A Day Out in Istanbul, Turkey

Istanbul surely ranks among the top 5 cities I have ever visited. The culture and heritage of the most populous city in Turkey is unparalleled. The amazing people, variety of food on offer and the numerous monuments and places to visit makes Istanbul one of the all time favourite destinations. Whether it is a stroll through the Sultanahmet District, the engravings on the high ceilings of Hagia Sophia or a leisurely cruise in the Bosporus river – everything is a unforgettable memory.

It is therefore a sin to have only a day to spend in Istanbul. However, there was nothing I could do about it. After spending 3 days in conferences and meetings, I managed to take one day off for myself. Backpack was packed with bare necessities – a map, passport and water. Luggage was stored in lockers at the train station.

Istanbul is a tale of two sides – divided by the Bosporous river. The European side is on the west side of the river along with the major touristic attractions and the international airport. I, on the other hand, was staying in the Asian side on the east. The closest metro was Maltepe. Metros in Istanbul are quite convenient, clean and efficient. So, we took the metro from Maltepe and got down at Sirkeci which also happens to be the main train station where we stored our luggage.

*This is not an endorsement. It is a serious suggestion. I travelled to more than 30 countries and there is one app which I always have no matter what. Citymaps2go is probably the best travel app there ever was which does not require the internet. All it needs is a working GPS on your phone. Whenever I have to travel, I download the map of the particular city and mark out my list of places to see, nice vegetarian restaurants and major locations like airports, hotel and train stations. This app has never disappointed me. Try it.

Back to the story.

First stop: Sultanahmet Square. The square basically has two of the major attractions of the city: Blue Mosque or Sultan Ahmet Mosque and the more famous Hagia Sophia. Do visit both. At the Blue Mosque, there were restrictions on the attire as is usually the custom for visiting Mosques, for e.g. in Abu Dhabi (Link). We first went to the Blue Mosque. It was pretty crowded at that time – say 10 AM on Monday morning. Most of them were tourists. After a short visit, we then walked across the courtyard to the Hagia Sophia.

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Second stop: Hagia Sophia. The Hagia Sophia is basically a museum. It is quite unique in a sense that it was first a church which was later converted to a mosque before finally becoming a museum. That is the reason you can find texts from the Koran beside a painting of Virgin Mary. The first impression as soon as one enters it is the high ceiling way up in the atmosphere. Unfortunately, there were repair works going on at time we were there, even though it is not an excuse for poor photo quality 🙂

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After Hagia Sophia, we walked around a courtyard with couple of obelisks. There was also a photo exhibition in the courtyard. We ate a bit and my colleague wanted to go to a museum next. I had other options. Few months back, I read Dan Brown’s Inferno. The climax of the book takes place in Basilica Cistern. Moreover, I like caves and dim lighting :). So we parted ways and I made my way to the Cistern with the aid of the map.

Third stop: Basilica Cistern. As I arrived at the entrance, for a second, I thought I was in a wrong place. There was barely any crowd at the entrance and the location was in a public place, right beside a small park. The entrance fee was about 5 euros.

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As soon as you enter the place, the view is amazing. You start descending into a massive cellar with huge pillars supporting the structure. The base of the pillars are submerged in water. The whole place is dark (with little bit of red lighting) and cold – fantastic :). I took an audio guide with me, but not much use as there was not much information while at the same time, there was information in English. There were couple of sights to see – column of tears and couple of Medusa heads. There is also a restaurant to relax. Overall, the atmosphere was great and I highly recommend visiting it.

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Fourth stop: After the cistern, I finally had time to do some shopping. I read about the Grand Bazaar a lot before and was excited to visit the place. The place is one of the oldest and largest markets in the world – apparently one of the first shopping malls of the world. There are 100’s of shops selling various assortments – spices, scarves, perfumes and soaps, lamps and chandeliers, jewellery and everything else. I always like visiting those places – the sights, sounds and smell. The possibility to bargain. Bought my wife a scarf after a good bargain.

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Final stop: Cruise on the Bosporous. To include the 1 day itinerary of visiting Istanbul, the only remaining thing to to is to cruise over the Bosporous river. Our hosts in Turkey arranged for a boat for all the conference delegates on the previous day. We boarded the boat at about 5 pm. The overall trip was about 2 – 3 hours and well worth it. At midway, the ship passes under the bridge connecting Istanbul, goes a bit further and turns back. There were quite a few ships at the same time. It was a very relaxing trip with good food and pleasant weather to end the day.

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Even though it was only a day, I feel it was a fantastic day. Istanbul is a fantastic place to visit.

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