After arriving in Istanbul late yesterday afternoon, this morning armed with a map we headed towards the ferry terminal at Üsküdar. Along the way we stopped off for breakfast at a local cafe. As we only have a few more days left in Istanbul, and Turkey, we are making the most of the lovely Turkish breakfasts.
We purchased an Istanbul pass from one of the small kiosks near the ferry terminal for just 7 TL and we were both able to travel on the same card. Just near the entry we stopped to top up our card before heading to the waiting room.
The ferry from Üsküdar to Eminönü crosses the Bosphorus, past the Maidens Tower and we were able to take in a lovely view of the city with all its minarets piercing the skyline. It’s an interesting mix of old and new.
After arriving at Eminönü we headed towards Sirkeci Train station the old Orient Express station. Thinking of the Orient Express there’s a real feeling of how exotic it is. Early in our travels in 2014 we travelled on the Orient Express from Sapa to Hanoi as we traveled overland from Malaysia to the UK .
We headed on to the Topkapi Palace and gardens not far from the station. Topkapi Palace is a museum these days but the gardens surrounding it are free to the public. Plane trees line the roads to provide shade around the park and the gardens are currently blooming with lots of spring colours
Not far from Topkapi Palace is Hagia Sophia which was originally built as a cathedral in 537, converted to a mosque after the Ottoman invasion in 1453 and finally opened as a museum in 1935. We have plans of visiting it tomorrow night along with Topkapi Museum as the museums are all free tomorrow after 6 pm.
Blue Mosque (Sultan Ahmed Mosque)
Across the hippodrome from Hagia Sophia is the Blue Mosque (Sultan Ahmed Mosque) which dates from 1616. It’s one of the most recognisable buildings of Istanbul. The tourist entrance was around the back where we passed through a scanner and were given a plastic bag to put our shoes in.
As we had imagined the Blue Mosque was magnificent inside. With over 200 stained glass windows in the upper levels there is no shortage of light entering the building. Combined with the low level candelabra it has a certain charm. Around 200,000 handmade tiles decorate the interior as well as intricate calligraphy designs of Quranic quotes. As it was lunchtime prayer time we were hurried along.
Our next stop was Basilica Cistern which was built in the 6th century by Roman Emperor Justinian. Deep beneath the city the cistern was built to meet the water needs of Constantinople’s (Istanbul’s) inhabitants. The cistern is 143 m long and 65 m wide with 336 marble columns 9 m long supporting the ceiling. As you descend into the cistern it a little strange as many of the columns bases are lit with amber lighting, partially lighting the ceiling and shimmering on the water trapped in the cistern. In the water surrounding the columns ghostly shapes emerge as carp lazily cruise looking for a meal.
We skipped the photographers stand and headed around the walkway trying to discover the two heads of the medusa mentioned on a few information boards. It had us stumped as each info board had an arrow pointing to nowhere in particular. We looked around columns, in the water, on the walls but still couldn’t find them. Eventually the board walk led to an area where sure enough two marble heads of the medusa lay at the bottom of two different columns. One was upside down and the other on its side.
Leaving the Basilica Cistern we headed to the Grand Bazaar. Looking at the statistics it sounded like an advertisement reading 30,000 square metres, with over 60 streets and 4,400 shops. The Grand Bazaar was enormous and unlike some of the other bazaars we’ve visited in Fez, Marrakech it had wide passageways, well dressed vendors and nobody hassling you. It was not what we expected at all, thank goodness.
There was nothing which we could take on the bike so we didn’t dally in the bazaar but instead cut through Istanbul University to Süleymaniye Mosque. Built in 1557 Süleymaniye Mosque is Istanbul’s largest mosque and some say most magnificent but I’m still in favour of Blue Mosque (Michele preferred this one but loved the Blue Mosque too.)
The interior of Süleymaniye Mosque is white inside and with all the windows really
quite well lit. The designs on the ceilings, around the domes and balconies were quite fascinating.
On the way back to the ferry we passed the New Mosque (Yeni Cami) completed in 1665 (yep it’s brand spanking new) however it was closed to visitors.
After all our foot slogging we weren’t overly worried, we had become a bit mosqued out. At Eminönü we caught the ferry back to Üsküdar and on the ferry we were joined by police armed with sub machine guns. Currently in Istanbul security is tight, so there’s armed police everywhere on transport.
After arriving back at the couch surf we were invited out in Üsküdar to a local fish restaurant. Üsküdar is a vibrant community with lots of outdoor restaurants, large markets and tiny locals restaurants. The price of fish at the local restaurant was at least half the price we’ve paid elsewhere. It was a nice night out and the weather was perfect. Tomorrow we are heading up the Bosphorus on an old ferry during the day, then at night visiting Hagia Sophia and Topkapi Museum.