Monday, 21 October 2019


Our 2019 trip was slowly winding down with only two short stops to go, the first one was Istanbul. One of the reasons that we decided to go there was that it sits right across the Black Sea and it only takes a couple of hours of flying from Odessa.  We only wanted to stay there for a couple of days before flying to our last destination on our way home.

Here are the highlights of our sojourn in Istanbul:
What I like about travelling around Europe is that there are not many times zones to change and adapt to and it doesn't take long to move between countries.  We left Odessa early in the morning and landed in Istanbul in mid-afternoon that gave us plenty of time to get on a Hop-on Hop-off  bus and get the feel of the city and map the points of interest that we would like to explore later on in more detail.
It was a beautiful warm day and sitting on the top deck was very enjoyable, besides it gave you an amazing perspective of the city from a different point of view.   Istanbul is the major city in Turkey that straddles Europe and Asia across the Bosphorus Strait which we crossed via the Galata Bridge.
As the bus went from one designated stop to another, we couldn't help but notice the clothes that people wore, the signs in the windows of shops and cafes, the trees that lined the streets, the colours and architecture of the buildings, everything looked totally different from the places that we had seen earlier on our trip.

When the bus pulled up at the Egyptian Spice Bazaar stop, we jumped off.  I love markets of all kinds and couldn't miss a visit this one.  It's the largest bazaar in the city and is the most famous covered shopping centre after the Grand Bazaar.
As we stepped inside the bazaar, we instantly became intoxicated with the aromas of spices coming from every direction and were much taken by its interiors.
Although its called the Spice Bazaar, there are a lot of other things that you can buy there:  sweets, dates, souvenirs, household items and even clothes.  The stallholders, all men, were very generous when it came to trying their wares but after eating a few dates and a couple of lollies we felt quite sick from all this sweetness and were happy just to look without trying.
We did however, enjoy tasting different kinds of nuts, some of which I had never tasted before.  The whole atmosphere was very joyful, charged with the vendors praising their goods, customers haggling for better prices, locals doing their regular shopping at the souk and a multitude of visitors trying to take it all in.
It was close to dinner time when we left the bazaar and settled for light dinner of local fried fish accompanied by a fresh salad at one of the myriads of restaurants that surround the area.  After dinner we walked all the way back to our hotel and feeling totally exhausted, crashed the bed.
Then next morning, refreshed and recharged, we left our hotel to continue exploring Istanbul.  We stayed at Arcadia Blue hotel located in historic Sultanahmet district within walking distance of some of the main attractions of Istanbul, Hagia Sophia Museum, the Blue Mosque and Topkapi Palace.
You can get a stunning view over the Sea of Marmara from the most of hotel's rooms and the rooftop breakfast area.

The first stop was at the Blue Mosque.  According to Muslim law, women must cover their head, shoulders and knees before entering a mosque.  I had a scarf with me that covered my head, but when one of the guards saw that my skirt came just above my knees, he stopped me from entering and pointed to a small shelter nearby where you can borrow a long piece of cloth to wrap around your waist, only then was entrance granted.  Sadly, due to ongoing construction everywhere, most of the inside walls and and other interior elements were covered for protection and there was not much left to see.
We left the Blue Mosque rather disappointed and set out on foot towards Hagia Sophia Museum which was just a short stroll away.

Hagia Sophia has seen a few incarnations:  it was a Greek Orthodox patriarchal cathedral, later an Ottoman imperial mosque and now a museum.  While we were queueing for tickets to get in, a random guy approached us and offered to give us a free private tour providing that we paid for our tickets ourselves.
He was wearing credentials of the the Official Tour Guide of city of Istanbul, looked very decent and we figured that it would do us no harm to get a private tour for free, besides by using his services iyt also gave us the possibility of skipping the line.  Few other people joined us and withing two minutes we were inside.  Our guide turned out to be extremely knowledgeable about the history of the place and his country in general.
During the tour we learned about local traditions, religion, and historical names and events of the past so we could have a better understanding of Turkey of today.  Dipping into a different culture was quite an eye opening experience for us as we listened to our guide with great interest. 

At the end of the tour, he suggested us a few options of what we should see next and we happily accepted.  Then my husband came up with the idea to hire him for the rest of the day, his time was not for free, of course😄 and with that we set out towards Topkapi Palace with him.

The Palace was built in the 15th century as the primary residence for the Ottoman sultans and their families.  It was the first time in my life that I saw what was a harem building for the sultan's many wives and concubines and learned interesting facts about the intricacies of the lives of its occupants.

As we walked from one compound of the palace to the next, we couldn't help but notice how everything looked quite different to what we have seen before and we admired the skills of architects, gardeners and all other artisans that made this place look so beautiful.

Once the tour was completed, our guide suggested to take us to the Grand Bazaar but since we already been to the Spice Bazaar, he suggested that we should take a stroll along Istiklal Street, the most famous and longest avenue in Istanbul.
Located in the historic district of Beyoglu, this elegant pedestrian long street houses clothes boutiques, art galleries, book and music stores, cinema and art houses as well as myriads of cafes, pubs, restaurants and patisseries not to mention the street ice-cream carts where vendors dressed in regional dress costumes sell traditional Turkish ice-cream by way of performing amazing tricks with the punters.  We gladly agreed and after a short train ride we disembarked at very busy Taksim Square and joined a throng of people who were about to do the same as us.
Walking slowly towards the Galata Bridge, we admired the wide representation of different architectural styles of the buildings:  Art-Deco, Neo-Classical, Art-Nouveau and many other elegant looking structures that lined both sides of this lovely pedestrian thoroughfare.
Our guide insisted that we should taste the ice-cream and steered us towards one of the many ice-cream carts spread around.  We chose the flavours that we liked and then were treated by the vendor to an act, that is very hard to describe, something between a prank and a juggling and until today I regret that I didn't record it.😞

It took us just over an hour to slowly make our way from one end to the other and we thoroughly enjoyed it.  Just before we said goodbye to our guide and thanked him for such an interesting day, we asked him for his dinner recommendation and he suggested that we should have it in one of the many seafood restaurants housed beneath the Galata Bridge which not only cook delicious seafood dishes but offer a stunning view over the Bosphorus and beyond and so we did. 
Afterwards, we took a last walk along the bridge smiling at fishermen lining the fence all along the bridge in hope to catch a decent fish that they then can sell to the restaurants below then caught a taxi that took us to our hotel as the next day we were on our way to our last destination, Tbilisi but that is for the next post.
Until then,