Turkey 3: Istanbul, Byzantines and Bosporus

We’re definitely not running out of things to do, but we seem to be running out of days to do them on, even though we’re not running out of time.

Okay, let me backtrack to today. 

Since the museums and Hagia Sophia were closed yesterday, today was our day to check those out.  Hagia Sophia was first up and, for a structure that’s existed in one form or another for 1600 years, it’s doing remarkably well!  The big draw of the Hagia, aside from its massive size, are the old mosaics from the Byzantine era on the inside.  Gotta say, they look impressive as all heck and it’s neat to see a church of that size with pre-Renaissance artwork.  For instance, angels aren’t buff dudes with wings or cute babies, they’re scary, six-winged heads.  True biblical representation.

Museums were up next, as we wandered to the Palace Mosaic Museum, featuring the giant mosaics that have been uncovered from the Byzantine palaces in Istanbul, and the Museum of Archeology, which had quite the collection.  The big draw was the Sarcophagus of Alexander, not named because Alexander the Great was in it, but because it represents one of his famous battles.  The whole Sidon room in the museum is amazingly put together, as was all the museum that wasn’t under reconstruction.  The rest of it looked a bit like pre-Chin Crystal ROM (though better looking on the outside.)

After a failed attempt to get into the History of Islamic Science Museum (not open today, but open tomorrow), we sat down at a pide shop and figured out the plan for the rest of the day.  The two options were Chora Church, a bit far away from the downtown but a must see for its mosaics, or head up to Taksim to see the square (which is post-protest, in the daytime at least) and then wander down to the ferry docks to take a Bosporus cruise.  Since we weren’t too sure about how to get to the Chora Church, we figured the latter would be better.

Pre-emptive spoiler alert: It was and wasn’t.  Chora Church is closed on Wednesday.  We’ll have to catch it when we return to Istanbul. 

We jumped on the fast, cheap, somewhat smelly (B.O.) tram to Taksim, which became a bit more expensive when we had to transfer to a FUNicular up to get to the actual square. 

Now, I can’t speak for what the square looked like before we got here, but it’s quiet now.  You can still tell both sides are “geared”, as there are some quiet protesters standing in the middle of the square in the day and a heavier police presence than I’ve seen in other part of Istanbul, but overall, it looks like “situation normal” to somebody just walking through.  We wandered down the main street, Istiklal Caddesi, which was reminiscent of Queen Street West in Toronto.  It was the busiest Turk-centric place in the city we’ve been thus far, with crowds of people gently making way for cute little streetcars that made their way up from the Galata neighbourhood to the square.  The wander down was interesting, in that we saw TWO pride flags, one being carried by a lone walker and the other hanging over a tea shop called “Sugar and Spice”.  Thinking back, I can’t remember too much traditional Islamic garb on the street, especially compared to the other neighbourhoods we’ve been in.

Once we were done walking down from Taksim, it was time for our Bosporus Cruise! 

Interesting street food fact about Istanbul: Corn is everywhere!  Like, instead of hot dog stands (which I get, they can’t make over here), you can spend a lira fifty on corn on the cob, cooked fresh in the street.  Haven’t tried it, don’t know that I will, but as we were getting ready to get on the boat, the following line actually came from Daina;

“I don’t think I can handle the rocking and the smell of corn.”

I’m glad he did, because the cruise was an awesome experience!

There’s a lot of Istanbul that’s best seen from the water, including a few old palaces, mosques (of course) and the famous Leandros Tower (or Maiden’s Tower), which used to be used for pulling a chain across the Bosporus when the Ottomans decided they didn’t want anybody crossing.  The sun and the up and down of the waves made it pretty soothing, though the combination of bad Eurobeats and 80s rock (Eye of the Tiger was just one of the good ones) kept it awake.  I’ve always thought that, in general, Europe was a good mix of techno and the eighties, and the cruise proved it.

After the cruise, we wandered up to the Spice Bazaar in hopes of getting some more honey balls, but had to settle for a honey stick and some chicken pide.  No big loss there, if you ask me, as we slowly try to claw back some of the lost funds from our extravagant seafood bonanza from night one. 

Back at the hotel, we discovered that our 7:40 flight to Ankara would require a 3:00 am shuttle transfer unless we wanted to pay a ridiculous amount for a private car.  Fortunately, we avoided that by switching the flight – I had to buy a flex fare since I purchased the flight a bit late in the game – so we can actually get a decent sleep.

Tomorrow has been thrown into a bit of flux, with the Chora Church being closed.  There’s another popular palace in town we can check out, the aforementioned technology museum and, at some point, a hammam experience in a hundreds of years old building.  Again, we didn’t run out of time, nor are we wont for things to do, we just can’t do the one we want tomorrow.

So, we’ll let you know!

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