Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Eurotrip 2015 - Day 2 (6/28/2015) - Sultanahmet & the Old City

We originally planned to meet up around 8:30 today, but Joe and Tina were still in bed when I finally got up myself and knocked on their door around 9:00.  We agreed it was time to get going, so I went back to my room, showered, and got ready.  We first dropped by the hotel's garden terrace in the main building for the complimentary breakfast, making it there 30 minutes before it was set to close at 10:30.  The spread was pretty impressive, with a mix of fruits, breads, cheeses, jams, deli meats, eggs, juice, and more.  After eating we quickly stopped by the rooms before heading out to explore the sights of the old city.


Our first stop was Sultanahmet Camii, also known as the Blue Mosque.  We were prepared for this visit, as Joe and I were sure to wear pants and Tina brought a scarf to cover her head.  The same can't be said for many of the visitors - some men wore shorts, some ladies wore bottoms that stopped above the knees and/or tank tops.  I'm not sure if they were unaware or just didn't care - Joe hypothesized a mixture of both.  Thankfully, the mosque provides coverings for both men and women...even though it's free to enter (which I think is excessively nice of them).  You also have to take off your shoes before entering the mosque (in our case, via the tourist side entrance), and they provide plastic bags to use to hold your shoes during your visit.  The interior of the mosque is not very fancy (it's for praying after all), but it is still an impressive structure.  I guess its exterior architecture is probably my favorite part.


After the mosque we crossed through Sultanahmet Parki (predictably, Sultahnamet Park) and over to the Hagia Sophia (or Ayasofya, as it is known in Turkish).  We paid the 30 TL per person for tickets (it actually costs *more* - starting at 40 TL - for Turkish citizens) and also got a 20 TL audio guide that Tina and I shared (it had 2 headphone jacks, and I had my earbuds with me).  We wandered through the church/mosque/museum, took many pictures, and listened to the audio for some of the locations; this included taking the ramp up to the elevated gallery.  Like the Blue Mosque, this structure is probably more impressive from the outside.  But there are remnants that indicate that this church was fancier in its heyday, before some things went into disrepair.  Its sheer grandness puts it among the most impressive churches that I have visited, though the lack of upkeep over the years probably keeps it outside the top 3.


After Ayasofya we walked through Gülhane Parki (which is impressively groomed) and down to the shore where the Golden Horn meets the Bosphorus Strait.  After spending a bit of time admiring the coastal view from the rocky shore, we walked around the coastal road (Kennedy Caddesi, which is named after JFK - this took a solid half hour) to a southeast side street that allowed us to head back north toward Topkapi Palace (the entrance of which is actually next to Ayasofya).  It was another 30 TL per person to enter the palace complex.  We wandered around the palace grounds, but I was not terribly impressed by much of it.  I think this was partly due to the fact that we were getting tired and hungry by this time.  We had only partaken some light street snacks (Tina bought some grilled corn, and Joe bought a pretzel) and some gummy fruit snacks since breakfast.


We left the palace a bit after 5 PM and headed to a nearby street that looked like it had plenty of food options.  We chose one of the restaurants that seemed to have a decent menu and terrace seating, though it seemed the same as all the other options around there with men touting tourists to enter.  Tina and Joe shared a grilled kebab plate of some sort while I ordered the cheese rolled pastry (sigara börek) and a fried mushroom dish named mantar sole.  We also got the big puffy bread (which was actually pretty hard when it cooled) and some hummus.  My food was actually pretty good, especially after I asked for some rice to go with the mushroom dish.  During dinner the temperature began to dip a bit, and it became slightly chilly.  It had been a mostly gorgeous day, with temperatures in the upper 70s (F) and partly cloudy skies.  After we finished eating and paid, we walked back to an ice cream stand near Sultanahmet Park and each got a cone (caramel for me).  I felt a little guilty eating it in front of all the (mostly muslims around) since the would not be able to eat for at least another hour after the sun had set.  But in general there did not seem to be any issues with foreigners buying and eating food, even on the street - vendors were still selling it, after all.  Speaking of the muslims, a lot of them had gathered in the park, seemingly waiting to celebrate sunset with a mass picnic.  I tried to find out from one of the people standing around what all the celebration entailed, but I did not get a clear answer.


We headed back on foot to the hotel sometime around 9 PM, with a stop at a convenience store for some items.  After returning, Joe and I planned a bit for the next day before calling it a night and resolving to tag up at 8:30 the next morning.

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An album of all my favorite photos from the trip can be found here:
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