9/19/18 - 9/20/18 80 °F
I’ve long wondered about the “exotic” country of Turkey. With it’s whirling dervishes, iconic mosques and other strange sites, Turkey has been on my short list of places to go since I first started traveling. Thanks to the website Next Vacay, I found a cheap round trip fare and started planning. Real life has definitely put some major bumps in the road this year, but I was determined to take this trip...come hell or high water.
I arrived in Istanbul on a sunny afternoon. My hotel is in the Sultanahmet neighborhood, within easy walking distance of the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sofia and other major sites. I quickly unpacked a few things, and hit the streets to get a feel for the area. I’ve found getting outside in the fresh air helps to avoid jet lag after a long flight. The weather was perfect...sunshine, blue skies and a light breeze.
I wandered around for a couple of hours, learning my way around, before grabbing a bite to eat and then calling it a day. A very long day.
For my first full day, I decided to check out the Bazaars. Istanbul has a Grand Bazaar which was not at all what I expected. I thought it would be similar to the bazaar in Cairo, with narrow passageways and small nooks for the vendors. This was more of a shopping mall, with wide streets and large stores. Each street was largely segregated by type of goods. Jewelry, pottery, fabric, etc. I have never in my life seen so many gold and silver stores! I wandered around for nearly two hours, getting lost in the maze of streets. I’m sure I backtracked more than once.
The Grand Bazaar
After finally finding my way back to the main street, I hopped on a tram across the Golden Horn to Taksim Square. Istanbul has a clean and easy to use public transportation system. I didn’t need to go all the way to Taksim Square to get to the Galata tower. In fact, I spent so much time walking back down the hill, I didn’t have enough time to stand in line to go to the top of the tower. I had to meet my Cappadocia tour rep at my hotel to get my final paperwork. Maybe another day.
After the business was handled, I still had a good bit of sunlight so I headed to the Spice Bazaar. Once again, it was not exactly what I expected. I was thinking there would be an open air market with huge barrels of spices everywhere. It turned out to be much like the Grand Bazaar with wide walkways and storefronts selling lots of different wares. There were plenty of spice and tea vendors but also plenty of pottery and other wares.
On the way back from the hotel, I decided to stop in to see the Blue Mosque. The Blue Mosque is still an active mosque so proper attire is required. I expected this so I had my scarf handy, instead of borrowing one from them. I had seen the construction scaffolding outside but didn’t realize the majority of the interior was also undergoing a refresh. More than half of the great dome was covered as was several walls. I was underwhelmed. At least there wasn’t an entry fee.
Inside the Blue Mosque
My final stop for the evening was the Basilica Cistern. Built as a water reservoir for the palace. It’s an otherworldly atmosphere down there. At the bottoms of two of the over 300 columns are Medusa heads. One sideways and one upside down. They say the Medusa heads were put here to ward off evil spirits. I’m sure the builders never imagined these columns would become a hot tourist attraction 1600 years later!
I called it an early night since I have a 3:30am wake up call for my flight to Cappadocia tomorrow. I’m really looking forward to seeing this part of the country. It sounds amazing!