Istanbul: the city of two continents. But what a city! With over 15 million inhabitants, it is a metropolis and you will notice that.
Everywhere you walk or look, you see people until the late evening hours. Restaurants are therefore open until late at night. Not surprising that this city was ‘to-see’list. Within 3.5 hours of departing from Amsterdam, you find yourself in this beautiful multi-faceted city.
A friend of mine found a nice offer and we booked the trip and were on Turkish soil within 5 days. Ready for the adventure.
Istanbul is a typical metropolis where old and new mixes, both in view and in tradition. People are modern or traditional.
What surprised me is that, as a European and certainly as a blonde woman, are stared at enormously and are more often addressed in the tourist areas than other tourists. I am used to Turkey, but did not expect this in this metropolis, where a large mix of different people come together. Kindly thanking or ignoring is best, but you are not really bothered as they just leave you be.
Near our hotel (ideal location) on the European side of the city, Fatih, the former Topkapi Palace is located on the sea front, which now serves as a museum.
The palace was the residence of the Ottoman sultans and was built in 1459 by Sultan Mehmet II. The whole palace is still intact and when you arrive at the entrance, you are in a courtyard that now serves as a park. Here you can just walk around, sit and take photos. You will automatically see the ticket sales on the right side of the entrance.
After the entrance you enter a larger courtyard that leads to the rooms of the sultan, the harem, the bakery, the hospital and the quarters of the soldiers.
The many rooms are now decorated with clothing and jewelery from the former sultans. What we noticed is that the robes were so big! Did they fit in there? There was also a separate decorated section with Islamic art. These were mainly texts and words from the Koran, because images are not allowed of course. Unfortunately, it was not allowed to photograph anywhere inside.
When you walk to the outer courtyard you have a beautiful view of the Bosphorus with a catering facility. Unfortunately, the weather was unbelievably bad all day (read: rain, wind gusts) and we did not have the energy to take pictures of everything.
Admission costs 30 Turkish Lira which is about 5.50 Euros or 6.35 USD. A separate entrance and a separate ticket are required for the harem. This costs 15 TL (2.75 euros/3.20 USD). We have not visited the harem.
The Hagia Irene is located near the courtyard at the entrance. An old Byzantine church that was never used as a mosque after the fall of Constantinople (old name for Istanbul). You can also visit these for 20 TL (about 7 euros).
Hagia Sophia is a 5 minute walk from Topkapi Palace and well worth a visit. Hagia Sophia was built in Byzantine times as a cathedral and was converted into a mosque by Sultan Mehmet II in 1453, hence the minarets on four sides. In 1934 it was made a museum as commissioned by Atatürk.
When you enter the building you immediately see the Christian and Islamic influences. The Arabic characters, European architecture and small numbers of beautiful mosaics in which Bible figures are depicted. The building is attractively illuminated and invites you to view every corner though there is actually little to view. The building has a spiral staircase to the top from where you can look down from the upper balustrades.
Visiting this monument also has an entrance fee. 20 TL to be precise. This is about 3.65 Euros or 4.25 USD. The money is used, among other things, for the restoration of the building.
Sultanahmet Mosque (Blue Mosque)
Sultan Ahmet I commissioned the construction of this mosque after his appointment as sultan. To show his wealth, he had extra minarets built, which he would still receive a lot of comment on.
The mosque itself is not blue but gray, but owes its nickname to the blue tiles that can be seen across the entire interior. The tiles are hand-painted and not entirely happy by the way.
Visiting the mosque is free, because the mosque is in use. A donation at the exit is desirable. There are strict and limited visitor hours scheduled for the prayer services. Entering the mosque may, as a woman, only with covered head and legs and shoes are not allowed to anyone.
Come on time when you want to visit the mosque. Ideally at least 15 minutes before the visiting hour, so that there is enough time to get your clothes in order and to be able to go inside. There is great interest.
Once inside, as a visitor you may only enter the section that has been set up for visitors. But you can see the praying people. People who come to pray are allowed to walk in and out freely.
Due to the short number of days, incl. Departure and arrival, we have not been able to see everything in Istanbul. We did not see the Asian side, which is a shame.
We did however make a boat trip on the Bosporus, which was very worthwhile. We left in a southerly direction and did 2 hours on the entire journey. Returning one hour and one hour. This also cost around 30 TL (5.50 euros or 6.35 USD).
We also wanted to visit the Grand Bazaar but it turned out to be closed on Sunday. We did walk through the Egyptian Bazaar. Pretty small, but cozy and a nice attraction.
Finally, I would like to say that you have to prepare for a call to prayer several times a day. I had no idea that that happened in Istanbul (stupid maybe?) And I was shocked the first time I heard it.
So also at 6 o’clock in the morning while I was sleeping. But to be honest, I did not bother with it and actually felt it’s charm.
Have I already excited you to visit Istanbul?