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Barry's Blog #81 - Istanbul Part 2 - Doing the tourist thing

The new plan, to get as much sightseeing as possible done during our 3 night interval in Istanbul, involved getting to the nearest attractions ticket booth as early as possible and hopefully well before the crowds.

Executing the plan

Darkhill Hotel

The Darkhill Hotel, where we'd finally found lodgings, was a very handy 100 metres (328 feet) from one of Istanbul's many tram lines and the one we were close to had stops at the Hagia Sophia and the Topkapi Palace. Perfect.

We exited the hotel at 8.15am, went straight to the tram stop and waited for the next tram which slid smoothly to a halt a couple of minutes later. When the doors opened it was so full that people already inside were helping others to get onboard by dragging them into the crush of bodies so that the doors were able to close.

Aannsha and I looked at each other and silently agreed that we didn't fancy experiencing what a tinned sardine feels like. The flaw in our plan was that it was Monday morning in a city of 15 million people and they were all heading off to work. Bugger.

Breakfast on the run

There was no other choice, we'd have to walk to the Topkapi Palace. We set off at a brisk pace and the walk only took us 20 minutes. The bonus of walking there meant that we were able to briefly stop to buy a couple of breakfast savoury pastries from one of the many street vendors. They were all doing a roaring trade at that hour of the day.

The Topkapi Palace doesn't open until 9.00am but even at 8.40am a queue of eager visitors were waiting for the ticket booths to open. In comparison to the queue we'd seen there yesterday it was relatively small.


There are various priced ticket deals available for visitors to chose from. There are single entry options or a 5 day pass that get you into everywhere as many times as you want. The one we were after is only available to Turkish citizens or foreigners with a Turkish resident card and for the very reasonable price of just 70 Turkish Lira each we bought two Musekart passes that are valid for 12 months and give you access to all government administrated historical sites, museums and ancient ruins.

Topkapi Palace

Aannsha's blog this week goes into a lot of detail about the attractions we visited so I'm not going to rehash that info. You can read her blog by clicking here.

Construction of the Topkapi Palace began in 1459 and at the time it served as the main residence and administrative headquarters of the Sultans of the Ottoman Empire. Following the end of the Ottoman Empire in 1923, Topkapı was transformed into a museum by a government decree dated April 3, 1924.

The palace complex has hundreds of rooms and chambers, but only the most important are accessible to the public today, including the Ottoman imperial harem and the treasury where the Spoonmaker's Diamond and Topkapi Dagger are on display. The museum collection also includes Ottoman clothing, weapons, armour, miniatures, religious relics and illuminated manuscripts like the Topkapi manuscript.

We spent a very interesting couple of hours wandering around and when we finally exited we were very pleased that we got there early as there were many large tour groups beginning to make their way in.

Top tips: Get there early, wear comfortable shoes.

Hagia Sophia

The first church built on the site of the Hagia Sophia was known as the Great Church because of its larger dimensions in comparison to the contemporary churches in the city. It was inaugurated on the 15th of February in 360 AD by the Arian bishop Eudoxius of Antioch. Sadly nothing remains of the first church today as it was burnt down during riots in 404 AD.

A second church on the site was ordered built by Theodosius II, who inaugurated it on the 10th of October 415 AD. However a fire started during the tumult of the Nika Revolt burned the second Hagia Sophia to the ground on 13–14 January 532 AD.

On the 23rd February 532 AD, only a few weeks after the destruction of the second basilica, Emperor Justinian I decided to build a third and entirely different basilica, larger and more majestic than its predecessors. More than ten thousand people were employed and with much pomp, 5 years and 10 months after construction started, the new basilica was inaugurated on the 27th December 537 AD.

Throughout the years various other fires and many earthquakes have caused the building to be repaired and reconstructed many times over.

During the Latin occupation of Constantinople (1204–1261) the church became a Roman Catholic cathedral. Then after the conquest of Constantinople in 1453, the Ottomans converted the Hagia Sophia into a mosque.

Today the Hagia Sophia is a museum which the first Turkish President and founder of the Republic of Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk decreed in 1935.

Top tip: Prepare to be awed at the sheer scale of the dome

The Grand Bazaar

After touring those two big sites we were feeling hungry and decided to walk to the Grand Bazaar in search of food.

The Grand Bazaar is one of the largest and oldest covered markets in the world, with 64 covered streets and over 4,000 shops covering a total area of 30,700 m2 (330,452 sq feet). Depending of the time of year there are between 250,000 and 400,000 visitors each day. It is closed on Sunday.

It's a big place and we just wandered aimlessly around until our noses pointed us the direction of cooking smells. A final left turn and we were instantly out in a long narrow courtyard were several eateries were offering up traditional Turkish food. We chose one that had some outside tables that were shaded from the sun and placed our order. I stuck with my usual doner durum, it's a well know fact that blokes can and will eat the same for weeks on end if need be. My philosophy is that I can't be too disappointed if I already know what I'm ordering should taste like. Aannsha chose a doner kebab.

The vast majority of restaurants we encountered in Istanbul did not sell alcohol so there was no cold beer to wash it down. I ordered soda water and Aannsha had Turkish tea.

Top tips: Bring a sense of humour and patience. Prepare to haggle on all prices. Don't worry about getting lost.

Tuesday morning

Already our Istanbul interlude was drawing to a conclusion. There was enough time to grab breakfast at a small place near the hotel. Aannsha ordering a Turkish breakfast which is a selection of cheeses, bread, butter, olives, eggs, tomatoes, cucumbers, jam and honey. I ordered a doner durum. What? Don't look at me like that!

Then it was back to the hotel to pack and check out before our 2 hour trip across Istanbul to the airport. The trip was uneventful and the public transport system was easy to navigate. However things fell over as we waited at the bus stop for the final leg of our trip. The bus going to the airport didn't show up on time and we had to jump into a taxi, which was a very reasonable 35 Turkish Lira (AU$8.30).

Early afternoon we arrived back in Kaş and it felt good to be 'home'. But in just a week's time we'd be pointing the bow of A B Sea towards the west and north as we officially began our 2019 summer sailing season in the Mediterranean. More about that next time.

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