Thursday, August 18, 2011

The sights in Istanbul

What did we see in Istanbul? I'll tell you.

The great thing about Istanbul is that most of the big attractions are located in one small area of town. If you are standing outside the Blue Mosque, you can look over and see the Aya Sofia, right across the street. Since everything is so close, you can walk almost anywhere, and even take a break at your hotel in the middle of the day, and go out again later.

Blue Mosque.
We visited the Blue Mosque first. I happen to think the Blue Mosque is most amazing as viewed from the outside, but it's free to go in, so why not?

Aya Sofia.
When we visited the Aya Sofia in December 2004, it really moved me. I loved this place and hoped I could visit it again someday. When the time came earlier this month, I was all ready to have another amazing experience. Then Miriam was complaining about how hot it was, and Magdalena had to go potty, and there were a ton of tourists there...So it took a little more effort, but I managed to still really soak in the sheer awesomeness of that place. To keep little Magdalena's interest, we promised her a visit to see the dead bodies of the bad guys (the Aya Sofia has an adjoining tomb room where the Sultans are buried). She has a strange (but non-creepy, I promise) interest in the macabre.

If you ever have the chance to visit the Aya Sofia, snap it up. It's one of my favorite historical places anywhere in the world.

(We did go visit the dead bodies, by the way - it's the picture above with all the green-wrapped coffins. Magdalena was duly impressed.)

Basilica Cistern.
I didn't go see the huge underground water cisterns in 2004. At that time, 8 bucks seemed like a lot of money to pay. It still is kind of a lot, but this time, it was worth it. The girls soaked this place up and LOVED it. It was a lot bigger than I thought it would be, too, and spooky. The highlights were the two Medusa heads, and it was a good thing I am up on my Greek mythology because the story of Medusa became the bedtime (and anytime) favorite for the rest of the trip.

The Grand Bazaar.
You know, the sad truth is that every souq/bazaar everywhere is spoiled by the fact that the Souq al-Hamadiyye in Damascus is a million times more awesome than them all. Every souq I've visited since then (and of course, that was my first experience with a souq) has been nice, but also kind of meh. (The ones that come closest to the awesomeness of Hamadiyye are the Aleppo Souq and the Khan al-Khalili in Cairo.)

The Grand Bazaar was very grand, and we enjoyed it. That is all.

(Oh, and I grievously offended a vendor when I was bargaining over a kids' t-shirt (a pink shirt featuring a sparkly Hello Kitty) and said I didn't want to pay more than 8 TL for it (he wanted 30) since it was probably made in China anyway. He got so pouty and insisted everything he had was made in Turkey, but dude, I really think that particular shirt was made in China. And there's nothing wrong with that. I'm just saying.)

The Spice Souq.
Now, the Spice Souq was really something. We ended up there by accident, if you can believe it. We were trying to find out way to Chora Church, but ended up wandering through forgotten side streets and then a major mercantile district and then - what do you know? - the Spice Souq. But it was so much fun, we ended up not going to Chora Church after all. The Spice Souq was more my style - filthy, stinky, chaotic, colorful, crowded, and a fun place to bargain. Plus, they were giving out free samples of Turkish delight everywhere (though of course I did not partake myself on account of the year of no candy). Magdalena picked up on that pretty quick and paused at every vendor if she thought there was even a chance of a free sample being bestowed.

Topkapi Palace.
Miriam and I went to Topkapi by ourselves. We each pretended to be a member of the Sultan's household. She was one of the sultan's daughters, and she chose the name Anastasia (pronounced by her as ah-nas-STAZ-ee-ya). As we wandered around the grounds, we talked about which room we would choose for our own, and where she thought the kids played, etc. It was great fun to be on our own.

That said, I think Topkapi is a little overrated, or at least overpriced. You pay 15 TL per ticket to get into the place, but then another 15 TL to get into the harem. I guess they figure that if you come all the way to Istanbul, you're not going to NOT see the Turkish Sultan's harem. Well guess what, Turkey: I've been to Istanbul twice now and I still haven't shelled out the extra 15 TL for the harem ticket. Miriam and I spent plenty of time hanging around the palace in general, and the last thing I wanted to do was force the harem on our tired selves. So we called it a day and walked back to the hotel.

There are other sights in Istanbul, of course, but those are all the big ones we made it to. We spent some time on public transportation ferries and called that our Bosporus cruise. We were church tourists and attended services (on Sunday, how exotic!) at the local Mormon place of worship. And we spent every evening we were in Istanbul not touring, but hanging out in public parks (Sultanahmet and Gülhane). The girls played in the deliciously cool weather, Jeremy and I people-watched and enjoyed relaxing on the grass in the jovial Ramadan atmosphere. Our days in Istanbul were a great success.


Melody said...

Sigh.... One day....

Crys said...


Liz Johnson said...

I am SO stinking jealous. I think I need to find a month in my life to come visit you, with a side trip to Turkey. This recap was exquisite!

Sarah Familia said...

I LOVED your photos! Reading your travelogue brought back so many good memories for me. Istanbul was the first place I ever went in the Middle East, and I can still remember the feeling of walking out into the city and thinking, "wow, the world of Arabian Nights is REAL." The other thing I remember is my first harrowing taxi ride in a third world country. Wheeee!


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