January begins with great uproar in most of the planet. The excitement of New Year helps mitigate the fact that much of the northern hemisphere is frozen. January is a good time to get away as a group and there are several reasons for this. First, the supply pressure to the holiday season has passed. And the beginning of the year is usually one of the times when flights are cheaper.
The day began very soon. By 4:30 the alarm clock sounded, since we had to be at the airport at 6:30. The flight to Paris was perfect, as always. After a short stopover, just enough to get from one terminal to another, we're on the way again. In three and a half hours we got to Ataturk airport. This flight was a bit worse, and the food on top was frozen, but well, nothing could take away the illusion as we approach our destination.
When we leave the plane, we pay the visa on arrival fee, and after doing a little queue at the immigration we go for the suitcases. We left the airport less charged than expected, and we also changed for Turkish liras to pay the taxi. In the end it left us at the door which is what we expected.
The hotel is just as we expected, where a charming guy receive us. The room was quite spacious, the bathroom was hyper-clean and the beds comfortable, so what more could we ask for? We left the things. I evidently had little to leave. We organized everything and we left to discover the surroundings. We were next to the blue mosque. Going up a small hill, we find the Hippodrome with its columns and its newly opened cobblestone.
Seeing Hagia Sophia for the first time was impressive. It was already starting to get dark and it was illuminated, so the spectacle for the view was astonishing. I still do not take that first image out of my head.
We continued down the tram street until we decided we did not want to get too far away. We changed curbs, and turned up the same street! We stopped to have some hot drinks. It was quite cold, in the cafe. I opt for a very rich chocolate and Turkish coffee, although we still try to discover how it is taken.
After a long, and good, talk, we move to go to dinner somewhere. The one that convinces us the most is one in which they did not try to get us in. The dinner was very good. We tried Turkish food for the first time and the service was very attentive. I ordered a plate of chicken skewers, accompanied by rice, a spicy chicken steak and it was very delicious. For dessert I stole a little baklava.
After dinner, and very tired, but tremendously excited to finally be here, we went to the hotel to rest. We decided that we would go to see the Topkapi Palace tomorrow , and we put the alarm clock early.
Day 2 in Istanbul
The alarm sounds punctually at 8:25 and the game begins. By 8:30 we get to have breakfast, which is what we wanted. The breakfast is pretty decent with sweets, sausages, cereals, coffee.
We leave the hotel and go straight to the Topkapi Palace. Before that we stop to admire the Ahmed III fountain. They say that it is one of the most beautiful in the city. We cannot comment because until now we have only seen that. The fountain is right at the entrance to the palace.
We pay for the ticket and we go inwards. I had read in all the Istanbul travel blogs and forums that it is best to go first to the Harem, because the tickets are limited and I do not know what else. That recommendation has served us to see the place almost alone. It has been, without doubt, what we liked most about the palace. We wander around its halls, imagining all the intrigues that were framed within its walls for so many years.
To enter the Harem we have to pay a separate entrance. If we think about it coldly it is quite a scam, but if you do not enter I think the visit to Topkapi does not make any sense. Maybe I would highlight the Library, a very well-kept space with an exquisite decoration. I would avoid the weapons rooms and the Treasury. First of all because they do not attract me at all. Second because here there was a lot of people, in addition to the typical push.
After that pleasant experience, we enjoyed the view of the Bosphorus Palace. In summer that terrace has to be a luxury. What are we going to do? We have chosen the winter and today the day has threatened even with snowshoes.
We left the palace early enough for what we expected. We thought we were going to spend the whole morning there and decided to see Hagia Irene. An open door on the side calls us to enter without question or where we are going. I understood that we could not enter, and well, it's not like we can walk through the center of the church, but at least we can access it and see it minimally.
I was happier for having been able to see something that I was convinced that I would never see. We left the walled area of Topkapi and turning right we went to the street Sogukcesme Sokak, a very nice street that goes around the wall of the palace. The houses, attached to it, are all built of wood and painted in bright colors. It can be said without any doubt that it is a very authentic place, and also, again free of tourist hordes.
Taking first the street of the tram and then skirting the road that goes next to the sea, we arrive at the well-known Galata bridge. Before that we enter our first mosque. The one that shows such honor is the Yeni Camii, or New Mosque. Although we had to wait a bit because we were right in the hour of prayer, and when the faithful prayed, the infidels stayed on the street. It seems fair to me. While we waited we enjoyed the ritual before the prayer, and ablutions.
When almost everyone left, we started with the routine in all the mosques. We take off our shoes, take a plastic bag and keep it, and put the handkerchief on our head. We enter the mosque and feel the softness of the carpet. Above all we let ourselves be imbued by that mystical environment that each and every one of them has.
There were still a lot of people praying. So we did not get involved because we thought it was wrong to be out there swarming and taking pictures while a lot of other people were praying. We took the Galata bridge and we spent some time watching the hundreds of fishermen is there on both sides. Will there be fish for everyone? Apparently yes as they fill cubes. Best of all, many of them go fishing with suit and fine coat.
We had thought to take the tunnel to go up to the Galata Tower, but once there we went up the steep streets and the innumerable stairs. By the time we reached its base, the quills were shaking a little and it was no longer cold.
We paid the entrance, and climbed in the elevator. It's a good thing that this one does not have to be walked up. The views from above are great. We go out and have a coffee, a little expensive, in the cafeteria that is at the top. Here I went around the outside and took pictures around the perimeter. To me it is that only to see the people that there were in a few palms of cornice and some crazy people sitting on the railings. I already thought it was enough.
We return to take the elevator, this time to go down and look for a restaurant to eat. In this area we do not find anything, apart from a thousand electricity stores, and lights. So we cross the Galata bridge again and enter the restaurant. The site is on a terrace on the third floor with great views over the bridge, and the new mosque. There were a few waiters serving about fifteen tables. So it took them a little while to serve us.
This time I went back to some lamb meatballs with cherry tomatoes and chicken. We also share a dessert of the typical baklava. It was all, although for now it is one of the places we liked the least, since it did not stand out for the food or the service. Although yes, the location is incredible.
We left the restaurant with renewed strength. We went to the Spice Bazaar, although almost without wanting it we first came across the Rustem Pasha Camii. There are stairs that seem that they are going to take us to some mysterious place. After our initial doubts we entered and discovered its beautiful interior.
We left the mosque happy to have dared to enter and we already headed towards the Egyptian Bazaar. It is quite stimulating to see so many colors and things, but at the same time it is a pain. So we fled fast from the place.
From there we took the tram, discovered the system of jets and we fought a little with the machine and we got off at the Beyazit stop to get into the Grand Bazaar. We liked it better than the spice bazaar. It is much more spacious, and above all, much less overwhelming. We leave the shopping for the last days.
We went wandering aimlessly, but following a pattern to not get lost, and so we got out through the same entrance door that we had accessed. In the street tram we went down to the Sultanahmet area, quite tired already because we had foolishly walked half the city. We went to the hotel to rest, since it was already night.
The accumulated fatigue was noticeable, and there were those who took a few replenishing shower before going to dinner. The site chosen could not be better, which is also about 100 meters from the hotel. I chose a veal dish that tasted like Moorish kebabs. I had a rolled kebap that was cooked very well, and a roasted trout fish, although we do not really know what it was. And that was the end of our first full day in Istanbul, traveling back the 100 meters that separated the restaurant from our hotel.
Day 3 in Istanbul
We got up a day earlier, almost like every morning, and I say almost like every morning because we were very aware that we would spend our last day in Istanbul. The dream was coming to an end.
We have the breakfast and we paid already the stay of the hotel, because the next day we left very early. We left for those things that remained pending and for shopping. We started with the visit to the Kucuk Ayasofya Camii. This time we had more luck and we could access inside.
It is also known as the Church of Sergius and Bacchus, and as they explained to us in the hotel, it is not yet a museum, but as if it were. It is in the only mosque where we can wander to our liking. Again we enjoy it alone, and what a joy! It is beautiful, and not too visited because it is a little hidden. I guess people are more focused on other more typical or more at hand.
It is like Hagia Sophia, hence its name, also from the Byzantine era. Inside it is decorated with marble columns and still retains in its friezes Greek reliefs referring to the saints to whom it was consecrated. As we had several orders to buy tea, we went walking, once again, to the Spice Bazaar. We smelled all kinds of teas, spices, condiments until we decided on a store and bought everything we had ordered. From my point of view they are all the same, and in almost all they have the same. So it is about choosing one and that's it. Certainly they packaged everything under vacuum to keep it better. Here my companions stopped a reporter from Turkish television and wanted to ask some questions.
We went out with our bags in the direction of a couple of mosques that we had looked at and we had not yet been able to enter. They were both on the same street as the tram, so we got back together and got carried away by their tracks.
It was Friday, and it was noticeable. At the time of prayer, we were coincidentally on the tram. People were seen praying even outside the mosques, on the same sidewalk with their carpets. When we arrived we could not enter. So we decided to go for a coffee or a chocolate in a chain that we had already tried in Sultanahmet on the first day. This day we were in relaxed mode, without hurry, remembering everything we had lived until then.
We have rich chocolate with vanilla ice cream. When we finished and saw that people had left the mosque, we go inside. It was the Pertevniyal Valide Sultan Camii, in the Aksaray neighborhood. It is quite new, from the 19th century and with a more precious interior decoration than we had seen until then. We believe that it was noticeable that it had been built for a woman.
We loved the flooring. Super fluffy and warm, it is a very small mosque, in which we spent a good time looking at every detail of the walls. We were totally alone, only accompanied by a mother, who climbed the top to pray, and her daughter, who stayed at the door on the phone.
We left there with a lot of sadness. When we got there, we went to the Laleli Camii, another mosque that we wanted. The tulip mosque, surprised us by its color, a powerful mix of blues, greens and reds that we were not used to. In addition to the marbles and tiles, also in its stained glass.
We left our last mosque. So we put on our boots and took off our handkerchiefs for the last time. It's time to eat. As we were in the area, we decided to repeat at the restaurant which we liked a lot, because of the variety and quality of the food.
I do not remember the waiters I greeted when I entered. There were at least fifteen and I was thinking please let it end now. We went to where the cook was and to choose! With a full stomach and renewed energy, we crossed the street to enter the Grand Bazaar again. In the same tactic of previous days, we tried to follow a pattern and we lost sight of the main street for a long time.
It is technically impossible that one does not get distracted on any occasion, since all the streets are practically the same, with the same stores, and the same vendors at the doorstep. The bargaining was more or less well. I guess we lost, how could it be otherwise. For a change we thought we made good purchases! We have survived the Grand Bazaar! Now where are we going?
By the time we got exhausted from so much walking, it was already dark, so we went to the hotel to pack and without resting. We went to dinner promptly for the last time. How delicious was that Turkish pizza! What a pity to have discovered it on the last day.
It was already night and we had to return to the room to rest. Our flight left the next day morning, which meant we had to get up very early. We could not stop watching the Hagia Sophia illuminated by the night, or the Blue Mosque that we had been seeing every day, and that we knew we would never meet again.
And that's the end of our story in Istanbul, a place I always wanted to go to and that I can cross off my list, but from now on I'll always want to return.
There are many things that could be said about our trip to Istanbul but mainly it has filled us in a way that we never imagined. If I had to stay with something, it would be with the people in general, who are always willing to help, to make our days in the city a little easier.
I also loved their mosques, the small and hidden Little Hagia Sophia, the bright Sehzade, the carpet of the Pertevniyal. I would spend days and days discovering new mosques. And also a dream come true, the majesty of Hagia Sophia remains there undaunted watching the years go by. We can still imagine what the people of her time would feel when she walked through its doors.