Finally arrived in Istanbul – very exotic – it’s night and I took a short walk but after flying for almost 20 hours I’m jet-lagged and feeling wide awake and unable to sleep. Istanbul is a busy city of 13+ million with wonderful diversity and incredible energy!
My hotel is in the Old Town Sultanahmet borough is near Hagia Sofia and my room has an AMAZING view of the magnificent structure – will send photos from the window in the next post! Sultanahmet is only a few minutes from the Bosphorus and Sea of Marmara and I can hear sea gulls and the soothing sound of fog horns which remind me of Potrero Hill in San Francisco. I’m here in this small quaint bed and breakfast for two weeks but may move to another neighborhood if I decide to stay longer in Istanbul.
Hagia Sofia Museum was previously an Eastern Orthodox basilica, a Roman Catholic cathedral, AND a mosque. Its striking appearance is similar to the Blue Mosque and breathtakingly stunning at night! Can’t wait to have some Turkish coffee in the morning and put my feet on the pavement to mingle with the locals and see more Byzantine and Ottoman architecture!
Istanbul is known as a city with “unlimited scope” – truly an accurate description. The Bosphorus is the world’s narrowest strait used for international navigation. It connects the Black Sea and the Sea of Marmara which separate the European and Asian sides of Istanbul. Beginning with sites near Sultanahmet these are some well-known points of interest:
• Topkapi Palace
• Blue Mosque
• Yerebetan Basilica Cistern
• Dolmabahçe Palace
• Süleymaniye Mosque
• Mosaic and Turkish Art Museums
The Grand Bazaar is along Sultanahmet’s main street (Divan Yolu) and there are hundreds of colorful souks and tiny mysterious cobble-stoned back streets with alleyways leading off in every direction.
Istanbul’s public transportation includes two trams, a subway, ferries, and metro rail. You can purchase an electronic pre-paid pass card to use on these systems. I will do that tomorrow.
There are 39 districts – both modern and historical – and many unique quarters, boroughs, and neighborhoods. I get them mixed up and will likely get lost in all of them. These are some I plan to explore:
1. Eminönü – on the waterfront
2. Beyoğlu / Taksim Square – nightlife, theaters
3. Tünel – bohemian quarter
4. Kadıköy – modern suburbs on the Golden Horn with shipyards and docks
5. Galata – Galata Tower and shops in the Galip Dede Caddesi
6. European Bosphorus – Ottoman mansions and fish restaurants
7. Asian Bosphorus – ancient cobblestoned lanes
8. Princes’ Islands – 9 islands in the Sea of Marmara accessible by ferry
9. Çukurcuma – antique dealers and Turkish baths
It’s winter / early spring in Turkey and the temperatures are comfortable but on the cool side – high 40s to 50s. Colorful Spring flowers are in bloom everywhere. The weather report says tomorrow will be sunny and gorgeous. Traveling off-season is the best for many reasons and the cool weather is perfect for walking around the city.
There is no set day-to-day itinerary. I’m grateful for the freedom to take my time and enjoy a slow, thoughtful trip learning about the unique culture and attractions of each country. I plan to visit Ankara and Cappadocia in central Turkey and then spend time around Gallipoli and smaller cities along the Mediterranean coast like Izmit, Bursa, Troy, Ephesus, Datca, and Bodrum. After Turkey I head to Greece, then Montenegro, Bosnia, Croatia, and further up into Central and Eastern Europe. Decided to purchase Eurail passes for Croatia, Slovenia, Hungary, Austria, and Czech Republic. The final stop will be???
More later – there’s much to experience in Istanbul…