Well, no one can accuse me of not making the most of my last full day of my adventure. As soon as I'd had breakfast, I was out the door and on the trail of two of Istanbul's most famous landmarks. My first stop was Aya Sofya where there was already a long queue waiting to get in. It's very near the Blue Mosque, but quite the opposite in that the Blue Mosque's beauty is on the outside, while Aya Sofya doesn't appear to be all that amazing from its exterior.
According to Lonely Planet, upon entering the church-turned-mosque-turned-museum (built in 567), people are often stunned into silence. I imagine that to be true, as it really is quite spectacular. As I've found in many beautiful buildings on this trip, its very hard to capture such grandeur on camera.
After walking around for a while, I made my way up the stone ramp to the upper level. The view to the ground floor was great, but I was most impressed with the graffiti left by the vikings in the 9th century. I knew that they plundered and pillaged, but graffiti too.....did they have no boundaries? It's graffiti in marble though, so they certainly were tough.
From Aya Sofya, I walked across the road to the Basilica Cistern, a former water reservoir under the city, built by the Byzantine emperor Justinian in 532. It was forgotten about for centuries, then neglected for a few more, and now it's entrance is hidden away in a little nondescript building. However, once inside and beneath ground level, it's a world of its own. There's a wooden walkway through dozens of massive columns, dimly lit by red and orange lights. Water drips from the roof, and the remaining water in the reservoir is quite shallow, but home to some very hardy fish. Atmospheric music adds to the intrigue, and in one corner two of the columns sit on Madusa heads. The columns apparently come from the ruins of buildings, so they're all different, but all no doubt ancient.
Rows of columns supporting the roof of the cistern
Next, I bought a ticket for the hop-on hop-off bus. Out of the ones I've done on this trip, Istanbul's probably gives the least value for money. For a start, it doesn't seem to stop at most of the hop-on hop-off points. Maybe you're just supposed to jump when it slows down. And, given the nature of Istanbul's traffic, it's a bit like bumper-car racing, but I did manage to see a good deal of the city. The first trip I did crossed the Bopherus, and by the time I'd reached the other side, I was in Asia.
Asia from the bridge over Bospherus
Istanbul is such an amazing city, up close, and from a distance.
On the bus, I sat with a Kiwi woman who was with her husband and teenage son on their way to the Ukraine to look into a business opportunity. Once I'd done the full circuit on the bus, I walked around the old town for an hour or so. It's incredible how much there is to see here in such a small area, including the Hippodrome which includes the Obelisk of Theodosius, a granite monument, carved in Egypt in 1450 BC.
After I'd filled in an hour or so, I jumped on the buses other circuit which goes up around the golden horn. There were a few opportunities to get off and go up a cable car, or visit a the world's biggest miniature world (!), but I stayed on the bus until we reached the wharf and then hopped off to see if I could find a cruise up the Bospherus. Where they sold the bus tickets, they told me it was as much as 40 euro for a cruise. However, at the wharf, they were only a fraction of that price, and the cruise lasted almost 2 hours.
Waiting to set sail
I really enjoyed it, the boat was nice (apart from when a passenger accidently foot-tripped a waiter carrying a tray of drinks), the views were wonderful, and I even had a cup of tea Turkish-style i.e., in a little glass with sugar cubes, and no milk. I couldn't hear the commentary, so I just had to guess what things were (ancient mosque, wealthy person's house, etc).
Sailing up the Bospherus
Back on dry land, I poked my head into the Egyptian Bazaar which was more like what I imagined the Grand Bazaar should have been like. By now, everyone was starting to shut up shop, and I was getting hungry, so I caught the tram back to my hotel.
Since it was my last night of my trip, I treated myself to dinner in the hotel's rooftop restaurant. It was lovely with the silhouette of the Blue Mosque on one side and the sea sparkling all around with the lights of the hundreds of boats and ships.
And then, just to top off a perfect day, the sunset painted everything pink.
So I had my celebratory meal for making it to my last night of the journey in one piece, but it's not over yet. I have almost a full day available tomorrow before I need to be at the airport. And, even though I'm sad that its coming to an end, I have no doubt that Turkey awaits my return. This is definitely a country that I need to come back to.