Usually when we travel we avoid taxis because it feels like cheating and they can break a budget. I try to rely on public transportation and lots of walking. However, arriving at night in a land with no English cognates seemed like a good time to break the rule. I booked a bus from the airport to central Istanbul and called an Uber to take us the last four miles. It cost $4 and was worth every penny.
Our hostel was right next to Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque and Topkapi Palace. Hagia Sophia was built as a Greek Orthodox Church under Constantine in 537, then converted into a Mosque under the Ottomans in 1453. In 1935 it became a museum. Now they try balancing restoring some of the early Christian art while maintaining some of the current Muslim art.
Unlike Morocco, non Muslims are welcome in the mosques here. Unfortunately the blue mosque was under construction, so while we were allowed inside, the dome was covered in scaffolding. We did get to go into the beautiful and complete Süleymaniye Mosque down the road.
Topkapi Palace was home to sultans, government officials and their 4,000 closest advisers, friends, servants and slaves.
Thee restaurants here have a funny quirk. The menus are posted outside with English and Turkish translations. If we approach a menu to consider dining there, a waiter will run up and start reading the menu to us. Then the restaurant manager will come out and start talking over the waiter to read that same menu to us. Some places are even more aggressive. While walking past a restaurant, a waiter will chase us down to read his menu to us even though we haven’t stopped or looked his way. Once we are finally inside a restaurant, they serve us promptly, but getting the bill is another story. After the food arrives, the waiter disappears forever. He is in the street chasing down new customers. This makes it difficult to request the bill. Three dinners in Istanbul took 30-60 minutes to get the bill. One place we had to ask three different waiters over the course of an hour, and we were asking to pay them! At least Aaron was entertained by the stray kitties running through the restaurant. Our last day we found a Turkish cafeteria downtown. This place let us pay up front and the bill for two entrees, an appetizer, a drink and a dessert was $5 USD. We went back for dinner.
A man chased us down to tell us that we were walking towards the exit of a museum and not the entrance. He didn’t even work there, and the entrance was clearly next to the exit. Other people yelled at us that we were going the wrong way when they couldn’t possibly know where we were headed. Another helpful stranger anxiously alerted Aaron that he was about to drink a diet soda. I know to be on my guard, but I can’t imagine how any of these could be scams.
Day two we took a cruise up the Bosphorous straight to the Black Sea. We criss-crossed from Europe to Asia several times before stopping on the Asian side for lunch. We ate at two different restaurants, but the food was not good and we fed most of it to stray kitties. A thunderstorm rolled in on our way back, but the water stayed calm.
Next up is an overnight bus to Göreme.