Flight to Istanbul was long – 11.5 hours of flying time, but it did not feel that way at all, must be night flights, makes you sleep well.
Flight landed in Istanbul around 5am, before clearing immigration we had to get our VISAs sorted. The process was super quick, interesting was the lack of uniform for the VISA staff, everyone behind the counter were wearing casuals…..must be a very chillx’d place. Immigration was also quick, no forms to be filled out, just a simple check, stamp and thru. Got our luggage and getting out through the green zone was also a breeze, it was around 5:40am when we got out into the arrivals hall. First step was to withdraw some Turkish Lira, then found the Hotel info desk to check if our Hotel would have rooms available to accommodate us 2 days earlier than our booking. Got the green light, the person also sorted out a Taxi (mini van) for us.
Stepping out of the airport, we were hit by the COLD weather of Istanbul, what a difference it was from the HOT and HUMID HongKong weather.
Taxi ride took just over 30 minutes, along the way were numerous historic sites, some good initial sight seeing. Approaching our Hotel, we were starting to get nervous, the Taxi was going through the smallest lanes and the quietest streets, this hotel was supposed to be near all the major sights in Sultanahmet, yet seemed so quite. Hotel was small but clean, the receptionist was very good and polite. The rooms were not available till midday, so another half day to roam about. The receptionist offered us the buffet breakfast which was great, at around 7:30 am we headed out of the hotel to walk around the place – we had another 4.5 hours to kill.
First impression was the better comfort level due to the cooler weather, it felt so nice to be in the fresh cool temperatures rather than the hot humidity of HongKong. The cobblestone paths were very different to the concrete HK region. This place reminded us so much of Switzerland.
Unlike HK, lots of shops/bakery’s were already open, their window displays looked sooo yummy with all the local sweets and baked goodies….
Walking along, we caught the first glimpse of the magnificent Blue Mosque & Hagia Sophia Mosque, both very beautiful structures.
Did not go inside the Mosque, the ladies did not have their head scarves, left that for the evening visit.
Walked around the Mosques towards Topkapi Palace, got to see some amazing sights. Morning viewing was very good and a bonus not many people around. One slight problem, the cool morning breeze was a bit too cold for us. Asked around if there was a shopping centre etc nearby – we needed a place to escape the cold winds – an enclosed place.
We were told to go to Cevahir (pronounced “Jawarhir”) mall. We grabbed a Taxi and headed that way. The mall did not open till 10 am, we still had close to an hour to kill – headed to the Starbucks directly across the place. They had the best White Cholocate Mocha!
It was funny, we were in Starbucks having a coffee waiting for a mall to open so we could do something…… we were now among the crazy people who wait for malls to open then run in, kept joking about that!
Lunch was not that great…..Made our way back to the hotel and checked-in to our rooms around 2 pm. Quick siesta – very much needed, then back on the road at 6:30pm.
The streets that looked nice earlier today, were looking even better with the night lights….. it has a very different feel to it…. very Euro like…
Made our way to the blue mosque and Hagia Sophia…these imposing structures looked magnificent at night…
The Mosque did present a very peaceful environment, similar to what we felt in Amritsar @ the Golden Temple!
Stepped out and across the archways was the Hagia Sophia
Jayesh could not resist the street vendors cooking fresh bread with stuffed potatoes…. that bread was delicious, street food here is sooooo tasty,…….
Heading back to the restaurant areas,… well they are everywhere!, we were going to an area we had walked past earlier and liked, we (and everyone else) were being haggled by every store/restaurant person, trying to pull in customers, people kept trying to guess where we were from, ….guessing India, Pakistan, Iraq, London!!! All getting surprised at the mention of Australia.
Being in Turkey, we had to try Turkish, again as per lunch food was average, nothing to rave on about, for some reason the LAMB in Turkey has a very strong taste to it, or it may be the marinade they use, something different which none of us were liking!
Post dinner, we headed down the streets, it was so much fun to just walk around the place…. stopped by at a traditional Turkish Ice Cream place, the serving process is a show in itself. Very entertaining and fun.
So far, other than the food, Istanbul is looking very promising for our next 8 nights!