Up one level Turkey, 1 - 10 January 2009 » Istanbul


We spent our first 6 days in Istanbul and visited most major and minor tourist attractions. In line with our experience in Ireland, we found Rick Steve's guide superior to the other guidebooks for pointing out the more interesting sights, as well as being up to date and generally interesting to read. The weather in Istanbul was pretty bad when we were there and our umbrellas were frequently used. Our last day in Turkey was also spent in Istanbul and that was our only sunny day in Istanbul.

We are normally frugal travellers, but this time we "splurged" and stayed in Hotel Sultan Hill. It was well worth the extra expense because it was well maintained, the staff was very helpful and friendly, our room had a great view of the Blue Mosque, and the breakfast was ample. Because it was cold, and also because we are not party people, we stayed indoors every night except for the first when we went around taking night photos.

We particularly enjoyed visiting the Hagia Sophia (amazing what the Byzantiums managed to build in the 6th Century), the Rustem Pasa Mosque (a small intimate mosque with fabulous Iznik tiles), walking across and under the Galata Bridge to watch the fishermen, and the Kariye Muzesi (Chora Church Museum - great mosiacs). Our Bosphorus cruise day was literally a washout, and at the end of the cruise in Anadolu Kavagi (Asia), we were overwhelmed by the restaurant touts competing for the scant number of tourists in low season. As expected, I did not enjoy the shopping experiences in the Grand Bazaar or the Spice Market because of the touts and the crowds, but Serene enjoyed walking around the Spice Market. We sampled ample amounts of Turkish food, drank lots of Turkish tea (we tried and did not like Turkish coffee), and Serene really enjoyed the sweets from Ali Muhhidin Haci Bekir, which has been in business since 1777 and supposedly invented Turkish Delight.

_mg_9509 Hagia Sophia, Istanbul _mg_9523 The Blue Mosque, Istanbul _mg_9545 Interior of the Blue Mosque, Istanbul img_0078 Scaffolding in the  massive main dome of the Hagia Sophia; taken by Serene _mg_9568 Christian and Islamic art in the Hagia Sophia, Istanbul _mg_9596 Deesis Mosiac of Christ in the Hagia Sophia, Istanbul _mg_9599 Serene in the Hagia Sophia, Istanbul img_0124 Facade of a building in the Topkapi Palace Harem, Istanbul _mg_9643 Serene reading the guidebook about the Harem in Topkapi Palace, Istanbul _mg_9651 Medusa head supporting a column in the underground cistern, Istanbul _mg_9653 Column in the underground cistern (6th Century), Istanbul img_0148 Turkish Coffee from Sark Kahvesi in the Grand Bazaar, Istanbul. Taken by Serene _mg_9658 Mausoleum of Süleyman the Magnificant, Istanbul _mg_9660 Mausoleum of Süleyman the Magnificant, Istanbul _mg_9664 Mausoleum of Roxelana, wife of Süleyman the Magnificent _mg_9667 Iznik tiles in the Rüstem Pasha Mosque, Istanbul img_0220 Grilled fish sandwich from a store under the Galata Bridge; it wasn't very good; taken by Serene img_0281 Cat in a storefront along Istiklal Caddesi, Istanbul img_0287 We had these gozlemes for lunch while we were walking down  Istiklal Caddesi; taken by Serene _mg_9821 Serene reading the guidebook on the Bosphorus public ferry, Istanbul _mg_9844 Kanlica Yoghurt on the Bosphorus public ferry, Istanbul _mg_0312 The Blue Mosque from our room _mg_0316 Egyptian Obelisk in the Hippodrome, Istanbul _mg_0331 Hagia Sophia, Istanbul _mg_0378 The Blue Mosque, Istanbul _mg_0389 The Blue Mosque, Istanbul _mg_0394 The Blue Mosque from the roof of our hotel img_0645 Sultanahmet meatballs, so tasty img_0647 The famous meatball shop in Sultanahmet img_0653 Fishing on the Galata Bridge img_0657 Fishing on the Galata Bridge img_0662 Men washing before prayers in the fountain of the New Mosque of Mother Sultan img_0670 We stayed in the Hotel Sultan Hill _mg_0407 The Blue Mosque, Istanbul