Saturday, 19 June 2010

Wednesday - Istanbul


As on Monday morning we were up early after another overnight train journey; this time from Ankara back to Istanbul. It looked like it was going to be a sunny warm day so happy vote from me!

Got the ferry back across to Europe (aka European side of of Istanbul) and tram up to the Sultanhamet stop in the Old Town. A bit of wandering around before we finally found our hotel but find it we did. It was only 9am so we were hoping to leave our bags, head out again for some coffee and breakfast and come back in the afternoon to check in to our room. So, imagine our surprise (& happiness) when we got told that our room was ready! And our room was really very nice - a good size, a nice layout and lots of windows.

We headed around 10am and headed off to get some coffee & food. Our plan for the day was to follow the Old Town Back Streets walk in one of our guide books with the Blue Mosque and the underground cistern if time allowed. This was very enjoyable and covered the Grand Bazaar, the Beyazit District, the grounds of the mosque of Suleyman the Magnificent (but unfortunately mosque closed for renovation :( ), Uzun Carsi, the Rustem Pasa Mosque, Hasircilar Alley and the rather disappointing spice market.

The Grand Bazaar was a bit of a letdown to be honest. The problem is that you constantly get hassled! If we stopped to look in our book or at a stall you were pounced on. And they all seemed to be selling the same stuff. However, luckily the Rick Steve's Istanbul guide book suggests a tour within the grand bazaar and brought us in to much older parts of the market (courtyarded areas with small little workshops where you don't get hassled these are know as Bedestens) where we were the only tourists in both cases. In the second bedesten there are workshops where they melt down old bits of gold and we got invited in to one of the little workshops because they had seen the guidebook we were carrying and the owner is in it.
Melting Down Gold

It was seriously hot in there but great to see and it really made my visit to the Grand Bazaar so worth while!
In the Workshop

After that we wandered through the Beyazait district before getting to the mosque of Suleyman the Magnificent. This is meant to be a beautiful mosque well worth the visit but unfortunately it was closed for renovations. Oh well, another time :)

After that we wandered through the Uzun Carsi before getting to the Rustem Pasa Moque. The former is a madly busy narrow street with all these little shops selling a mad variety of things - hardware, stationary, toys, shoes etc and they were all jam packed in together. The Rustem Pasa Mosque was built in the 16th century and is stands on a platform supported by vaults that have shops underneath them! I had a scarf and long sleeved top in my bag and was wearing a knee length skirt but it seems that knee length isn't sufficient so I was handed a warp around full length skirt to put on before going in. I thought that this mosque was beautiful. There were some tourists in there but nothing like what we'd see in the Blue Mosque that afternoon! The tiling and domes really are gorgeous and there's something just lovely about walking around in your bare feet in these places.
The Rustem Pasa Mosque - Pillar

Hasircilar Alley which we wandered down on leaving the mosque on way to the rather disappointing Spice Market was another place jam packed with little shops and then food stores. Near the end there was a place selling just coffee beans - the smell emanating from it was just fab :)

After lunch in the park (some meaty wrap thing for Dave and a cheesy bread thing that I'd had for breakfast for me) we headed in to the Blue Mosque. I guess I knew that this place was be busy but there were so many tourists and it's just so large that I didn't like it as much as the other mosques that we'd been to. But it is, like the others, fantastic to look at!
Blue Mosque Interior

I found myself lying on the floor so I could take photos of the tiling on the pillars and domes (I got chastized for that unlike the numerous women walking around who hadn't covered their head or arms?!?)
Blue Mosque - From Pillar to Dome

As we had the time we then headed off to see the Byzantine Underground Cistern. It was more Dave than me that was interested in going to see this but I'm so glad we did; it was fantastic! Well worth the visit. The lighting was beautifully done in there too. This places dates to the 6th century and is sometimes known as the Basilica Cistern as it's built on the site of an earlier basilica.
The Basilica Cistern

After all that it was time for an ice cream, a sit in the park and then back to the hotel for a bit of a rest before heading out for dinner. Dinner was, I'm afraid to say, disappointing :( This restaurant had a big sign outside saying they're recommended by Rick Steves (our guidebook) so we reckoned it would be okay. However, for a start we didn't go with the fixed price menu 3 course menu which didn't go down particularly well. My fish was fairly tasteless to be honest (had a much nicer one the next day) and not a good reaction when we said that we didn't want dessert. In total, average food with less than fantastic service. But overall, a fantastic day :)

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