Arrived in Istanbul after easy 4 hours via Turkish airlines. Landed at Attaturk airport north Istanbul, what seemed like miles away from the centre. We grabbed a bus, which seemed more like a coach toTaksim Square as there were no buses to Eminou where we would have to take the ferry across to Kadakoy, crossing the Bospherous to the Asian side of Istanbul. As it was, had to take another bus from Taksim to Kadakoy, finally arriving quite late in the evening to near our destination for the Hush Hostel/Lounge (please read our review), which is up a rather long steep hill at the end of the main road at the ferry port. I have to say I was quite tired and managed to fall over on the uneven pavement on street, and was lying there with this huge backpack arms flaying everywhere feeling like an upturned turtle, shouting at Angela “Help” in a turtle type way! I was really heartened to see and hear so many local people rushing to help me. As usual, I was hoisted up by rather scrawny looking, fifty plus, man, who lifted me up like I was a twiglet! After the very long climb up the hill we found our hostel and checked in. End of day 1.
Today was Pouring with rain, but we decided to make the best of it. Blue Mosque day it would be. We purchased our Istanbul kart at the ferry port (just like an oyster card in London), and put on about 20 Turkish lira. Carefully navigating our way onto our first of many river crossings. It did remind me a bit of the river taxis we have been on in Thailand, but better organised! Landing on the Western side of Istanbul you are greeted by the stench of fish from the port fish restaurants on the dock, all selling fish sandwiches for a mere 5tl, and the New Mosque and then the Blue mosque to your left, with the spice market tucked down in front of the New Mosque. A feast for the eyes. We took the tram to Sultanahamet. Again we used the card we purchased from the ticket office, easy, across the park and we are there. Stunning! Beautiful mosque, of which I have many pictures and will post when I get a chance. It is definitely a “must do” when visiting Istanbul. Entrance was free. We did walk up to the topaki palace only to find it was closed until Wednesday. So off back to the hostel for the rest of the day, and dry out.
So today we took the trip across the river again back to Sultanahamet, as we had to visit the Iranian Embassy to get our visa for our journey through Iran. We had forgotten to get our headscarf passport photos done back in England (note to self, do this before leaving home), and it didn’t take us long to find a small shop with various ticky tacky tourist bits, but also very usefully “passport photos” for we paid 12tl each for four pics which was about the same as you pay in England (£5-6). Pics done off up the smaller hill to the Iranian Embassy, we got there about 9a.m. and were greeted by a friendly security guard who let us in after we said “Visas!” we were greeted by a large open space with dark glass windows all around one side with tiny little openings to speak through. There was one in English and Farsi market “Visas”, so we waited patiently, the lovely consul came over and we explained our requirements (please see blog on Visas), we left our passports and decided to spend the rest of the day out sight-seeing.
We had been told by a friend of Angela’s about some beautiful underground cisterns in central Istanbul. So off we went to find them, they too are not far from the Aya Sofia Mosque, and we joined the que, thinking we might be there for a long time, but actually it moved quite quickly. We descended into near pitch blackness via some very solid stairs. To be greeted by soft, warm orange light, tastefully showing the stunning huge columns holding up the ceiling. (Again pics later) soft unobtrusive music accompanied your walk round on solid wide walkways. The water here is now only a few inches deep in places. Again somewhere well worth the visit if your there. We paid 15tl each to get into this and I have to say was definitely worth all of that, especially when you consider what you would pay for something similar at home
When we popped up, like rabbits in Alice in Wonderland, (through another set of sturdy stairs) we found ourselves almost right outside the Aya Sofia, we took one look at the que and decided that that was not an option today!! So we elected to go to the Museum of Islamic Art. We paid 10tl to get into here and saw some interesting artefacts, carpets, scripts etc. I must say, maybe it was just us, but we came away not so impressed. I guess by then we were a bit hungry and foot weary, we set out to forage for food, we wandered across the square in front of the aya sofia across the hippodrome and off down a side street to find ourselves a sunken café/restaurant, where we were greeted by a smiling face (again). We sat and decided to give ourselves a well-earned lunch (2.pm) and rest. Great food, good prices and no hassle meant we stayed quite a while chatting about our next days plans of places to go and things to do. I must say the chicken Kebab is lovely there. We finished off the day just wandering back towards Sultanhamet for our tram, but without really worrying exactly how, or which route we took.
Today Is Aya Sofia Day! And Topaki Palace day is also the day when it finally stopped raining and allowed us to wear less cumbersome jackets. Finally sun, that thing that Turkey is apparently famed for. Aya Sofia was not so busy this morning, but still a good showing of people and we got through to tickets quite quickly. We Paid 20 tl each to get into here, again worth every penny. I guess I didn’t realise how big it is inside, actually huge! And lovely art work, again one of those places you have to see (pics later). We did the long sloping walk up to the upper gallery which give you a stunning view of the main place below. My camera did have a smashing time in their taking some lovely shots.
As we had had missed the Topaki Palace on Monday (it was closed for two days), we went straight round the corner from there and took the walkway up t the ticket entrance, it’s a bit like looking at a fairy tale castle when you approach the main gate, and just to the left are the ticket booths. The Harem is definitely a must see, but you have to pay separately for that once inside. 20tls saw us into the main part of the palace, and a further 15tl each to get into the Harem, which is where we went first. Very elaborate entrance through many courtyards and passages to finally get to the quarters where queen and concubines were housed. Gilded cage does come to mind, I thought as I walked round, but put in context of time and history I guess it was an honour to be picked as a concubine? Still not altogether a rough place to live. The main parts of the palace are set into sections, an armoury, where photography is “strictly forbidden!”, and a treasury, which houses some of the most stunning jewels you will see anywhere, a bowl full of Emeralds, one of the top ten diamonds in the world, weighing in at a hefty 80+carats, and various stunning gifts form various heads of state throughout history. An empty Library, which looked very comfortable, but had no books! The section of various prophets’ relics and even the staff of Abraham, and important relics pertaining to Mohammed. This was again very worthwhile going to, and we spent our time in lovely sunshine and relaxed atmosphere marvelling at the views from the terraces looking across the Bospherous.
Pick up Iranian Visa Day! We got over to Sultanhamet again to pick up our Iranian visa, in and out in five minutes, with fetching head scarves emblazoned in our passports. Hooray! We are going to Iran!
We booked ourselves the Trans Asia express from Ankara to Iran at the local railway station in Istanbul, Hydraplace is closed. We paid 103tl each for our train tickets and then we booked our bus from Istanbul to Ankara which cost 51tl each, not forgetting to ask for a place on the shuttle bus that takes you to the main bus station. We got that on Saturday at 10.30a.m. and I was impressed with the Turkish Bus, more like a coach even with in coach entertainment screens with Turkish TV. We had some refreshments and one half hour break throughout a five-hour journey. We arrived at what I can only describe as the biggest bust terminal I have seen anywhere in the world so far!, hundreds of buses/coaches making their way into the station in no particular order, but all finally finding their allotted spot. The lovely attendant from our bus directed us to the metro, where we got tickets 3.50tl for both of us to our stop at Kurtulus. Again up a hill (yes we seem to keep choosing them this way) we settled into yet another clean and roomy Hostel (review to follow).