Exploring Istanbul: Twice is Not Enough
I found myself getting onboard a flight to Turkey again after my last visit to the wonderful country in 2015, wondering whether anything had changed from the previous adventure. I spent almost two weeks exploring both parts of Turkey, the European and the Asian sides of the country, including famous tourist destinations such as Istanbul, Bursa, Pamukkale and Cappadocia.
Both my visits to Turkey in August and another visit in April didn’t disappoint me! April is the beginning of spring while August is hit by the dry summer weather. Turkey has a great weather all year round, depending on which cities you are travelling to. Here is my adventure in Istanbul!
DAY 1 in Turkey
After a 14-hour flight from Malaysia with a short transit at Bangkok, our plane landed smoothly at the Istanbul Ataturk Airport. We quickly passed through the immigration point as well as the baggage claim area. The sun had set and I just wanted to spend the night resting in the luxurious hotel room of Wyndham Istanbul Old City.
Located right smack in the city centre, the hotel gives you easy access to most of the Istanbul attractions, such as the Hagia Sophia and the Sultan Ahmed Mosque. And what’s more — the nearest tram station is merely a 200-metre walk from the hotel.
DAY 2: Istanbul
I started the next day early so that I could have plenty of time exploring Istanbul. After a hearty continental breakfast, I made my way to the tram station right outside the hotel. Some tips for you: rather than buying a single ticket(s) for tram rides, it is cheaper and more convenient to purchase an Istanbulkart — a rechargeable transportation card — sold at the vending machines, the newsstands and the retail kiosks near any tram stations.
My first stop for the day was the historical Hagia Sophia. You can’t say you have visited Turkey if you have not explored the majestic Hagia Sophia.
It was still early in the morning, and a line had already formed at the ticket booth. Once I entered the compound, the first thing I smelled was the strong coffee aroma from the cafes nearby, but that’s not what I was there for.
The building was initially a Greek Orthodox church (and for 5 decades, a Roman Catholic cathedral) for 9 centuries before being converted into an Ottoman imperial mosque for 4 centuries. It is now standing as a museum, but the history is well represented by the intricate designs of the museum interior.
A mixed of Islamic and Catholic holy designs can be seen inside the museum.
Moving on to the next item on my list was a visit to the famous Topkapi Palace, 5 minutes away from the Hagia Sophia. The walk was made better by the great view along the way.
After queueing for 20 minutes to buy the entrance ticket, I was beyond glad to enter the compound and finally see the massive palace with my own eyes. Besides the castle, there are a few museums for you to explore where you can find numerous historical exhibits and sacred relics such as weapons from the Ottoman empire as well as items said to be used by the Holy Prophet of Muhammad S.A.W.
A gentle reminder, visitors are not allowed to take photos of the exhibitions in the museums to protect the precious exhibits.
The weather was rather hot during my visit in April, so I stopped by one of the cafes to refill my stomach and quench my thirst after the long walk. There were several cafes offering great views of the Bosphorus Strait, but personally, I was so in love with the one I chose which was the Topkapi Sarayi Konyali Lokantasi cafe. We enjoyed our kebabs and orange juice while admiring the scenic view of the Bosphorus Strait right outside the window.
If you are wondering what the food prices in Turkey are like — we paid 120 TL for four kebabs, two orange juice and a cup of tea. The kebabs were wonderful and the drinks were not too sweet, just nice for my taste buds. As for the price, I found it quite reasonable and affordable, just like a typical meal in a cafe in KL.
After exploring every corner of the Topkapi Palace, I continued my journey to the Sultan Ahmet Mosque (also known as the Blue Mosque).
The name Blue Mosque came from the 20,000 blue tiles found on the interior side of the mosque. Turkey is indeed Muslim-friendly as Muslims can pray in one of the country’s numerous mosques. The historical mosque welcomes non-Muslims visitors as well, even during the prayer times.
Do take note that there is no entrance fee for this mosque. Just ignore those scammers who are trying to squeeze for some money by asking you to pay to enter the mosque!
The exterior design of the Blue Mosque
The red tulips bloomed beautifully in the compound of the Sultan Ahmed Mosque.
Initially, my third day was supposed to be spent in Pamukkale, another city in Turkey, but my gut told me to extend my stay in Istanbul. And so I did!
I took the chance to hop on the Bosphorus Cruise Boat and cruise along the Bosphorus Strait. It was definitely the best decision I have ever made in my life! The scenic cruise passed through lots of grand buildings with eccentric old architecture at the river banks, including the Topkapi Palace and other iconic landmarks of Turkey.
Shopping, Turkish Style
Listening to the recommendations given by the hotel’s receptionist, I also spent my last day in Istanbul at the Grand Bazaar to shop for some local delicacies and souvenirs. The market was only 15 minutes away by foot from the hotel, and I would highly recommend you to include it in your to-do list in Turkey.
Pro-tip: Always bargain! The sellers actually gave discounts up to 50% if you knew how to haggle. So, hone your bargaining skills before visiting the Grand Bazaar to get the most out of the items sold there.
There was also a mosque nearby so I could perform my Zuhr prayer before having a traditional meal at one of the restaurants at the Grand Bazaar. Frankly speaking, there are lots of restaurants and cafes inside and right outside of the Grand Bazaar, so just walk-in to any of the restaurants to fill up your empty stomachs.
After the 3 hours of shopping, I finally wrapped up my adventure in Istanbul and off I went to Pamukkale for another adventure.
Even if you are only in Istanbul for a transit, you can still explore the city as the airport is not too far from the popular tourist attractions — a 30-minute car ride to the Hagia Sophia doesn’t sound too bad right! Bidding farewell to Istanbul was hard, but I might be back sooner or later.