Our first real day in Istanbul and what a day! We certainly hit some of the biggies.
Our hotel is less than a 10-minute walk from the Hippodrome and Sultanahmet Square which is the hub of the older, historical part of town. Hagia Sophia is at one end and the Blue Mosque is at the other. Our room is smallish but immaculately clean with a really nice bathroom. It’s on the 3rd floor, accessed by a very narrow and windy staircase. Another reason to be a minimalist packer! Lol
We started the day in the Blue Mosque, which, while beautiful, was under renovation and we couldn’t see the inside of the dome. It’s always disappointing when your visit coincides with renovations - but that’s life. We then bought our Turkey Museum pass (Blue Mosque was free) which will cover all the sites managed by the Ministry of Culture throughout the country. I think it will be a great pass.
We stopped for a quiet, outdoor breakfast of coffee and an omelet. Note to self: always specify no sugar in the coffee. We have noticed the abundance of cats. They are everywhere! Friendly, apparently healthy and well-fed. Turkish coffee is excellent.
I won’t go into details about the history of the Hagia Sophia (or other sites we visit) because if you’re reading this, you have access to the internet. It is an amazing building and such a wide-open space inside. The dome is not as tall as the Pantheon in Rome But because of the semi-circular domes on the sides, it encloses a much larger open space. And so glad we came in November, after tourist season, because there were a LOT of people inside.
The next site was the Basilica Cistern, built originally by Constantine. Again under renovation so we could see many columns at the front and the back - but not the middle - which meant we couldn’t look all the way down the rows of columns to appreciate the size. Tour book says it is 143 m long and 65 m wide but that’s hard to picture. Again, that’s life, and it was very impressive.
On one of the long sides of the Hippodrome is the Museum of Islamic Arts. It’s a small but excellent museum with many examples of ceramics, beautiful calligraphy and some spectacular and very old carpets.
Highlight of the day: standing in the open courtyard of the museum when the call to prayer was broadcast. It is called the Adhan or, in Turkish Ezan, and was beautiful to listen to. There are so many mosques in Istanbul and you could here the call from many at the same time, at different volume levels, depending on how close you are to the mosques. Quite magical.
Even though I had a person Turkish tutor, everyone we’ve spoken to speaks excellent English. The Museum text panels are in Turkish and English as are the way-finding signs for tourist attractions. It very easy to get around and Turkish people are way out there in terms of friendliness and willingness to help. And a quick note about the weather, which is another plus. It has been short-sleeve weather day and night since we arrived. About 21 in the daytime, it is not so hot that we are uncomfortable walking everywhere. I’m not sure what the temperature at night is but evenings are warm and lovely too. 18443 paces today. Not a huge number but jet lag took it’s toll by late afternoon and we had to call it a day earlier than we nirmally would. PS: Turkish beer is good too!