Okay, let’s go back to Istanbul travelogues. This is the first among few travelogues planned.
Finally the day has come. We were on Airbus of Jazeera Airways that took us to Sabiha Gökçen Airport , Istanbul. Although it is no-frills airline (i.e. you need to buy meals onboard, 0.5L water is 0.5KD), this budget airline was excellent: new plane, punctual, big baggage allowance (20kg), and economic. But these come with cost: depart 9 PM from Doha, transit in Kuwait City and arrive early morning, 2.45 AM in Istanbul. Transit in Kuwait City was unpleasant one; arrived at Arrival Terminal we were quiet puzzled as to where to go because there were no signs whatsoever that could direct us to transit terminal until somebody recognized us and directed us upstairs. Oh thanks Kuwait.
Arrived at Sabiha Gokcen Airport, I saw a long queue of people seeking for visa-on-arrival. Fortunately we had a pre-obtained visa from Turkish Embassy in Qatar so that an immigration check was very quick. The immigration officer was polite and helpful despite his limitation in English.
Sabiha Gökçen Airport (http://www.sgairport.com/havaalani/eng/start.asp) is named after the first female combat pilot in the world and the first Turkish aviatrix . The airport is located 35 km southeast of central Istanbul, on the Asian side of bi-continental city.
The trip from airport to Sultanahmet was merely 45 minutes, owing to early morning traffic. We had an airport transfer from Erboy Hotel (http://www.erboyhotel.com) for we stay 7 nights. Taxi will normally cost you about 80 TL (1-4 people) or 120 TL (5-80 people).
Early Morning Advantages
We could not have early check-in whereas all other rooms were also fully booked. So, stranded at the lobby we decided to take a walk to Sultanahmet for Subuh prayer. That early morning, amidst freezing temperature, we walked up tramvay from Gulhane to Sultanahmet. The decision seemed paid off. Streets were free of traffic, very quiet, and serenity was just excellent. Old city buildings, clean streets, warm lights, blue sky that provided constrasted background to yellow-lighted Blue Mosque made an attractive picture. We can’t stop clicking our camera shutter release to capture this wonderful view.
What is blue in Blue Mosque?
Blue Mosque that morning was hushed; no tourist crowd, while prayers might already finish their ritual. Only 8 of us inside the mosque, performed subuh prayer with prior cold-to-bone ablution. Finished praying we stay for a while enjoying the magnificent view of Blue Mosque interior. You must be wonder why this camii is called Blue Mosque.
The Sultan Ahmed Mosque is popularly known as the Blue Mosque for the blue tiles adorning the walls of its interior.It was built between 1609 and 1616, during the rule of Ahmed I. With this mosque, Sultan Ahmet I, set out to build a monument that would rival and even surpass the nearby Aya Sofya in grandeur and beauty. (Wikipedia and Lonely Planet)
Rather than walking straight from Sultanahmet Park through the crowds, I’ll suggest that you approach the mosque via the middle of the Hippodrome. This way you will be able to fully appreciate the mosque’s design.Once you’re iInside the courtyard you’ll be able to appreciate the perfect proportions of the building.
Huddled around Blue Mosque is a tomb of the founder (Sultan Ahmet I) on the north side facing Sultanahmet Park, an imaret (soup kitchen) to serve the poor, a hamam, a medrese (theological college) and shops (the Arasta Bazaar) to upkeep the mosque from the rent fee collected.
Try to see this mosque twice: during the day and night. See how you feel the differences.
Istanbul in 1.5 hours
If you have only limited time in Istanbul or need to have a quick orientation over main city attractions, look no further, buy a 20 Euro ticket from a red tour-booth in Sultanahmet Square and hop-on the open-top double-decker sightseeing tour bus. Bear in mind that the bus can be fully occupied. That happened to us. Bought tickets for 10 AM departure, the bus has already fully occupied, primarily on its open –top seats.
The bus is scheduled to depart hourly from bus stop at Sultanahmet Park with last departure at 5 PM.
We finally got the seats for the last departure. The bus crawled on tramvay to Gulhane Park then to Sirkeci Station. From here, bus was crossing Galata Bridge to Kadikoy, Tophane, and Dolmabahce. Taksim is the next destination. Flowing down the road to Beyoglu, the bus again crossing Golden Horn to Western areas of Istanbul, passing cable car station to Pierre Lotti. The bus then made a U-turn to stoll along the perimeter road of City Walls up to intersection to yenikapi, then back to Sultanahmet.
It was so enthralling to be able to see the pulses of life of Istanbul from above: narrow streets, street vendors, traffic, people, almost-all historical sights and touristic objects, amidst cold wind. Do remember that during winter, temperature can be freezing and you won’t be able to enjoy the trip freely as the top window will be shut.
To help you appreciate the trip, the bus operator provides you a headphone for listening to pre-recorded guides with as many as 11 language options. Plus music background that Ialways remember their lyrics and beats: ….”Istanbul….istanbul….ramazan…ramazan….”…. (hahaha….I’m not sure the actual song is!)
Escape the crowd at Sultanahmet, sank into this cistern
The street that you are stepping on in Sultanahmet Area may be located above this cistern. Covering an area of 65m wide and 143m long underground, this extraordinary subterranean structure is the largest surviving Byzantine cistern in Istanbul. The cistern, located 500 feet (150 m) west of the Hagia Sophia was built in the 6th century during the reign of Byzantine Emperor Justinian I.
The cistern’s roof is supported by 336 columns arranged in 12 rows. Designed to store 80,000 cubic meters of water, this cistern is built to supply water for Topkapi Palace. The cistern is surrounded by a firebrick wall with a thickness of 4 metres (13 ft) and coated with a waterproofing mortar. The cistern’s water was provided from the Belgrade Woods—which lie 19 kilometres (12 mi) north of the city—via aqueducts built by the Emperor Justinian.
Access to the cistern is through a building on Yerebatan Caddesi near a small park behind Million Stone. Ticket is TL10, children are free. After passing an entrance gate, you will need to walk down the stairs to walking platform. With perfect music and lighting background you’ll be able to appreciate the mystics of this cistern. Dripping water, fishes patrolling in dark water, massive column, brickwalls.
Try to allocate 30 minutes here. Please bear in mind that entrance and exit are separate. You will be exiting onto Alemdar St (ascending tramvay from Gulhane to Sultanahmet Station). There is a photo booth where you can dress like Turkish Sultan and be photographed at the entrance for 5 Euro and a café and souvenir shop at the exit.
Making up sleep deprivation and free dinner
Sleep-deprived due to inconvenient departure time, we made it up by taking a short snap following check-in at 1 PM. I should have understood the price of using a low cost airline. No worry though given the cost saving from it.
To end the day we spent dinner at hotel’s resturanct, free complimentary dinner, again benefiting from long stay. Come at about 9 PM we need to wait quite long until meals were ready. So long enough that we skipped our dessert. (Our free dinner includes one starter, one main course, and one dessert. Drinks are at your own cost)
That’s all for the first day. Good enough and we were still on schedule.
More pictures on my Facebook album: