“On 13 March 2016 a bombing in Kizilay Square, central Ankara killed more than 30 people.”
“There was a suicide bomb attack against tourists on Istiklal St in Istanbul on 19 March 2016, in which 4 tourists died and at least 36 people were injured.”
News stories like these would make you feel like Turkey is indeed unsafe to travel to at this time.
Turkey Tourism Board contacted me about a press trip, which they were planning for a group of journalists to go out to Turkey right after these attacks. To a normal person, they would be too fearful to go at this time, but I don’t let fear stop me from sending a message across, or politicians manipulate me into thinking that terrorists are everywhere!
I think a lot of travel writers and bloggers have a job to shine light on countries which are being blasted on the media as “unsafe”, and write about our own personal experience minus the propaganda.
I have long wanted to visit Istanbul, and it was also on my wish list for this year to witness the sunrise from a hot air balloon in Cappadocia, and to have a hot jacket potato in Istanbul.
The itinerary had a couple of days in Istanbul to explore all the historic and religious sights, followed by a few days in Cappadocia! I couldn’t wait to explore the country in more depth and learn more about the Ottoman Empire and its history.
As soon as I stepped off the plane I could smell kebabs! Well, we are in the land of kebab and it is such a delicious smell, whether you’re a veggie or not. Warm, twenty-something temperatures hit my face as we were met by our tour guide, Baki. He escorted us to our first limousine of the trip, a term which I chose to describe our tour buses. They were white, long, spacious, and all to ourselves!
The next six nights would be full of adventure, exploration, a different hotel bed nearly every night, sunshine, plenty of Turkish tea and lots of walking!
Istanbul is full of mosques; there are more than 3,500 in the city alone. Click To Tweet Medieval builders seem to have been sprouting them up like mushrooms after the spring rain!
On the first day, we explored Istanbul’s ‘must-see’ ‘sights.
First stop of the day was the Hippodrome. During the reign of the Byzantine Empire, this was the place where the Constantinople locals preferred to hang out, hosting various races and social events there. This rectangular arena was also used for occasions when important announcements were made to the nation, and a place of various riots.
Right next to the Hippodrome is the famous Sultan Ahmed Mosque (Blue Mosque). This is the mosque you see in every picture of Istanbul; it holds so many stories, I find it fascinating. The history behind why it is called Blue Mosque is nothing fancy; but simply because it is made out of striking blue Iznik tiles inside as well as having a hue of blue on the exterior tiles, too.
The Blue Mosque was built to the orders of Sultan Ahmed I, when he was only 19 years old. The Sultan assisted with the construction, as he was eager to build it, and it was finished in 1660, a year before he died at the tender age of 27. It is the perfect example of the abundant Ottoman style architecture. Moreover, it has endured and withstood many powerful earthquakes which have hit Istanbul throughout history, and is still standing in the 21st century and its full glory and used as a place of worship.
Please note: It is mandatory to cover your head and legs on entry to the mosque, as a sign of respect to the people praying inside and the holy place that it is. Also, no flash photography is allowed.
After the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia is only a short, pleasant walk past a fountain, some paid toilets and more men selling corn on cob and chestnuts.
Tip: Please be aware that Hagia Sophia is closed on Mondays, Topkapi Palace is closed on Tuesdays and the Blue Mosque is closed on Sundays.
The Hagia Sophia is said to have changed the history of architecture and it was chosen as one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. The stunning building was originally constructed as a Catholic Cathedral, later turned into a mosque and now it operates as a museum. The interior reveals both Christian and Islamic influences with huge, gold-laced domes hovering over you as you enter the main room and massive round ‘Allah’ paintings jump out at you straight away.
It has a calm, but somewhat cold atmosphere. Ancient Christian paintings of the Virgin Mary and the Baby Jesus are dotted around the whole basilica, and the very profound painting of Jesus feels as if he is looking at your from whichever angle you stand. Other artwork included emperor portraits, saints, and various Islamic scriptures. It has a very grand ambience and you walk up the gentle slope to the upper gallery to soak up the atmosphere, get the perfect shot and admire the sheer beauty and energy of the place. After we had taken all the pictures we possibly could, we went to the underground water storage system across the road; the Basilica Cistern.
Built in the 3rd and 4th century, and designed to supply water to the Palace and the surrounding buildings, it is quite eerie. Dark and damp with only orange lights lighting up the 336 tall columns rising from the water, you feel as if you have entered Ursula’s Kingdom. With water dripping from the ceiling and echoing in the water surrounding you as you walk along a wooden platform, it sure is atmospheric. It is known to have been built by 7,000 slaves and has a ‘crying’ column, which is believed to be a memorial for all the slaves who build the place.
The Basilica Cistern is also home to a statue of the head of the Medusa; the Greek mythological woman who was a monster because she had snakes for hair, claws for legs and the myth has it that anybody who looked at her directly would turn to stone. It certainly is a place, which is full of character and atmosphere, and if it was good enough for James Bond to film a scene for “From Russia with love”, it is worth checking out.
After a lovely al-fresco lunch in the sunny afternoon by the harbour, our final stop was the Grand Bazaar, a labyrinth of indoor streets and alleys with more than 4,000 market stalls! You can find an endless selection of jewellery, carpets, ceramic bowls, delicatessen items and Turkish sweets. Although more expensive than the smaller Spice Bazaar, it has a lot more choice and it’s a great opportunity to capture the essence of Turkey and its locals. With the exchange rate of nearly four Turkish Lira (TL) to one English pound (GBP) when we went there.
I was able to purchase a few ‘evil eye’ gold-plated bracelets, earrings, 3 gorgeous bowls, a scarf, some souvenirs, and, of course, some fresh Turkish delight for my mother all for very cheap. Turkey is very desperate for some tourism monies to be pumped into the economy, so I did my bit 😉
Bosphorus cruise at night.
For dinner we went for a Traditional Turkish dinner on a boat, complete with belly dancers, traditional entertainment and some quality time with the fellow journalist, who now have become good friends.
The boat took us up the Bosphorus, where we got to see more beautiful historic buildings lit up in gold at night.
We all had a great time dancing the night away, ‘Gangnam style’ and enjoying the beautiful scenery, with wine on tap and lovely, fresh food. What a way to end our first day in Istanbul!
Istanbul has been vibrant, full of beautiful tulips, culture and so much to offer. I would… Click To Tweet
Thank you TravelShop Turkey and EcoTurkey for the invitation and for having me on this trip.