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Istanbul - Day 2 - Ottoman Istanbul

TURKEY | Wednesday, 11 July 2012 | Views [533]

Blu Mosque evening

Blu Mosque evening

Today, I have to walk 10 minutes just to get my breakfast, due to the botch up of day 1 where I'm not at the hotel I booked. I also have to carry my stuff with me as I was going to insist the hotel give me another room, which they do. It seems good initially with views of the Sea of Bosphorus and to my dismay, also right next to the railway track.

It's only 9 in the morning when I get to Topkapi Palace, the palace of the Ottoman Sultans for 400 years. I'm quite optimistic about crowds as 9 is the official opening time. Not a chance. There's a 10 minute queue to get a ticket, then another 15 minutes just to get in. I've seen grand castles built for the royals of Europe, I've seen colossal mahals built for the royals of the Indian sub-continent and extravagant palaces for the royals of Thailand. Topkapi Palace is grandiose, colossal and extravagant with amazing views over the Bosphorus. Only the risk of missing other sites made me leave after 3 hours and I could easily have spent a few more.

Personally, I wouldn't bother visiting the Harem. Aside from the extra ticket, it's just a building with well preserved rooms and some wild western imagination.

Next up is the Ayasofya or Hagia Sophia or Basillica of St.Sophia. A church built during the Byzantine era and converted into a mosque after the Ottoman conquests. It's a big beautiful building topped by a dome over 50 metres high and the interior even more impressive as it almost like one giant room. After walking around a bit, it's up the stairs to the 2nd level which used to be the praying area designated for women. Here, I get a better view of the Arabic calligraphy all over the ceiling and Byzantine mosaics. A nice blend of east west styles.

From here, it's another 5 minute walk to the Basillica Cistern. Basically an underground reserviour that in olden times was used to supply the Basillica with water. Quite interesting with it's many regularly spaces supporting columns. The most popular columns have Medusa heads at the base. There's even a colony of fishes in the water.

It's been a hard morning of work and I need to get some food. I've discovered that the expensive tourist prices of food are only centred around 10 minute walk in all directions from the Hippodrome. If you're willing to walk, then food prices more than halved.

Back to the walking to, next up is the Hippodrome. Strictly speaking this is Byzantine and not Ottoman, but it's "there" and most of the famous sites are around here so it's kind of hard to avoid. I've already passed this a few times of the last 2 days, but this is the first time I'm going to really investigate it. It's called Hippodrome, so presumably in the past it was used for races. The paved area is also in the shape of an oval track which I felt like running around. It only takes 5 minutes to perform one full circuit of the track. All the time, it's not possible to miss the Eypgtian Obelisk, Braven column and the Serpentine column. The latter you'd have to view real close up to see the intertwinned snakes.

The entrance to the Blue Mosque is right on the Hippodrome, actually there are several and I just followed the crowd. As mosques go, this is certainly the most welcoming. Bags are offered to visitor's shoes so as not to step inside the mosque with footwear. No grumpy guards leaving you in no dout that non-worshippers are not welcome, trying to usher you out of the mosque as soon as possible. The actual name of the mosque is Sultan Ahmet Mosque and I thought the Blue Mosque name came from the blue colour of the domes. Actually, the interior walls of the mosque is decorated with blue and white tiles:

There's an army of blue shirted tourist helpers around the mosque. These guys are actully unpaid students, on their summer holidays. THey're on a mission to help tourists around Istanbul and pratice their English, which is surprisingly good. I got to learn a lot about Turkisk students and their lives in university. Interestingly, some classes, especially engineering classes are taught in English. Joss Wheddon's vision of a world dominated by 2 language won't be a long time coming.

After the Blue Mosque, I had another walk around the Hippodrome. There's loud singing playing somewhere. Curious, I follow the music to it source. There's a guy on a stage performing a free show. It's all in Turkish, but I'm told that he's going through a reportoire of Turkish oldies which many in the crowd seem to know and are enjoying. A fun hour to end the day:

Tags: blue mosque, haghia sophia, istanbul, palace, sightseeing, turkey, unesco, walking tour

 

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