Danni has been here before, her bragging stops now. We're even.
Turkey is a far cry from what we've been living though the past 2-and-a-bit weeks. Not to say the Middle East was bad but I didn't see a blade of green grass or a cloud during our time there. Hitting Istanbul, it's all there.
Clouds, grass, the weather is cooler, it even looks like it could rain.
Istanbul is pretty cool though. We spent our first day there exploring the surrounding area and walking to the shopping centre that was about 3-4 km away (next Olympics I am going to destroy any Kenyan who dares compete against me with all this walking I am doing).
The mall was like any other mall, even similar to Australia. Yet cheaper, which is always good. I was looking for a singlet since I decided it would be awesome to leave them at home when you're visiting places that are in summer all the time. And for some reason, singlets do not exist in Turkey. No idea why, but I could not find one anywhere in the mall.
But it was a good way to waste a few hours and we headed back and browsed some shops and eventually found a singlet...which is actually used as underwear but I wore it proudly. Like Superman does.
We hung around the hotel for a bit, lost Danni's prescription sunglasses somewhere between the Mall and the hotel room. Turned the room upside down trying to find them but no luck whatsoever.
Disappointing but what can you do?
This day was technically the first day of our tour, but really it was just meeting the group we were touring with and the tour leader. Our tour leader, Isil (pronounced Michelle without the M) is nice and very energetic, which is refreshing. She is also incredibly knowledgable about Turkey, which is also handy.
The group is a wide variety of nationalities, a welcome change from just having Aussies and Americans. Though the Aussies outnumber the rest (5 of us), we also have people from America, New Zealand, England, Sweden, Belgium and Japan (who lives in Canada).
After the meet and greet we went for a little walk to a local restaurant where we had dinner and got talking to the others before heading back to our hotel for much needed sleep.
The Blue Mosque from afar
Day 2 of our tour began with breakfast and a tram ride to the Hippodrome, a place where the Ben Hur's of the ancient world did their chariot races. Most of it is gone now, or paved over. The original track is 4 meters below what we stood on and they had something like a 60,000 seat stadia for people to watch and cheer on the chariots. However there are still remnants of the Byzantine days with the half broken Serpent Column, installed to celebrate the Greek victory over the Persians, and the Obelisk of Thutmose III. An Egyptian statue brought over by Theodosius the Great. The statue is in wonderful condition and the Egyptian hieroglyphics haven't faded at all.
The Obelisk of Thutmose III
Nearby was the Blue Mosque. One of the many Mosque's in Istanbul but this one is most famous for the insides being blue. Due to the incredible number of people waiting in line (a bunch of cruise boats arrived) we did not go in. Same with Aya Sofya, located across the courtyard from the Blue Mosque, it is a Mosque with a lot of history. It initially began as a Greek Orthodox church and then turned into a Mosque in 1453 when the Ottomans took over and then became a museum in 1935.
We could have gone in later in the day, but we decided we have 4 days in Istanbul after the tour we can visit it then.
The Serpent pillar
After the mosques we walked to Suleymaniye Mosque (yes, another one). Built in 1550 by the genius architect of Mimar Sinan, it is a mix of Islamic and Byzantine architecture and has 6 minarets made of gold.
Inside it looks like a normal mosque, quiet and comfortable and the main area is huge. The impressive part of the design is that the acoustics are so impressive that the Imam doesn't need to use a microphone for everyone in the room to hear.
All them acoustics.
We stopped for lunch, we had a local dish of rice and salad and a bean soup (which I didn't eat) and then we headed for the Bazaars.
The Bazaars are incredible. The smells of the spices, the crowds, the merchants trying to sell their wares. It was insanely busy as well, the people were crammed in together, pushing past one another trying to get what they want.
That's one thing about Turkey, they don't mind pushing inline when they're in a store.
Once we were finished in the Bazaar we had free time to ourselves. It was a chance to visit the Mosques that we missed but we decided to explore a little more on the way back to our hotel. Being my first foray into Europe, I was fascinated by it all. It's so different to any city I've been in before and Istanbul is so busy.
We basically followed the tram track all the way home, stopping in for some shopping (2-for-1 shorts for the win) and had some dinner (kebabs) before we hoped on the bus for a 12 hour overnight ride to Cappadocia.