Thursday, 7 June 2012

day 2: sightseeing in istanbul

my tour of istanbul began at 8.30am, when my tour guide came to meet me at the lobby after breakfast. we walked over to another hotel nearby to pick up another couple and we were good to go.

first stop was the blue mosque. as it was a functioning mosque, we had to remove our shoes and wear modestly. the other lady in my group wore a sleeveless top, so she had to cover up with a shawl, which was provided at the entrance.

plastic bags provided for us to carry our shoes in.

the blue mosque got its name not from its exterior, but from the mostly blue hues of the tiles used in its interior.

the restricted part of the mosque, for prayers.

at the outer courtyard of the blue mosque... that's my lady guide, named gul (sounds like ghoul!) and a half of the couple in my tour group.

next on the itinerary was the hagia sofia (pronounced "aya sofia") mosque. this is not a functioning mosque, hence no carpeting and flash photography is allowed.

it was originally a church which was later converted into a mosque, so this is not something you see everyday - the image of the virgin mary flanked by the arabic letters of allah and prophet mohammed.

this is probably the only mosque that has human form images... having human form images on the walls of a mosque is akin to paganism, hence forbidden. when the church was first converted into a mosque, all the faces of the seraphims (god's protector angels with 6 wings) were being covered up with plasters and was only revealed again 160 years later.

going up to the upper story... in the olden days, the queen will be carried up this long and winding passage by monks to watch the coronation of the king below from the upper balcony. this passage goes round and round, as if going up to a tower, which reminded me of those fairy tales where the princess is being held prisoner by her wicked stepmother or other evil villain!

the remains of a wall mosaic on the upper floor, showing the virgin mary and father joseph asking forgiveness from jesus for the sins of humans. these mosaics were also hidden in layers of plaster and were only revealed when hagia sofia became a museum. part of the mosaic was damaged during the removal of the plaster...

another wall mosaic with virgin mary holding the baby jesus (jesus's images always have a halo with a cross on them), flanked by empress zoe and her husband. empress zoe had many husbands, so every time she remarried, they would just remove the head part of her previous husband and redo the mosaic to show her current husband's face... how clever and convenient, right? :D

the baptism tub for adults in the courtyard, which was not used after the church was converted into a mosque

hagia sofia was the end of the tour for the husband and wife team in my group. so we parted ways, and since it was still early for lunch, gul suggested that we walk over to the spice bazaar. it's quite a long walk, and even though the weather was sunny, the air was cool and crisp. so it wasn't a particularly tiring walk, and besides, it gave me plenty of opportunities to take in the sights of the city.

they noticed that i was snapping their photos, so they turned and smiled into the camera for me. how friendly!

some of the stuff sold in the spice bazaar, clockwise from top left: turkish glass lamps, spices, handmade soaps, teas, gigantic cheese, dried fruits and turkish delights

after spice bazaar, we took the tram back to sultanahmet (where my hotel and the blue mosque is) for lunch. lunch was included in my tour package and i chose the chicken kebab again.

after lunch, the tour agent arranged for me to join another group to go for the cruise up the bosphorus. but before that we were brought to a carpet shop, the first of many that i will visit during my trip. there, we were being served coffee/tea while they introduced to us the art of carpet making as well as the difference between turkish carpets and those from other countries. then, of course they tried to sell us their carpets but i dun think anyone bought any.

after the stop at the carpet store, we were driven to the spice bazaar again! zzzZZZzzZzz... if i'd known the spice bazaar was in the itinerary, i'd have requested my guide to bring me to the basilica cistern instead. even though it's not part of our itinerary, i think she won't mind bringing me there if i pay for the entrance fee. furthermore, it is very near the hagia sofia and we won't need to walk so far as compared to walking to the spice bazaar!

on the cruise ship up the bosphorus.

the bosphorus is the turkish strait that separates turkey into the european and asian parts. first, the cruise brings us up the strait along the european side where we can see the sights (houses and buildings) with a more european influence. then halfway up the strait, the cruise made a turn and cruised down along the asian side. the whole cruise was very scenic, but it got quite cold after a while that everyone was desperate to get off towards the end!

the dolmabahce palace along the bosphorus. i wish we had stayed an extra day in istanbul so that we could include this into our itinerary. guess i'll just have come back here again... ;)

the bridge connecting the european turkey and the asian turkey. according to my guide, in the early years when the bridge was opened, pedestrians were allowed to walk across it. however, due to the high suicide rates, pedestrians are not allowed anymore. so now, anyone who wishes to jump down the bridge would take a taxi during rush hour, where they could just open the door and jump down when the taxi was caught in the jam!

next, we were driven up the pierre loti hill, a popular weekend destination for the locals here. the air was quite cool up here, with a magnificent view of the golden horn, an inlet in the bosphorus.

from pierre loti hill, we took the cable car down to where our van was waiting to bring us back to our hotels.

back at sultanahmet, i ventured out again in search of dinner... a friend on fb recommended that i try their fish, as istanbul is just by the marmara sea, hence seafood is really fresh here. there are a lot of establishments selling fish this way, with an ice box right outside their shop displaying the assortment of sea creatures they have to offer that day.

no, that's not the fish i ordered. the guy was just being drama, wanna take a photo with me! and that's his uncle behind there, giving us horns on our heads! (>_<)

it's quite a nice restaurant, with their waiters in jackets n ties! i sat outside to enjoy the lovely weather...

my dinner, clockwise from top: sea bass were only served one way - grilled, dessert of baklavas and seafood appetizers. oh, and apple tea, which was not photographed.

dinner was quite pricey, considering it was just my 2nd day there and i still had to budget my expenses for the rest of my trip. luckily i didn't order wine (who drinks wine alone in a restaurant anyway?), so i could still live with the bill :P

i just happened to look out my hotel window that night, and this view took my breath away. the photo just doesn't do justice to the amazing sight that i saw! here's what i posted on my fb status: "omg, i'm looking at something totally awesome while typing this! pulled open my room curtains n saw the blue mosque all lit up in its majestic splendour. but dat's not it. there r birds (too far away to tell wat kinda birds) juz flying ard overhead n they too r lit up by the lights! at 1st i thot they're fireflies, yes they're dat bright!"

lovely lily finally landed at istanbul in the early hour of 1am, so my sleep was interrupted when i had to drag myself out of bed to open the door for her :)


Biow said...

one day, i shall visit these places as well.. :)

stargal said...

biow, dun "one day, one day". plan for it! turkey is awesome... i'm going back there! :)