a first visit for Pete. Istanbul - where East meets West - an interesting destination.