After arriving to Istanbul with no plans, the next morning we were woken up by the loud prayer call at the mosque right next to our hotel at about 5 AM. It was loud and went on for some time. We finally woke up at about 8AM and went upstairs to have the buffet breakfast. My appetite doesn’t normally kick in until 10 or so in the morning. But the breakfast buffet looked so good, that I wanted to try something at least.
I didn’t take any pictures, but the breakfast menu was excellent. All sorts of breads, cheese, soups, fresh salads and other Turkish items that I do not know or recall the names of. We went out to the terrace and were awed at the size of the city. It was huge, and the pointed mosque structures were dotted everywhere in the city. The size of the city, which we saw from the rooftop of our hotel, overwhelmed me. I couldn’t wait to see some of the attractions.
We had arranged to be picked up by the pickup van to the airport, where we would leave our luggage at their counter office and go see the city until 15-16 in the afternoon. We were told that we would be leaving for the airport at 8:30, but we didn’t leave on time. After picking up some Arab customers from the hotel, we finally left at around 9. It was a hot September morning.
We then had to drop the Arab customers in some neighborhood, and there was some communication problems between the driver and the customers. They finally managed to understand each other, found the complex and we dropped them off. It was in some sprawling neighborhood. I was really enjoying the views of Istanbul in daylight from the window.
At the airport, everybody had to go through security checks right at the entrance. It moved quite fast. We left our baggage at the office of the hotel as agreed and left with out light bags towards the metro stop. We bought travel card and loaded some money into it. I think the card cost 10 TKL. We had a map from the airport and we decided to go to Sultanahmet taking the metro, where the famous world heritage sites such as Blue Mosque (Sultan Ahmed mosque), Haga Sofia and Topkapi palace are located. We had to make one change and weren’t able to find seats, as the trains were very crowded. It was a long journey as well, something about an hour.
Arriving at Sultanahmet square, we looked at the magnificent sites from the outside. We went to the courtyard of Blue Mosque and looked around. It was just spectacular. I have seen my fair share of cathedrals and churches in Europe, but I had never seen anything quite like it before. The architecture was very different from Christian style. The mosque had a primary dome along with secondary ones and six pillars pointing to the north. It was possible to go inside, but there was a long queue. It was a hot day and we didn’t have much time. I enjoy watching the monuments from outside more and rarely spend time indoors when I am traveling. The entire area was a UNESCO world heritage site.
We then went near Haga Sofia, bought one of those baked corns from the vendor and enjoyed the view of Haga Sofia from outside. It was originally a basillica built by the Romans, but was later converted to a mosque by the Ottomans in the 15th century. I had heard about the breathtaking interiors of the monument, but as there was a long queue outside, the thought of waiting at the queue on such a hot day with our limited time in Istanbul was unbearable. The square was very lively and had a number of historical monuments.
Walking, walking, walking
We strolled further casually with no particular destination in mind. We reached a busy street across the main road where the trams stop at Sultanahmet square and stopped at a store to buy some drinks. Every neighborhood had mosques with beautiful architecture on them. There were many, many restaurants lined on either side of that street, due to its proximity to a highly touristic area. We wanted to have lunch at some local place, but I also wanted to find the sea! We also saw many stray cats, some of them were so tiny and cute.
I wanted to go to the area of two iconic bridges of Istanbul: Bosphorus Bridge and Yavum Sultan Selim Bridge. But my always-practical boyfriend suggested that it’s a big city and the bridges might be too far and we didn’t have enough time. So, we just decided to move further until we saw the water. We passed some steep and busy streets on the process and stopped at a local place for kebap. Oh it was so delicious! The streets were very busy and there were many shops and many people everywhere.
We reached the seafront after a few minutes of walking in scorching heat. Nothing particularly fancy, but it offered some nice views of Istanbul. I was still stunned at the size of the city! Everywhere you looked there seemed to be huge neighborhoods. We also saw the iconic bridges on a distance, it looked quite far. We definitely didn’t have time to go closer. There were some huge ferries and some smaller boats passing by. I noticed that the water was very blue and clean – no wonder Turkish beaches are so famous with European vacationers.
Across the road, we saw a beautiful mosque and decided to head to that direction. We took some photos of the mosque and the area, and spotted direction signs to Grand Bazar. We started following the sign but stopped many times at different mosques, little parks and whatnots. It’s such an outdoorsy city.
The narrow streets we took to Grand Bazar were full of shops and people. All kinds of shops. Clothes, shoes, sunglasses, electronics, everything. It was absolutely full of people. The whole area reminded me of old areas in Kathmandu like Asan, where the streets are narrow and shops and people are everywhere.
I was tired from heat and walking by that point. We entered through the entrance of Grand Bazar, one of the largest indoor markets in the world, into its indoor colorful market. There were many pretty and colorful things: spice shops, restaurants, cutlery shops, shops with colorful items, you name it. It was so big that we didn’t go through all of it, as we weren’t looking to buy anything. After wandering through Grand Bazar, we went to get Turkish ice-cream at a nearby small shop. The ice-cream was oh-so-delicious! Turkish flavors and very thick consistency, that you actually have to chew it. Such good taste.
The ice-cream took forever to finish so we walked to a nearby park and sat in the shade while enjoying the ice-cream. We saw a kind man feeding the stray kittens outside the mosque wall. Took some pictures and watched local people get by their daily business. It was time for lunch. We decided to continue, not to any particular place, but along the same main road where the trams ran, to get back to the airport, later.
We reached into another huge neighborhood full of shops (again). We bought some souvenirs and went to look for a place to eat. We found a little restaurant where the locals were enjoying the daytime lunch. Turkish bread and chicken skewers marinated with Turkish spices. We had to soon return to the airport, so we decided to take a walk and get on the tram to return to the airport. After some walking, we decided to head back to the airport. After a busy day of exploring, we were back at the airport, waiting for the flight to Nepal. Istanbul was thrilling but we didn’t manage to see very much of it in one afternoon. The city definitely deserves more than a day of visiting.
- Turkish airlines offers free accommodation with transfers from and to the airport, if the transit is longer than 10 hours for economy passengers and 7 hours for business passengers. Find out the conditions and more about it if you have a long transit at Istanbul.
- Free day tours to the city’s attractions are also provided by Turkish airlines in case of transits. Conditions apply, check their website for detailed information.
- Nepalese people can purchase visa-on-arrival at one of the vending machines, or buy an e-visa before hand. Many nationalities can obtain visa-on-arrival with no problems. I think the cost is about 30 USD.
- I found out later that 90 euros a night was far too much for a double room. Be aware of the hotel prices, taxi costs and other scams, like in any major cities, to avoid hassle.