After a long day at Gallipoli and a very sound sleep, I said goodbye to B for another few weeks and hello to my dear gal friend K. Hadn’t seen this lovely lady since she came to Den Haag back in April, but it felt like it was only yesterday. We dropped my heavy (and badly packed) bags off at our hostel, the Metropolis Hotel before launching ourselves into the heart of Istanbul. K had arrived yesterday while B and I were at Gallipoli so she got a chance to have a bit of a look around the city. We had no real plans for the day but wanted to play tourist so we made a beeline for the Basilica Cistern.
The Basilica Cistern, or Sunken Palace, is the largest of the several hundred ancient cisterns that lay beneath the city of Istanbul. The original Basilica was built between the 3rd and 4th centuries. It was then converted into a cistern in the 6th century. Apparently over 7,000 slaves were involved in the construction. It has the capacity to hold approximately 100,000 tonnes of water however today only a few feet of water line the bottom.
It was eery and damp as we descended down into the cistern. The only light was from the hundreds of candles burning, which added to the mystery of this amazing piece of underground construction. The most popular point of the Basilica Cistern is the two Medusa heads located in the northwest corner of the cistern. It is believed they were previously from a building during the Roman period. The heads are massive and one lays sideways and the other upside down. It is a sort of a random touch but adds to the mystery of this underworld.
After the Basilica we headed back upstairs to the real world. Staying in the bright sunlight for just a small while, we walked towards the Grand Bazaar, where another crazy world awaited us.
I will admit, the Grand Bazaar was a lot more clean and organised than I had anticipated. I had visions of bazaars similar to the one in the second ‘Sex and the City’ movie, where the floor is dirt and there are random camels walking around. While there were no camels in sight, the Grand Bazaar is still a feast for the senses. We got impressively lost in all the rows and rows of shops and decided we definitely needed a coffee break. Taking K to the same place I went with B a few days earlier, we sucked back our Turkish coffee and baklava and headed back our into the frenzy. As much as I love travelling with B, it was so nice to shop with another female. We spend ages sifting through hundreds of rings and scarves, bartering for the best prices. There is nothing like a bit of retail therapy!
The rain had started (again! Thats everyday since I’ve been in Turkey!) so we decided to stay in the cover of the Bazaar and found some lunch at one of the many stalls.
After our delicious lunch of chicken kebabs, we braved the slight drizzle and headed down to the Blue Mosque to finally see what everyone has been raving about. The line was huge, but we joined anyway. It was the main attraction in the city of Istanbul and we couldn’t not see it.
The Blue Mosque (Sultan Ahmed Mosque) is the largest and most impressive mosques in Istanbul. Named for its blue tiled interior, the Blue Mosque was built between 1609 to 1616 and it still actively used as a mosque today. In fact, the mosque closes five times a day for the daily prayers and non worshippers are not allowed to visit, which can make seeing the inside of the Blue Mosque a little tricky. K and I timed it well and by the time we reached the entrance there was 15 minutes before the next call to prayer. We took off our shoes and borrowed some scarves to cover our legs and headed in. The wait in line was definitely worth it, the interior is incredible. The dome shaped roof capture the light, which beam down throughout the mosque. The visitors area is rather small in comparison to the whole so it was hard to see the whole place. We stayed for a little while, heads tilted back staring at the roof. It truly is an impressive building. The prayers were starting so we walked out the exit and to our hostel to have a break before dinner.
Dinner was down the street from our hostel, where we gorged ourselves on pita bread, hummus and pudding. We headed back to the hostel for an early night as we were on an early bus out of Istanbul and down to Selçuk the following morning.
Next stop – Selçuk, and the wonders of Pamukkale and the ancient city of Ephesus.