Summer vacation to Istanbul: part 2

Eminönü – part of Fatih district

We often went over the Galata Bridge, over the Golden Horn, to get to Sultanahmet – also known as the Old City. Especially in the evenings, when we got back from our excursions, we tended to leave the tram aside and just walk through the below deck of the bridge, which is filled with restaurants and bars. From the bridge, over the water, you get some great views in the setting sun. I especially liked how I could see the Galata tower stick out in the skyline, lit up so pretty.

Right off the bridge you enter Eminönü, where you can take ferry boats (at the cost of no more than a tram ticket fare) to Kadıköy and Üsküdar across the Bosphorus. At Eminönü you can see the Yeni Mosque, right off the shore and of course the Egyptian (or Spice) Bazaar.

I liked the Spice Bazaar, which is smaller than the Grand Bazaar (duh!). It smells great inside, of spices and the lovely Turkish delights (or lokum) for sale. We bought some to taste, cause it is difficult not to when it’s all around you. I must say, I’m a big fan of Turkish delights! Especially the ones with either the almond, hazel or pistachio nuts in them! Heck, I love them all!

But the Spice Bazaar doesn’t only sell spices and sweets, you will find other things there as well (pottery, bags, lamps…).

One evening we went up to the Süleymaniye mosque. The Ramadan had just started the day before and the sun had just set. The mosque was pretty empty cause we went just before prayer. Some mosques are open for visitors. There is a special section you can enter, but you must respect certain rules: taking off your shoes before entering, covering your legs and shoulders if you are in summer wear and women should cover their hair. I had my scarf with me, cause otherwise I had to put on a “provided scarf” and I had my doubts about those. But once you abide by these things, which I feel to be respectful and will gladly do, you enter such a beautiful mosque and feel serenity come to you. Just sitting on the carpet, looking up at the decorated dome… and I felt at peace. Pretty nice feeling.

Just after sun set, we suddenly hear a great bang, a voice chanting out of the minarets of the mosque and the sudden noise of a lot of cutlery hitting plates around the neighbouring streets of the mosque. After a day of fasting, people joined round tables in the streets and squares to share in the long-awaited meal. The cling-cling noises made me smile.

Sultanahmet district

Strolling further, from Fatih you cannot but stumble into Sultanahmet.

Advice: if you want to visit the Topkapi Palace or the Aya Sofia, get up early. Even though they open at 10 AM, the lines can be long, especially in full sunshine! We made that mistake with Topkapi Palace, by going early afternoon. Because of this, we had to limit ourselves to the main palace area, cause there was a too long line to enter the harem. I was upset about this, but I promised myself to come back one day and visit Topkapi Palace again.

The Aya Sofia – first a church (basilica), then a mosque, now a museum – I found very impressive. It is a feast for the eyes from the minute you enter the main entrance, with all the lights hovering right above your head. The colours, the mosaic… it’s hard to describe, but it’s definitely worth seeing.

We also went to the Blue mosque (yeah, like all tourists), which is actually called Sultan Ahmet Mosque, which unlike the Aya Sofia, is a mosque where regular prayers are held. So you need to go inbetween prayers, again respecting the regulations and in a separate zone. Unbelievably beautiful! The blue tiles are really everywhere!

I recommend visiting the Basilica Cisterna, just beside the Sultanahmet square where the Aya Sofia & Blue mosque are. It was built in the 6th century and is beautifully lit. There are lines here as well to get in (and costs 10TL per person), but they move smoothly. Though beside the pillars, the water, the fishes and the medusa, it’s the feel that the place gives you for which you should go there.

End of part 2.

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