Sunday, October 4, 2015

Exploring Istanbul: Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque, and more!

I hope you like pictures, because Istanbul is rather photogenic and we had a lot of adventures today.

We started off with a fantastic breakfast at our hotel (Edibe Sultan). It was such a good spread of food with lots of options, all turkish.

This was round one. I ended up getting 3 plates.

We're staying in Sultanahmet, which is old town Istanbul. We're within walking distance to pretty much everything, which is why we chose this location. We started off wandering over to the Hippodrome, which features a few obelisks from Emperor Constantine's reign.

The Hippodrome is a large, long open plaza where they organized chariot races.

Next to the Hippodrome is the Sultan Ahmed Mosque, aka the "Blue Mosque" although we're not sure why. We were expecting MUCH more blue inside than this.

Women are required to wear a scarf or hijab or something inside the mosque and on mosque grounds.

It's very pretty. And very popular.

Most people here wait their turns to take pictures, but some are rude. This guy was rude. He pretty much pushed Isa away from the column so he could get the shot he wanted. So we took his picture.

We really loved how complicated the architecture was. And yet they made it seem so simple and elegant when you take in the whole scene.

Really beautiful, and at a free price tag, it was a perfect start to Istanbul.

Next, we crossed the Sultan Ahmet Square, which had a water fountain with great views back to the Blue Mosque...

And also to Hagia Sophia, which sits opposite the Blue Mosque on the square. By the way, if you want to know what I look like when I'm vlogging, here you go.

The vlogging ends up on YouTube, here:

Across the square, we headed into Hagia Sophia, or Aya Sofya, or Saint Sophia, whatever you'd like to call it. It's been on my bucket list for ages, and I was beyond excited to be here.

One of the cool things about Hagia Sophia, besides its sheer size, is the juxtaposition of Christian and Islamic elements in the same space. Here you can see Mary and baby Jesus in the apse above an Islamic minbar (the stairs for sermons).

Here's another.

Hagia Sophia has an interesting history, basically going from Christian to Islam to Secular. It's one of the most unique buildings in the world, probably most well known because it's the best example of Byzantine architecture. It's so big and cool that even though it was originally built as a Christian church, all Islamic mosques are kind of based on its design, with the big dome and all the arches and apses.

Just to give you an idea of the size of this place...

It's hard to capture on camera. It's one of those places you just have to see for yourself. It's two floors, with lots more to see than I have pictures of (watch the video above for more). On the second floor, you also get a view of Sultan Ahmed Mosque.

And if the size of the place isn't enough to wow you, look closely at the details in the mosaics. They're pretty dang amazing.

We followed our visit to Hagia Sophia with a good lunch at Masal Restaurant.

Isa got the Köfte (turkish meatballs) and I got the chicken sauté. Both were delicious. And the oddly added french fries (we did not order those on purpose) were not bad either. There were also french fries in last night's kebap. Weird.

With our bellies full, we wandered over to Basilica Cistern, which I knew nothing about. I thought it was a church (which makes sense when "basilica" is in the name). But no, a cistern is basically an underground reservoir. And this one is particularly cool because of 1. how big it is (holds almost 21 million gallons of water!), 2. the variance of column styles, and 3. the lighting.

And yes, fish live in the water.

By the way, how cool is this camera to shoot these pics handheld without a flash?! (Canon G7X)

Not to be missed are the two medusa columns all the way in the back left of the cistern. One is on its side, the other is upside down. There's no real explanation for either, I think the architects were just playing around thinking nobody would ever see them (since this is the farthest corner and these are facing the wall in the back, on the base so they'd be submerged in water all the time).

One of the other fun things down here is an old-timey photo thing where they dress you up in "traditional" turkish attire. They told Isa to smile because women always smile, but they told me to be serious, which is one of the hardest things I did all day.

It only cost $7USD (20 lira) for the picture and a frame. So awesome. And I guess this was our first professional pictures taken since our wedding. Nice!

Then we wandered over to Gulhane Park (pronounced "gul-ha-nay") where Isa attacked me...

And then tried to act all innocent.

And then down to the water (Bosphorus Strait).

We explored some cool, winding side streets on the way back into town stopping at Sultan Ahmet mosque for sunset...

...and then back to the hotel for a quick rest and then off to dinner. Aside from the dark, creepy, empty streets we took to get to the restaurant, the restaurant was amazing. We highly recommend Old Ottoman Cafe for when you're in Istanbul.

They topped off a truly great meal with free dessert and apple tea, which was delicious.

After a great dinner, we strolled back to Sultan Ahmet Square to take some night pictures of Hagia Sophia.

Seriously great day in Istanbul.

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