This is the city I was most excited about visiting. We had been to Turkey last year and I loved it. It was like a sleeper hit – some place I had never really heard of or thought of visiting, but definitely one of my favorite trips thus far.
On the last trip, our Istanbul experience was limited to the airport. This visit was only slightly longer – a full day in port instead of a lengthy layover – and we only scratched the surface of all there is to see in this amazing city.
Istanbul is in a unique position, with half of the city in the continent of Europe and the other half in Asia. The city borders the Black Sea and the Sea of Marmara, which links the Mediterranean to the Black Sea. We walked across the Galeta Bridge and had a beautiful view of the Golden Horn to the west and the Bosphorous Strait to the east. There were also dozens of people fishing, fueling Jeremy’s jealousy and feeling of regret that he didn’t bring a fishing pole.
We kept our eyes peeled for cats because we saw cats-a-plenty on our previous trip. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on personal opinion) we only saw this one cat – but it was an adorable little kitten. Sorry kids, we can’t take it home with us.
I’d never considered Istanbul to be part of the Orient, but indeed it is in Asia, not Europe. This is Sirkeci Train Station and it was once the terminus of the famous Orient Express. (There are still trains that run from here to Europe, but it is not like the glory days.) The interior is supposed to be beautiful, but we didn’t linger. There had been plenty of demonstrations and protests in Turkey in the weeks before our visit and the large group of people in front of the station made me a little nervous – especially since they didn’t look like they were headed on a trip. Incidentally, the site of most of the protests, was not too far from the cruise ship terminal, but all was quiet on the day we visited.
There was no shortage of shopping opportunities in Istanbul. We stopped in this beautiful shop and Jeremy stocked up on his favorite snacks (but we didn’t buy any Turkish Delight.)
We walked by the Grand Portal, also known as the Bab-I Ali) which was once the entrance to the office of the Grand Vizier. Now it is just offices for someone who doesn’t have nearly as cool of a name as Grand Vizier. Notice the electrical lines overhead: Istanbul has a fine system of public transit, including trams, but we are mean parents so we made our children walk.
Sultanahmet Park is a beautiful area of Istanbul and is the epicenter of many of the tourist sites. In the distance is the famous Blue Mosque (officially known as the Sultanahmet Camii.) We did not go inside because it was time for the Friday prayer service and we didn’t want to intrude.
We also didn’t get to go into the Hagia Sophia. This was a church, then a mosque, and now it is a museum. The line was quite long and since we only had one day in Istanbul we didn’t want to spend a big part of it standing in line. I do regret this decision though – maybe next time.
Right across the street is the Milion Monument. This point was considered the center of the world by the Byzantines so this post showed the distances to various points within the empire.
We did descend into the Underground Cistern. This was created in the 6th century AD as a strategic storage reservoir for water. However, over the centuries it was forgotten and then rediscovered. Later a walkway was built and now someone has cashed in on all the tourists who pay to check it out. It was also featured in the James Bond film From Russia with Love (though I’ve never seen the movie.) Taking good photographs down here wasn’t easy.
The famous resident of the Cistern is Medusa. The columns used to support the brick roof of the cistern were recycled from Roman buildings. It is not known why Medusa is here, though some historians guess she was exiled to a dark corner of the cistern in an effort to banish her in the advent of Christianity. Why she is doing a headstand is anyone’s guess.
The second Medusa is sideways. Perhaps this was just to make the column the correct height?
The Hippodrome, the former location of chariot races, is next to the Blue Mosque. There are several monuments in the Hippodrome – this is an Egyptian Obelisk.
The base was created more recently than the obelisk and each of the four sides depict local events.
Though the city of Istanbul is not named after him any more, this column still bears Constantine’s name. It once was covered with bronze panels but those were recycled into a plowshares-into-swords initiative during the Crusades.
Here is yet another column! The Column of the Serpent actually is three serpents twisted together, created to commemerate a victory of the Greeks against the Persians. It was brought from Greece in the 4th century but the three heads mysteriously disappeared about 300 years ago.
There is no shortage of columns in Istanbul! This is the Burnt Column, erected in 330 AD to commemorate the designation of the city of Constantinople as the capital of Turkey.
I had grand plans to do some serious shopping at the Grand Bazaar but it didn’t happen. I’m not much of a shopper, and that combined with tired and hungry kids plus pesky (persistent? determined? aggressive?) vendors ended my shopping trip pretty quickly.
We wandered through the crowds in the Egyptian Spice Market but again, nothing was purchased.
Instead, we rolled into the favorite – not the Golden Horn, but the Golden Arches. Thomas’s mission is to have McDonald’s in as many different countries as possible.
What do you know: here, McDonald’s delivers! We could have just stayed on the ship and ordered in.
After a full day in Istanbul, I’m still thinking of what I didn’t get to see. Maybe we’ll be lucky enough to come back some day.
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