Inimitable Istanbul

Sunday-Tuesday 12-14 January 2020 The train from Bulgaria terminated at a station on the outskirts of the city which was the start of one of the metro lines. After buying the Istanbul equivalent of Oyster cards we hopped on board a train and headed towards the centre. Although Stephen had been to the city 4 or 5 before they had all been business trips and he only has the vaguest of ideas about the different parts or where the touristy bits are. And, in typical Christine and Stephen fashion, we had done little research or planning, so we thrashed around on four different metro trains trying to decide where to head for.

Eventually we returned to daylight near the Golden Horn and looked on for a decent nearby hotel. After negotiating what we considered a reasonable rate (500 lira or £65) for 2 nights in a small suite (a rather grand term!) we were pleasantly surprised that we were allowed into the room at 10 a.m. but we took full advantage and crashed out for 3 hours to catch up on the sleep missed the previous night.

Since then we have been exploring the city and thoroughly enjoying it. The Aya Sophia is awe inspiring – to think that such an enormous building more than 50 metres tall could be built nearly 1500 years ago! Equally impressive is the Basilica Cistern which is an underground reservoir 180 metres long, 50 metres wide and 9 metres high capable of holding 100,000 tons of water. This too was built by the Emperor Justinian in the 6th century.

We took a ferry across to Asia (as you do!) and walked along the bank of the Bosporus admiring mosques and soaking up the atmosphere as we went. Then another ferry and a tram ride (each costing about 40 pence) took us to the Grand Bazaar. This was really interesting but we preferred the one in Muscat which we visited almost a year ago where the vast majority of customers were local Omanis – Istanbul’s version is definitely more geared towards the tourists.

The Blue Mosque was quite underwhelming because the ceiling of the central part was obscured by scaffolding and a mezzanine which we assumed was for refurbishment and the walls at ground floor level were relatively plain. Above this they and the parts of the ceiling that we could see were stunning but the effect was spoiled for us by the renovation works and the crowds.

The bargain of the trip was a cruise on the Bosphorus – for less than £3 each we had 1.5 hour trip up the European side to the second of the two bridges over the waterway and back down the Asian side. Granted the English commentary was somewhat limited being about 1/10 of the length of the Turkish version but, as Christine pointed out, the view is just as impressive even if nobody is telling you at what you are looking.

The weather has been very kind to us – chilly but not as cold as we feared it might be. There were a few spots of rain as we arrived but since then it has been dry and the sun came out after the first day.

As stated above we have had a great time here. We considered heading further east – our tickets would take us all the way to Kars which is close to the Armenian border. However, from Ankara the trains are slow and we read that the temperature was -16°. So we are starting to make our way homewards at a leisurely pace probably with a couple of diversions as we off through the Balkans. We are still pinching ourselves to believe that we have ridden right across Europe and spent three days in Istanbul having left home little more than a week ago!

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