Turkey wasn’t somewhere that was high on my radar for visiting. I know several people that have been to Turkey (albeit the resorts) and I can’t say that it was anything I was interested in hearing them talk about. I’m not sure why I dismissed it so readily given that I didn’t really know much about it.
I was looking on the Pegasus Airlines app regarding another flight I had that was cancelled due to Covid. When I was looking I saw flights to Istanbul for £58 return and I decided on a whim to book it to give Turkey a try and see if I was missing out. I should have just thought back to my misgivings about Spain and how wrong I was.
I booked the flight in the hopes that Covid wouldn’t kill the plans like it had for the rest of my trips.
The day came to travel and I headed to Stansted Airport. It was really eerie and dead. I hadn’t seen the airport like this for a while. It is usually packed to the rafters with crazies jetting away. I had to check in my hand luggage for this flight and it was weird as I hadn’t done that for a couple of years when flying long-haul. I got to the gate with plenty of time to spare and then I saw everyone else do the same. I was beginning to worry as there were a lot of people and I wondered how we were all going to fit in. I remembered that we weren’t going on a Boeing 737-800, but rather an Airbus A321-251NX. The Ryanair B737-800 seats 189. The Pegasus A321-251NX seats 239. I felt better knowing it was a bigger aircraft and I didn’t worry about capacity.
The flight itself was fairly uneventful until we got about 30 minutes from Istanbul. We had some turbulence and it was seat shaking turbulence – totally not my favourite at all. I was really disorientated too as I usually sit next to the window but I was on the aisle seat so couldn’t get my bearings.
We finally landed and I had to wait for an hour to see my bag again. I wasn’t a fan of waiting so long for the baggage. I had no wifi or mobile service and I was worried that the transfer driver was trying to get hold of me and I had no way of knowing. Bags finally arrived and I left to meet the transfer. I spent 25 minutes waiting here. They finally turned up and it was time to head to the hostel – another eventful trip. We spent 10 minutes driving around the area of the hostel as the driver was unable to find it. I got there and I checked in and headed up to bed. I wanted to go find food but Turkey was under a weekend curfew and I wasn’t allowed out after 20:00. Thankfully I always pack snacks for situations like this.
I had 3 full days here and i’ll talk about what I did on each of them.
One thing I will say is that there are sellers everywhere trying to get you to go to their business to sell you overpriced wares. You have to be persistent and keep saying no otherwise they will badger you until you go to their stores (I did this to shut the guy up. It was really overpriced. He didn’t like it when I said no).
As today was Sunday, the country was still under curfew and I wasn’t able to leave the hostel until 10:00. This worked out pretty well as I did something unusual – I had a lie-in. It was very much needed.
Once 10:00 came, I headed towards a shop to pick up some food and a SIM card. The square between Ayasofia Camii and Sultan Ahmet Camii was heavily guarded by police and at the checkpoints you had to show them inside your bag before you were allowed to enter.
I saw the sightseeing buses were running so picked up a ticket for the bus and boat. I managed to persuade them to give me 3 days for the price of 1. English charm I tell you!
I picked up some food and a SIM card and then met the guide for the walking tour.
The tour was about 3 hours (I left with about 15 minutes left of the tour as my head was hurting and I wanted some pills before heading out on the sightseeing bus).
The guide took us towards the Blue Mosque and told us a little about that. Inside there are thousands of small blue tiles and this is where the name comes from. Sadly it was under restoration so we couldn’t go in.
We then headed to Hagia Sofia. We were allowed to go inside here. It was a really ornate building. It was originally a Christian church and then a mosque and then a museum and then back to a mosque. You can read about turning Hagia Sofia back to a mosque here.
It was a Christian basilica during the Byzantine Empire. In 1453 – along with the fall of Constantinople, it was turned into a mosque. It remained so until around 1931. In 1935 it was turned into a museum. Then in July 2020, it was reverted back to a mosque by decree of the Turkish president. Visits here are now free as it is a place of worship.
It is hard to describe the beauty inside of it. I have never been in a mosque before so was unsure of what to expect. It was weird to see the Muslim frescos alongside the Christian ones. Muslims don’t believe in praying to idols so the depictions of Christ and Mary in the main building have been covered up.
You have to take your shoes off to enter as a mark of respect. I wish I had more time to come back here and just sit and admire. I guess I will just have to come back.
Once we were done here, we headed towards Topkapı Sarayı. We walked around the only part that was free and we were told this is where the mint was.
As we were walking back towards the Blue Mosque, the call to prayer (or ezan in Turkish) sounded. I knew that this would happen, I just have never been in a country where it has happened. Apparently, the call to prayer happens 5 times a day. The call to prayer is sounded from the minarets around the mosques. You can determine the importance of a mosque from the number of minarets it has around it. The most important mosques have 6 minarets. They usually number from 1 – 6 minarets per mosque.
The skyline of Istanbul was decorated with minarets as you can see in the pictures. You can tell that Istanbul (and I guess all of Turkey) is an Islamic city. Whilst Turkey has no official religion, you can tell that Islam is the dominant religion.
I then headed towards the bus and do a ride round to scout out places I wanted to go back to. I made sure I took my coat with me as sunny as it was, the top deck of the bus was gonna be cold. What a good decision that was.
Below is a video crossing the continental divide. The bridge is the Fatih Sultan Mehmet Bridge and crosses between Europe and Asia.
During the bus ride, it was weird to see a sign that said ‘Welcome to Asia’. Istanbul is a city that is on two continents – Europe & Asia. The bridge spans the Bosphorus strait. The Bosphorus strait is the only way to get into the Black Sea. It connects to the Sea of Marmara and then to the Aegean Sea and then into the Mediterranean Sea.
One thing I did notice is that there are a huge amount of cats and dogs roaming around the city freely. I haven’t been able to figure out why this is. They are very approachable – I guess because people feed them. Amongst themselves though, there were a lot of fights whenever food was left. I noticed this in all parts of the city that I visited. They have signs up to ensure you are aware of them. I guess it shows they care about them. You can see this in the picture below.
Total steps: 12,865
Total miles: 6.4
Below are some pictures from today
It was an early start today. I had to be at the airport at 8:30 for the 10:45 flight back.
The transfer picked me up at 07:00. I was still feeling pretty rough from the day before and I got the toilet sweats. I didn’t think I would make it to the airport unscathed – I did though, thankfully.
I had to go through security to get into the airport. I mistakenly thought it was the actual security prior to going through passport control. I was wrong. I chucked my drink away for nothing! Nothing I tell you!
I did the needful and then headed to proper security and passport control. I found a BK to have breakfast. It was nice and cheap. About £4.50 for a Chicken Royale large meal. I thought the rest of the airport would be cheap – VERY wrong! I spent £14.50 on 3 drinks, some chocolate and some crisps.
I went to the gate they said on the app and then about 20 minutes later it said the gate had changed. It was such a rigmarole. They booted us out of the area of the new gate as they set up mini security here. I went through that and then they decided a gate change back to the original gate was in order. I headed back down and had to go through mini security again.
I slept for about half the flight (aisle seat again). We landed and I made my way to the border and baggage control in the hopes of catching the earlier train.
As we were getting ready to disembark, police came on and took someone off the flight and I saw him again at the baggage carousel.
As I was waiting for the bags (about half the time of Istanbul), 2 girls from the flight were irate as they saw their bags go by and nobody moved for them. They started swearing and ramming the trolley into people. I’m glad they didn’t do it to me otherwise I would have told them where to go. As I was leaving I made the police aware of what was happening. Hopefully they did something about it.
I was so glad to be on the train and headed home ready to relax for a couple of hours before work.
Total steps: 43,637
Total miles: 21.8
You can view all of my Istanbul pics here.