TURKEY– Istanbul Day 1

16:18 Travel Bunny 3 Comments


DSC01164The largest city in Turkey, Istanbul is the country’s economic, cultural and historical heart. The city is located on both sides of Bosphorus which is on the European and Asian continent.

The city’s biggest draw is the Historic Areas of Istanbul which is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Formerly known as Constantinople, the city was proclaimed the capital of the Byzantine Empire or Eastern Roman Empire. At point of writing, Istanbul with a population of 13.9 million, is the 2nd largest city by population in the world.


DSC01089We woke up early in the morning and crossed the second strategic waterway, the Dardanelles. Dardanelles is a narrow strait in north-western Turkey connecting the Aegean sea to the Sea of Marmara. As there is no bridge crossing the strait, we had to ride a ferry to cross it.


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DSC01091Our bus already parked inside the ferry.


DSC01093Braving against the howling wind. Another thing is if you ever buy keychain on the ferry, remember to haggle. They can be as cheap as 11 keychain for 10TL. I got 4 keychains for 5TL. Sad smile


DSC01101We are now on the Europe side of Turkey. Turkey has territory in both Asian and European continent which is separated by the Sea of Marmara. However, only a small part of land belongs to the European Turkey. 97% of Turkey’s land is in the Asian side.


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DSC01105The scenic drive to Istanbul overlooking the Aegean Sea.


DSC01110We’re entering Istanbul at noon. This is part of the old city wall of Istanbul.


DSC01119We headed straight to lunch first before we started our itinerary of the day.


DSC01112The dining area inside Tamara restaurant.


DSC01114Here we face the same question. Beef or chicken? The meal was delicious. The only complain is that the portion is too small even for girls.


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DSC01117The colourful street view outside the restaurant.


DSC01111The restaurant was actually only 5 minutes walk to various tourist attractions including Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia and Topkapi Palace Museum. The Basilica Cistern is within walking distance as well but it wasn’t included in our itinerary.


DSC01123First stop, Sultanahmet Camii or the Sultan Ahmet Mosque or better known as the Blue Mosque. The Blue Mosque is open daily for visits, except during prayers.


DSC01124You will not be admitted unless you are dressed modestly.


DSC01126Before entering the Blue Mosque, every visitor is required to remove their shoes. Ladies will have to cover their hair as well with a scarf. Ladies, if you don’t have a scarf, they can lend you one to cover your hair.


DSC01127The interior of the domes and arches are covered with decorative calligraphy. However, it is the blue Iznik tiles that cover the interior walls that have given it its name.


DSC01129The construction of Blue Mosque begun in 1609 and took seven years to complete. The design of the Blue Mosque was intended to be the new Hagia Sophia, thus the six minarets against the four in Hagia Sophia. But the erection of the six minarets caused a huge furore, as the only other mosque with six minarets was at Mecca and so it appeared to some that the sultan was being arrogant. The sultan, being creative, had a seventh minaret built at Mecca, thus neatly avoiding the problem.


DSC01139The 260 stained glass window surrounding the interior through which daylight shines, enhancing the blue tiles within. However, the stained glass is not original as the glass was shattered long ago in an earthquake.


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DSC01137Visitors are required to stay behind this line to avoid disturbing those who are praying in this section.


DSC01135My sloppy scarf look.


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DSC01142My colleagues with their cute or weird scarf look. Haha.


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DSC01154The Blue Mosque sits right across the magnificent Hagia Sophia.


DSC01158We stayed inside for half an hour before leaving Blue Mosque and walk towards Hippodrome of Constantinople.


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DSC01170The Hippodrome was the sporting and social centre of Constantinople.


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DSC01172The Serpent Column was part of an ancient Greek sacrificial tripod.


DSC01174Panoramic view of the Hippodrome of Constantinople.


DSC01167Next, we visit Hagia Sophia, The Church of Holy Wisdom. Hagia Sophia is a former Orthodox church. The beautiful Hagia Sophia has one of the largest enclosed spaces in the world.

In 1453, after the fall of the city to the Turks, Hagia Sophia was converted into a mosque. After the conversion, four minarets surrounding it were added. The brick minaret by Mehmet the Conqueror, the most slender by Bayezit II and the two broader ones by Selim II.

Hagia Sophia is now a museum since Mustafa Kemal Atartuk has it reclassified in 1935.

DSC01177The first basilica was completed in 360, but was burned to the ground in 532. The church we see today was subsequently rebuilt by Emperor Justinian. Completed in 537, the Hagia Sophia is the finest Christian church in the Roman Empire. The lavish construction of Hagia Sophia almost empties the empire’s coffers.


DSC01180Everyone must go through the security scan before entering Hagia Sophia.


DSC01179You can rent an audio guide at the entrance if you want.


DSC01178This is the fountain for ritual ablutions.


DSC01182The Imperial Gate in the middle is reserved only for the emperor. The Byzantine mosaic above the portal depict Christ and an unnamed Emperor.


DSC01194We are now inside the main hall.


DSC01186The interior of Hagia Sophia shows Islamic elements on the top of the main dome.


DSC01197The vast central dome spans 30m, rests on two half domes and the huge structure around it, forming an overwhelmingly large space inside.


DSC01189The upper gallery is an area that is traditionally reserved for the empress and her court.


DSC01200The ceiling is all gold gilded.


DSC01202It was rumoured that the void behind this wall marked with a cross is a tomb of someone important. But the authorities refused to permit anyone to probe further.


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DSC01208This mosaic panel depicts Virgin Mary and child between Justinian on the left and Constantine on the right.

Due to time constraint, we didn’t visit all the mosaic panels and other parts of the building in Hagia Sophia. It is such a shame because Hagia Sophia is an astonishing architectural feat with rich history and as a Christian, I would really like to spend more time exploring it.

DSC01212Goodbye, Hagia Sophia.


DSC01210One of the cafe nearby Hagia Sophia.


DSC01215This is the million stone that marks the very point where distances of major cities of the Roman empire from Constantinople (modern day Istanbul) is calculated.


DSC01213It is located near the water tower in Sultanahmet.


DSC01216We proceeded to walk from Hagia Sophia to the Grand Bazaar.


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DSC01223The tram station of Sultanamet.


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DSC01224The Turks sure like their Turkish Delight as there are shops selling these sweets everywhere.


DSC01225Mc Donald’s!


DSC01228We’ve finally reached the entrance of Grand Bazar.


DSC01229Even the streets outside the Grand Bazaar are packed with people.


DSC01230This is Gate 7. Grand Bazaar has a total of 11 gates.


DSC01231The interior of Grand Bazaar is constructed in grid pattern design of streets with arched roofs that linked a maze of narrow passages.


DSC01232Once inside, you will find a vast array of goods. The Grand Bazaar is divided into separate areas that trade in specific goods such as antiques, leather, jewellery, spices and carpets.


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DSC01234Colourful belly dance costume.


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DSC01241Wondering deep inside the bazaar, it felt like I’m in a fantastic maze from which there is no way out.


DSC01242Haggling is a must if you intend to buy something from the Grand Bazaar. After all, only tourists buy things from the Grand Bazaar. I bought some scarves, miniatures of Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque and some T-shirts at the bazaar.


DSC01247By the time we finished shopping at the Grand Bazaar, it was getting dark outside.


DSC01248The locals taking the tram home.


DSC01249The traffic in Istanbul is like any other big cities. Traffic jam is inevitable during peak hours.


DSC01253We went to Kumkapi for dinner where many seafood restaurants are located. Many complained that this is a tourist trap but since this is already included in our tour, we didn’t mind to enjoy the beautiful surroundings decorated with colourful lanterns.


DSC01254The restaurants are mostly empty though.


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DSC01258We’re being ushered into a restaurant called Ege.


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DSC01264Well, the food is so-so. My main dish which is a grilled fish which turned out to be half raw while many of my colleagues had fish with burnt skin like charcoal. They did replace my fish with a freshly grilled one. The tourist trap claim might be true after all since we didn’t check their price.


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DSC01267Time to check in to the hotel.


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DSC01272The hotel that we stayed in Istanbul is The Marmara Taksim which is strategically located at the Taksim Square.


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DSC01275The lobby area.


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DSC01276The night was still young. We put down our luggage and immediately went outside to explore the Taksim Square and Istiklal Avenue which is nearby.


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DSC01287Taksim Square at night. Taksim square is not only the main hub for public transport, it is also where many political protest and demonstration took place.


DSC01290The Istiklal Avenue, one of the most famous avenues in Istanbu, is near Taksim Square. It is 1.4km long which houses many boutiques, restaurants, book stores, music stores, cafe, pubs and night clubs. It is packed with people day and night.


DSC01292The group of my colleagues that explore Istiklal Avenue together.


DSC01294A historical red tram that starts in Taksim and ends in Tunel.


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DSC01297The late Ottoman era buildings were converted for commercial purpose.


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DSC01300A local cinema.


DSC01301Spotted a police car which is a mini!


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DSC01306Coming to the end of the street. Our tour guide told us that the red light district is located at the end of the street. We kept walking but eventually gave up as most of the shops were closed and the street was quiet.

Hmm, better luck next time. After all, we’re staying another night in Istanbul.


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