Miles: a lot in walking.
Stops: Istanbul; Sultanahmet Square -> Hagia Sophia -> Blue Mosque -> cystine -> Toptaki Palace -> some terrace -> some other terrace
Finding parking was a challenge all on its own, but once that was out of the way and we got a plan for the day, we headed over to the Sultanahmet Square. Wow. Pretty spectacular. You're welcomed by a huge, clean, fountain dazzling in the blue tiles and beautiful huge mosque-like architecture on each side.
On the left of where we were standing was the Hagia Sophia, directly behind the fountain was the Hamam, and to the right of it was the Blue Mosque.
Read on if you're interested in the history of these:
We went to the Hagia Sophia first: Now a museum, this massive ancient building was once a Christian church for 500 years, a Greek Orhodoc cathedral for 150 years, a Roman Catholic for 60 years, then Greek Orthodox for another 200 years, before being converted to a mosque until the 1930s. It changed hands multiple times throughout its existence, it was even a brothel for a week during the Crusades. Looking at the walls, the paintings and mosaics cover all religions from Catholicism to Judaism, to Hinduism, to Islam. It started by having gold leaf mosaics of Jesus Christ, but it is wrong in Islam to depict faces since the human mind is incapable of imagining what god's face would look like. So the images were all painted over and Islamic scripture was put in instead.
Once the mosque turned into a museum, the layer of paint was scraped off to reveal the paintings below and there's everything from Jesus Christ, to swastikas (which are a sign of purity), to Stars of David all along the chandeliers. There was even a carving in one of the walls of a Viking (they were placed as security guards) signing what is essentially his "name was here".
We migrated our way over to the Hamam: Turkish baths. Essentially a sauna room followed by a full body scrub. We couldn't get appointments, plus realized we'd be doing it segregated which kind of killed the idea a little.
We moved on the the Blue Mosque: the oldest mosque in Istanbul. It was in every must-see list, but gotta be honest, it wasn't as impressive for us as it probably should've been. We did read there was another mosque down the street, not as old, but is much more impressive. Unfortunately we didn't make it in time and will try again tomorrow morning.
We stopped for another coffee and checked off a few more Turkish foods we had to try off the list. Looking at the time, we realized we have 2 hours before 2 of the things we wanted to do closed. So we walked over to the Basilica Cistern. The line was huge and would've been a least a half hour, so we got suckered in to the guy offering a tour and skipping the line. The tour was 100% not worth it but skipping the line was. It's incredible to see what people were able to build back in the day before the resources we have today. It was constructed by Justinianus (lol I'm not even joking), the Byzantine Emperor in the year 500 to support 20,000 people with fresh water. There's more to it including Medusa's head statues, but overall, it was a check off the list, and we're glad we didn't spend an hour in line!
We then rushed over to the Topkapi Palace - the palace of the sultans. It ranged from 6th century to 19th century architecture as sultans expanded it over the years. There's a whole Harem section for the sultan's 300, that's right, 300, concubines living in the same section of the palace as the sultan's mother where they were educated and prepped to give birth to the sultans' sons.
By the time we went through the whole thing and listened to the audio, the great Bazaar was closed. We decided to spend the night in the locked parking lot we're in and paid ahead of time, only to find out he bazaar is closed on Sundays. In fact, most things are closed on Sundays. It still worked out, we figured driving in Istanbul in the dark was not ideal, and this way we can get up, so some of the things we missed out on tonight, and head out to Ankara tomorrow. It was worth the extra $10 we paid, still cheaper than even a hostel!
We went out for dinner and after debating between two "panoramic" restaurants on the roof, went against our Four Square App recommendation. We found ourselves at the top of an empty building with not a soul in sight and the panorama full of run down roofs that looked like garbage dumps. The terrace was also 2-3 floors lower than the one we debated (which the four square app recommended) so we sat around for a while until we decided screw it, and headed out. The guy didn't seem surprised and let us go. But when we went across the street and were looking at the menu before heading in, we turned around and ended up making eye contact with the guy back on the other terrace. He laughed, waved, and shook his head. We felt awkward so we walked away pretending to look for a different place until we decided we're dumb, and just went back to have dinner here. This place let us fly our drone, too! It was a beautiful view and we watched the sun set before we walked back to the now lit up square, and took a few photos comparable to the earlier daytime ones.
Great day in Istanbul, although it's all a total Tourist trap. Also, Ottoman ice cream is amazing!! It's... chewy... but SO good and refreshing <3