I mentioned something about the lines in part 1. To expand on that:
We flew Pegasus Airlines from Austria so arrived in Istanbul through the smaller & newer airport on the Asian side, Sabiha Gökçen. That was easy to navigate and with no lines whatsoever it took us all of two minutes to get our visas and head to baggage claim. I can’t say it’s that easy all the time, but definitely worth the much lesser price to get your Turkish visa at the airport of entry rather than at a consulate beforehand.
But I digress: lines. We landed during rush hour on a Friday evening. The drive (we sprung for the hotel to have a driver pick us up at the airport—highly recommended) to our hotel was long and full of our first taste of Istanbul traffic. Bumper to bumper the entire drive, until we crossed into Old Town. The most surprising thing to me about the drive was how large the cars were. I was expecting the tiny cars that you’d find in other really old European cities—but no, most cars were what Americans would consider regular-sized sedans. Mega SUVs were noticeably absent though.
Again, back to lines. On Saturday, lines into attractions were short. The wait to get into the Blue Mosque was a bit longer than expected, but only because everyone takes off their shoes before going in. This is not optional. And yet one more reason why easy on/easy off shoes are a necessity when traveling. You do get a plastic bag to carry your shoes in, which happily can be recycled when you leave through the other side of the mosque.
On Sunday and after, the more typical line length:
This was the line to take an elevator to the top of the Galata Tower in the new district, the best view in the city. Lines at Topkapi Palace into the various exhibits were (each) longer. Brother and I had plenty of time to laugh & imagine how 3o-odd years ago when our parents visited Istanbul, they probably could have picked up any of the jewels or weapons at at the palace and had a grand time trying them out, with no one around to tell them to stop or holding up any lines. Not the case now—after waiting half an hour to get into an exhibit, security hustled you along for an approximate 2-second walk-by glance at the artifacts. Mostly Common Sense Moral of the Story: if you want to go to museums & sights & spend quality time, visit Istanbul at times other than popular travel holidays.
The rest of the scenes & buildings of Istanbul above, in order:
Coming back into the city after a day cruise up the Bosphorus and back, the Blue Mosque and Galata bridge with fishermen still at work and fish sandwich vendors beneath glow at dusk.
Basilica Cistern—this underground area used to hold the water supply for the city, now decoratively holds water with koi and occasionally holds concerts.
View of Old Town from atop the Galata Tower. We were lucky enough to be up here when the afternoon call to prayer rang out around the city. Every mosque has their own, so you hear the call repeated and echoing from every direction. The first time you hear this if not used to it, it’s hauntingly beautiful. Here on top of the city, the sun broke out of the clouds above the mosque right when the call to prayer started, and I was speechless. Were I a spiritual person, this would have had to be taken as a sign of some sort.
A small town up the river. Apologies that I forget which one, but this very well could be the end stop of the river cruise before the Black Sea, Anadolu Kavağı. Not part of Istanbul like this post’s title would lead you to believe, but just a boat ride away. A boat ride where vendors are constantly walking the decks & selling hot tea. Delightful to have on a chilly boat ride in January.
The view from the terrace of our hotel, Hotel Sultan Hill. Which in late December/early January was very windy. But still a lovely view. We were also very close to the Sea of Marmara, hence all of the seagulls flying around the mosque.
I went running early one morning along the path by the Sea of Marmara—judging by the reaction of several men in white vans (who I’m guessing were either delivery men or hired drivers), a woman in form-fitting clothing running alone in the morning was not such a common occurrence. The (adorable) front desk guy at the hotel seemed a bit surprised when I headed out that morning as well. But not dissuaded, the morning jog gave me an opportunity to see typical morning activity I otherwise wouldn’t have: lone fishermen balancing on the rocks, a group of men bathing in the cold water partially (modestly) clothed, and of course the ubiquitous cats & seagulls.