Having a full day to run around Istanbul is a fantastic treat. Thankfully my 15 hours are split over a couple of days so I get to enjoy the sights we see rather than get tired out from an early start and late night.
Hagia Sophia Museum
I’ve had so many great suggestions from followers on twitter. Many said give the Topkapi Palace a miss as it’s over-rated and not great for time-strapped people such as myself on this occasion. I headed straight for the Hagia Sophia Museum suggested by @2UNB on twitter. It was once a basilica that burned down twice and eventually became a mosque in the 15th century. The queue moved fast and I was particularly impressed with the security on a segway! Not something you see every day (unless you live next to the Hagia Sophia of course). It was a rather steep 20 Lira to get in but it’s a must if you’re in Istanbul.
Next was the amazing underground water storage “Basilica Cistern” built by the romans in the 6th century. Thanks to @mykreeve for suggestion that. 336 huge roman columns hold up the ceiling and are lit with atmospheric lighting. It’ll cost you 10 Lira to get in but again it’s a must visit as you’ll be hard pushed to see anything like this anywhere else in the world. It’s in fantastic condition and very accessible. There’s even a Café down there. I could have spent hours just looking at the place but I’m on a tight schedule!
Time for lunch and after swerving past the tourist-trap kebab restaurants with unappetising photos of food, all served with chips, I found a fantastic little restaurant and had a very tasty Lamb Caserole while chatting to the friendly staff. I love random conversations with locals as you get a feel for how life works in the country you’re in. I also got to try a free shot of Raki, the national drink which is very strong but quite nice. If you like Aniseed. I also got some free Baklava which was dripping with sugar but very tasty! Thanks to @curiouscheese for suggesting that sugary treat.
After lunch I made a bee-line for the Blue Mosque which is an impressive place to say the least. With a capacity of 10,000 it’s a huge place and popping your shoes off for a visit inside is truly rewarding. The ceilings are so ornate and high! Don’t let the smell of sweaty feet put you off.
No trip to Istanbul would be complete without visiting the Grand Bazaar. The mother of all Bazaars. It’s sheer size is daunting. I got lost within minutes of walking in but it doesn’t matter. I was told by @aodt on twitter to have some apple tea with merchants at the bazaar, so when a carpet seller invited me in to his shop I jumped at the chance. He soon knew I wasn’t going to buy anything but was more than happy to show me his amazing carpets and share some very tasty tea. Again a great chance to chat with locals and enjoy their company. I had great fun haggling for Turkish Delights as well, a must for anybody on a tight budget. No doubt I paid a much higher price than they were really worth but I had fun all the same and managed to knock down the price a fair bit. Leaving the Bazaar is an event in itself. Finding the exit and getting your bearings takes a while.
Ice cream at Mado
I was recommended a great snack break by @noplacelikeoz on twitter. The Ice Cream cafe called Mado which has a number of cafes all of Istanbul. They have a fantastic selection of Ice creams including Baklava which is the local delicacy. A very tasty treat after a long day walking the streets, museums and mosques of Istanbul. Highly recommended!
Night time in Istanbul
In the evening I was recommended a number of places to go especially by @yunustunak but unfortunately time was against me. Running low on my budget I opted for a local restaurant near the Blue Mosque. While definitely not off the tourist track it was still great food with a relaxing atmosphere. I’ve loved chatting to local people here as they are all very friendly with a very similar sense of humour. They’ve all been happy to see me and never too pushy to sell which is great. It’s always nice when somebody realises they can’t make a sale but continues to enjoy a conversation anyway. Something you don’t get in every country.
No day would be complete in Turkey without visiting a bar for a Shish pipe also known as a “Hubbly bubbly” as suggested by @arthref. It’s a smooth and relaxing experience with a very ornate pipe set on your table. Best enjoyed at a bar with lots of cushions and a pint of beer naturally! While i’ve seen some great sites here my fondest memory will be my banter with the locals, they’ve made me smile, they’ve educated me and above all they’ve made me feel welcome.
My full day in Istanbul has come to an end. A fantastic experience merely touching the surface of this great city and amazing country. I will definitely be back to Istanbul soon. 15 hours is just a taste of Turkey and i’m hungry for more.
Thank you to the following people who contributed their suggestions and support to the easyjet 15 hour blogger challenge.