As what I mentioned on my recent post, we are Turkey-bound on Sunday eve, so what a better way to get more excited with the trip than looking back on the first day we set foot on this beautiful country?
We embarked on the 7:30 AM flight to Istanbul via flydubai, and landed Istanbul Sabiha Gokcen International Airport which is, by the way, on the Asian side at 10:40AM, Turkish time. Turkey is one hour behind Dubai. We booked a service from our hostel (around 45 euros–one way) that picked us up from the airport to Sultanahmet. The journey took about 45 minutes to an hour.
Right after finishing businesses with the hostel, we went out to see what we have around. From where we stay is a street compound of hostels and they all look chic with their colorful façade and small shops/cafeterias outside. The first thing that took my attention was the board full of 2 to 4 liras worth per pair of earrings being sold on the streets! Aww, weakness.
Going baaack, we just followed where the road is leading us and when we’re about to hit the wall, we looked on our left and saw groups of people; I look further up and oh, hello there [rear side of] Hagia Sophia (Ayasofya)! On our right was a big gate with guards and old men selling travel books and souvenirs. Some are offering tour guide services and others are vending local street food. We decided to enter the gate and oh, Topkapi Palace (Topkapi Sarayi) was on the far side. *opens Lonely Planet-Turkey*
Upon entering the gate is a big park with interesting places to check out. On the left is the Church of Hagia Eirene (Aya Irini Kilisesi)—a Byzantine church that was converted to a concert venue because of its superb acoustics.
Annnd walk straight and we got Topkapi Palace (Topkapi Sarayi) standing right in front of us. It’s the Ottoman sultans’ royal residence during their reigning period (that is, if I remember right, the time before Ataturk enter the picture). Ticket costs 15 TL and sales are on the right side. It’s so huge we seriously went lost and disoriented. *sigh* thank goodness for my travel book’s map.
We first went to the colonnaded gallery on the right where artifacts that include gifts from other kings/sultans, porcelains, jewelry et al are exhibited. There are a lot to see so remember to give sufficient time to be able to check everything around. Don’t forget to check out the Imperial Harem and listen carefully to the stories from the tour guide—I found these tales quite amusing. Also, don’t miss the Privy Chamber and see the Chamber of the Sacred Relics. It has what was said to be the most sacred relics of Islam—swords, bow, tooth, cloak, hair of Prophet Muhammad, Moses’ staff, Joseph’s turban among others.
Next, we went to Hagia Sophia (Ayasofya) or The Church of Holy Wisdom (20 TL), and admired its architecture from the outside and its lovely interiors. Once it was a church and later on converted into a mosque, and now, a museum. What I love best in this magnificent place is the south gallery. It houses beautifully preserved mosaics, which include an image of Christ Pantocrator (The All-Powerful) from the Deësis (The Last Judgment) and a depiction of the Virgin Mary holding the child Jesus.
Third on our list was Yerebatan Cistern or Basilica Cistern (10 TL) that used to store water for the Great Palace and its neighboring structures. It’s one of my favorite places in Istanbul because of its overwhelming forest of columns. It has two interesting Medusa-column bases—one on sideways, the other, inverted. The cistern has a small café inside, too, which makes it all the way really cool!
Feeling tired, sleepy and not to mention hungry, we had our first meal on our first day in Istanbul at 5:30 in the freaking afternoon, when the sun has already set and the cold temperature difficult to deal with. Chicken döner (that sort of resembles shawarma) for breakfast/merienda/lunch/snack/dinner! A cheap treat at 4 TL that tastes amazingly good! Yum!
It was dark then so we didn’t appreciate the Hippodrome too much. Plus, we prefer to see obelisks in Egypt, not in Turkey. Anywaaaay, to cap the day off (and because I was literally freezing then), we visited Blue Mosque (Sultan Ahmet Camii). The intricately designed interior of the mosque’s domes and semi-domes are really amazing! I think I developed a stiff neck from looking up for a long time. And though there’s nothing much interesting stuff to see as Ayasofya, I like the Blue Mosque more. Perhaps it’s the drama, the lighting?
This part of Istanbul, Sultanahmet, is such a great place to travel for beginner travelers like us! We did just walk the whole day and didn’t take any mode of transport to roam around! I wish all touristy places were like this–literally walking with pleasure!