Day 13-14: Istanbul Pt.2, Turkey

by - August 15, 2011

Day Three: Galata and Beyoglu

The bus journey back was somehow more comfortable and we got to Istanbul feeling relatively well rested.  The bus company gave us a free lift back to Sultanahmet where luckily the Ambassador Hotel was able to let us into our room early.  We spent the morning catching up on a bit of sleep and showering.

Galata Tower, Istanbul
In the afternoon we headed for the Galata Bridge over the Golden Horn, stopping at a kebab shop for lunch on the way.  The plan was to explore the more modern Beyoglu part of town which is dominated by the Galata Tower, a Genoese watch tower from the 13th century.  The tower, which I climbed last time but decided against this time, has given its name to this part of town, as well as to Galatasary Football Club.  After getting to the base of the tower (and walking through a bit of a rain shower) we carried on north to the main shopping street in the city - Istiklal Street.  At the northern end of this street (where we did lots of browsing but not much buying) we got to Taksim Square, the heart of the modern city.  Frankly it isn’t much to look at but its worth going to as a chance to see where the locals go.

On the way back we stopped off at the Spice Bazaar, which was satisfyingly crowded. It was our last night in Istanbul, but the persistent rain put us off going out for dinner, meaning that instead we went to the hotel restaurant.  The view from here is probably one of the best in the city and the meal they provided was really excellent - I don’t know why we hadn’t eaten here before.  There was nobody else in the restaurant, so we ate it slowly while playing a game of cards.

Day Four: Basilica Cisterns and Suleymaniye Mosque

Basilica Cisterns, Istanbul
There were still four sights that I wanted to show Ellie in Istanbul - the Grand Bazaar, the Suleymaniye Mosque, the Basilica Cisterns and the Chora Chuch.  At 8 in the evening we would be getting the overnight bus to Ohrid in Macedonia, so there was a lot to pack in, so with foursight it was going to be a hectic day (har har).  We started at the Basilica Cisterns, a vast underground chamber built by the Byzantines to hold water from the aqueducts before distributing it to the Royal Palace.  Essentially just a giant tank, the Byzantines decided to make the most of it and built it with row upon row of ornate columns and a high, vaulted ceiling.  Now the water has been drained to leave a couple of feet of water in which there are some pretty hefty carp swimming about.  A wooden walkway has been built where the masses of visitors can do their best to get a non-blurred photo of the darkened cavern, while soothing pan pipe music is pumped into the chamber to add to the ambiance.

Inside Suleymaniye Mosque
After coming out of the Basilica Cisterns we headed to the Grand Bazaar.  Having already visited it in this blog I won’t go into it in much detail, except to say that it was a fair bit more busy than when I visited last.  Near to the bazaar is the Suleymaniye Mosque, lesser known to visitors to the city but a key part of the minareted skyline and the resting place of Suleyman the Magnificent.  There was a service going on when we turned up so we went to the nearby shops for Ellie to buy a pashmina and came back half an hour later.  The mosque is a lot simpler inside than its blue counterpart, but is impressive nonetheless and doesn’t seem so orientated towards tourists.  The Chora Chuch, a Byzantine chuch which was the last place I wanted to see, is right on the edge of town and with time running out we decided it would be too difficult to get to.  I guess it gives me an excuse to come back again.  We made our way back to Sultanahmet for a kebab and some sweetcorn (the latter is sold all over the city on little stands as a snack) before saying goodbye to the staff at the Ambassador, which now feels like a home away from home.  The taxi to the Otogar was pretty frantic as Istanbul has perhaps the worst road system in the world, meaning that a 20 minute journey took nearly an hour and a half, but luckily we got there in time and were on our way to Macedonia.

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