Monday, September 17, 2012

Istanbul, Turkey - Day 2

Excited for Day 2 in Istanbul!

We spent a majority of our second day in Istanbul visiting mosques. You'd think "see one, you've seen them all" but they were truly all so different. They were just massive. The mosaics decorating the insides of the mosques were stunning and the detail was so intricate. We were so impressed and fascinated with them!

We woke up fairly early so we walked into the city and crossed the Galata Bridge, which spans the Golden Horn. Underneath the two sides of the bridge are several restaurants and cafes. Since it was so early in the morning, not many of them were open so we walked along the pedestrian path on the top of the bridge, which is lined with hopeful fishermen.

Istanbul has several markets - one of the most famous being the spice market. It smelled wonderful and had all kinds of crazy spices we had never even heard of. We were tempted to bring some home with us and wished we had looked up Turkish recipes before we went so that we knew what to get! There were too many to choose from and we were overwhelmed so we came home empty-handed.

The first mosque of the day was the Mosque of S├╝leyman the Magnificent. Of all the touristy spots we hit, this was the least crowded and had the best view (also, we were up high enough that we got an amazing breeze!). The mosque and the grounds were recently renovated and just gorgeous.



One very nice thing about visiting mosques versus churches, is that the mosques provide you with cover-up clothing. Inside the mosques, women have to cover both their knees and shoulders, and they provide a shawl or a wrap around skirt, or both - whatever you needed. Men are also supposed to wear long pants but that wasn't always enforced. Both men and women are required to remove their shoes, so they give you a plastic bag to carry them with you, which was very convenient so you don't lose your shoes or mistake them for someone else's. However in all the churches we visited in Venice and other cities where women were required to cover their shoulders, if you weren't already wearing the proper attire you weren't allowed to go in. I carried a white shrug with me everywhere on this trip so that if and when I needed it, I could visit any church/mosque. I was glad we learned on the first day that the mosques provide you with skirts so that I didn't have to wear long, hot clothing the second day. I really appreciated this - well done, Turkey.


The courtyard outside the mosque overlooks the Golden Horn and the Bosphorus Strait. Again you can (barely) see the Bosphorus Bridge to the right in the picture below.

Golden Horn

View of Asia across the Bosphorus Strait

 As we made our way back to the Old Town area, we passed through the Grand Bazaar. We found that most of the shops sold the same things, over and over. It was interesting to see, but we didn't buy anything. And every time I took a picture, I got hassled because the vendors thought I wanted to buy something...

Up next on our must-see list was the Hagia Sophia. The ticket line was atrocious, but luckily some guy saw how pissed we were about the line, and asked if we would like to cut everyone for just 10 Lira (about $5 USD) using his group pass. We were a little skeptical and waited until after we got through the gate to pay him, but it worked. Totally worth it!

The Nave - overwhelmingly enormous.

Mosaic of Mary and the Christ Child, on the underside of the dome

Each mosque also has a mihrab, which is a niche or chamber that indicates the precise direction of Mecca for Muslims to face during prayer.

the mihrab

on the winding, never-ending ramp up to the second floor - not our favorite passageway

view of the Nave from the second floor

The second floor contains several beautiful mosaics in the Upper Galleries. All of them have been at least partially damaged over the years, but the remaining pieces are spectacular.

Deesis Mosaic: the Virgin Mary, Jesus, and John the Baptist

Mosaic of the Virgin and Child with Emperor John Comnenus and Empress Irene

Mosaic of Christ with Emperor Constantine IX Monomachus and Empress Zoe

Mosaic of the Donors (Virgin Mary and Christ with Constantine and Justinian)

We had lunch during the mid-day call to prayer, when all the mosques are closed to the public. We went to the Pudding Shop, which is a world famous restaurant for travelers. The food was amazing and very cheap. I don't drink caffeine very often, but sometimes I just want a nice cold coca-cola. I thought Turkish coke was even better than back home.

Bo and the host/waiter/chef

We also visited the Underground Basilica Cistern during the call to prayer. Some of you may recognize it from James Bond: From Russia with Love (Bo's favorite). It was pretty cool and only took about 20 minutes to walk through it.

 Once we were done at the cistern, the call to prayer was over and we walked to the Blue Mosque. Similar to the Hagia Sophia, it is really difficult to describe just how gigantic these buildings are. We thought the Blue Mosque was the prettiest of all the mosques we visited.


Each mosque has a dividing gate towards the back and only worshipers can go past this point; visitors must stay behind it. That said, there was still plenty of room to take in the sheer vastness of the building.

We finished sightseeing in the late afternoon, and sadly our time in Istanbul was up so we headed back to the ship. We took the tram to the port station - I would compare this to the Marta system here in Atlanta. Hot, smelly, and crowded. But cheap! We were very glad we only had to go a few stops :)

Back on the ship, we sat on the top deck to get some sun as we enjoyed watching us sail away to our next destination. Drink in hand, of course ;)

Bosphorus Bridge - Europe to the left, Asia to the right

Goodbye, Istanbul...we already can't wait to go back!

at dinner that night - LOVING this cruise!!


  1. Amazing :) !!! Great pic of your husband and you at the end... Looks like you guys had a blast!

  2. I've already emailed Stephen to tell him we're going to Istanbul. It's been on my list of places to visit for a long time and since you guys enjoyed it so much, we have to go!
    I'm obsessed with your cruise. We want a European trip next year, you may have sold me on a cruise. Can't wait for your next post!!

    1. Awesome! Obviously, I highly highly recommend it!! Let me know if you decide to do a cruise, we've done a lot of research and have quite a few tour books since we cruised the Western Mediterranean on our honeymoon. We LOVE cruising and would be glad to help if we can!


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