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Istanbul, Turkey, Day 2

Blue Mosque

Blue Mosque


Ezra didn’t sleep very much on our first night.  In fact, we were up til 3:30am with him.  In the morning I went out to purchase nescafe instant coffee, yogurts, and packaged pancakes for breakfast.  As it was Sunday morning the streets were pretty quiet.  After eating breakfast in our living room, Ezra and Beth Ann napped on the couch while I prepared the day pack for our outing.  Finally, we headed out around 11:30am, a late start for us but we have a third traveler with us, after all!  We walked up Istiklal Caddesi to Taksim Square, a central landmark of the Beyoglu neighborhood which is named after its stone taksim (reservoir).  In the center of the square the Cumhuriyet Aniti (Republic Monument) features Ataturk and his successor Ismet Inonu. From there we caught a taxi to Sultanahmet.  Before getting in the taxi I asked the taxi driver to write the estimated price in our notebook, to which he smirkingly agreed.

Sultanahmet is the old section of Istanbul in which several of the major sights are located.  It also very touristy, filled with souvenir shops, hotels, and restaurants catering to visitors.  We strolled around Sultanahmet Park to figure out the locations and opening times of the various sights.  Up a small hill we got a beautiful view of the Blue Mosque and its six soaring minarets.  After that, it was time for lunch!  Unfortunately, we’ve gotten rusty since Operation Wanderlust and we walked into the first restaurant we found on the main street.  I got lamb doner kebab and Beth Ann got chicken doner kebab.  The food was mediocre and expensive (TL10) given that a doner kebab from a takeaway shop would have run us TL2.

With full bellies we proceeded to the Blue Mosque (Sultan Ahmet Camii) which was constructed between 1610 and 1616 by Sultan Ahmet I.  Visitors are required to remove their shoes and carry them.  The interior of the mosque was breathtaking.  The large dome is intricate decorated and supported by four large “elephant’s feet” columns.  An imam was reading verses from the Koran while men prayed in the central area.  Women are required to pray in a separate smaller section in the back.  There was also a balcony open to women but Beth Ann was denied entrance.

Back outside we continued on to the Aya Sofya museum.  This beautiful building was constructed as a church in 537 by Emperor Justinian.  Later, in 1453, Mehmet the Conqueror had it converted into a mosque.  In 1935, it was proclaimed a museum.  The beautiful interior dome is supported by columns hidden in the walls, which gives an illusion that it is floating.  Several large 19th century medallions hang around the interior space, engraved with the names of Allah, Mohammed, and several early caliphs.  On the mezzanine, Ezra started to get antsy so Beth Ann fed him in a corner and then we let him crawl around for a bit.  After exiting the Aya Sofya we changed Ezra’s diaper at the bathroom and took a stroll around Sultanahmet.  Pleasant area but a little too touristy for our liking.  We stopped at a cafe for a refreshing apple tea and nescafe break.

Basilica Cistern

Basilica Cistern

After our break we managed to enter the Basilica Cistern just before closing.  This was a neat highlight of the day, an underground water storage area built by Emperor Justinian in 532.  336 atmospherically lit columns stand in shallow water supporting the ceiling.  An elevated walkway winds through the cistern and two Medusa head carvings can be found in the rear area.  Leaving the cistern we walked downhill to the tram.  Along the way a man motioned to me that he wanted to hold Ezra but BA didn’t think it was a good idea.  Later we realized that everyone in this country loves babies and wants to hold Ezra!  The tram took us two stops to the Galata bridge which connects Sultanahmet with Karakoy and Beyoglu.  From the bridge several mosques and the Istanbul skyline are visible, as well as Asia across the Bosphorus.  People fish from the top of the bridge, while bars and fish restaurants line the bottom level.  We stopped for a beer and tea to enjoy the sunset.  Ezra didn’t enjoy it, however, so we left before he had a full meltdown.  Across the bridge we caught a taxi up to Taksim Square.  For dinner we managed to locate the Medi Sark Sofrasi restaurant described in our guidebook, where we feasted on kebabs, babam ekmek (‘my father’s bread’), ayran yogurt drinks, and a tasty salad.  Both of us started nodding off near the end of our meal so we beat a hasty retreat back to the apartment.

Lodging: Istanbul Apartments

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