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Istanbul

TURKEY | Saturday, 13 August 2011 | Views [358]

We were a bit tired when our train arrived into Istanbul.  While we did get quite a bit of sleep on the train, getting woken up a couple of times to get our passport stamped meant for a pretty disjointed sleep.  Still it was a lot better than taking a bus.  We made it up to our hostel without too much trouble, had some breakfast and a shower then headed out to check out the sights. 

 

We were staying in Sultanahmet, while very touristy is a great location as most of the big sights are within walking distance.  There is so much to see in Istanbul, we soon realised that our 3 days in the city wasn’t really long enough to see everything.  First stop was Hagia Sophia, built as an orthodox basilica in 360 (although the current building dates back to the 500’s), converted to a mosque in 1453 it then became a museum in 1931.  All in all it is a very impressive building, with a massive dome, numerous mosaics and other decorations.  From Hagia Sophia we walked across the square to another very impressive building the Blue Mosque.  The mosque is still used regularly for prayers, however they allow tourists to wander through part of the mosque in between prayer time.  While impressed with both buildings we decided that the Blue Mosque had the better exterior and Hagia Sophia the best interior. Our final stop of the day was the Basillica Cistern, the largest of several ancient cisterns below Istanbul.  The cistern was built back in the 6th century. It’s a great place to escape the heat (although not the crowds) on a hot day in Istanbul.

 

Sultanahmet has numerous roof top bars and restaurants…after a bit of trial and error we managed to find the bar with the best view of the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia, have a look at the evening photos we took.

 

The next day our main aim was to get to Tokapi Palace before the crowds…which we sort of managed.  Tokapi Palace was the main residence of the Ottoman Sultans for around 400 years.  It is another of the must see sights in Istanbul and definitely worth the effort.  The highlight for us was the harem…the main living quarters of the sultans and his family.  The rooms are decorated with traditional tiles and other ornate decorations.  Also located in the palace is the imperial treasury….a collection of very fancy jewellery and other objects (such as a jewel encrusted tea set).  As we left we almost had to fight our way through the crowds coming in, definitely glad we got there early.  The afternoon was spent having a wander through the grand bazaar before our cooking class that evening. 

 

Chris has proven to be the better travel planner, basically I have no patience to read through guidebooks until I actually get to our destination. This is not ideal as on a tight time frame you need to work out how long to spend at each destination and maybe also organise some activities in advance.  So Chris has done most of the organising on this trip and I help out occasionally by booking a hostel. However this time I actually organised something....a Turkish cooking class in Istanbul.  The class was run by a local lady in her very nice apartment in the suburb of Taksim.  It was good to get out of touristy Sultanahmet and see how the locals live.  The cooking class was good, although a bit strange at times.  The food was great and I’m looking forward to making it at home but the other people taking the course were all a bit weird.  There was the middle aged American lady who spoke fluent Turkish having spent some time here while at uni, (the cooking teacher was convinced that the American lady was a spy) the American lady’s teenage nephew, and a Canadian travel writer.  After the cooking was done more guests turned up for dinner, the extra guests were all friends of the other people in the course, so we had the American lady’s husband (a university academic) and their family friend an Austrian lady who lived in London (she reminded us of Cruella de Vil from 101 Dalmatians) and the travel writers gay partner (a yoga instructor).  All in all it was a very strange dinner party. 

 

Our final day in Istanbul was spent checking out the Spice Market (buying yet another scarf and lots of very yummy Turkish delight) and a ferry trip on the Bosphorous.  To our surprise we even spotted a couple of dolphins in the water. 

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