Istanbul: At the Heart of the Old III

After being charmed by Istanbul over the last few days, waking up excitedly has become a habit throughout the trip. I slowly started to make sense of the city and the surrounding; I was initially put off by the aggressive touting and that takes quite a bit of time getting used to. I have other posts on my experience in Istanbul, so please visit them here.

Grand Bazaar

Grand Bazaar is the one of the largest and oldest covered market in the world and rated among the world’s most-visited tourist attractions. Needless to say, I was extremely excited to visit the market.

Yes, it is massive and didn’t take more than 10 minutes to get lost in the maze-like lanes of the market. It is a very lively and busy market selling all sort of stuffs from clothing to souvenirs, jewelry to leather goods: well, most things that are not useful to me. It is a very underwhelming experience for me; maybe because I got lost in the market and didn’t go to the right places but this is just a really overhyped market selling all sort of stuffs. With my mood dampened, I moved on for my next destination.

For the benefit of the doubt, I visited again on the next day to explore more but nothing really worked out.

Chora Church

A relatively unknown to most visitors; why I assumed is because not many travel guides or articles mentioned this place, is next on my plan and the reasons why I visited this place 1) I came across a poster in Istanbul about this place and the google search results show really beautiful mosaics 2) the admission is included in my Istanbul museum pass, so no extra cost for me.

Little that I know, this place became my best find in Istanbul. When I reached there, there is no visitors at all; complete silence and solitary in one of the most beautifully decorated Church I have been to. (Yes, including all the churches in Europe). All the walls, ceilings and floorings are covered with Byzantine mosaics and frescoes and I was literally blown away by all the details. My hat goes for the attention to details and the sheer dedication to art and religions of the builders.

While the whole visit can be done in 5-10 minutes, I spent there almost an hour, just sitting on the bench and be grateful for what is in front of me. With Chora church, my faith in Istanbul restored once again.

Dolmabahçe Palace

Dolmabahçe Palace was the answer to modernization by Ottoman Empire; when Topkapi Palace couldn’t no longer offers the contemporary comfort and luxury to the monarchies. Unfortunately, no photography is allowed inside and you can only visit the palace through the guided tours provided at the palace which is alright though it took away some flexibility.

What struck me the most during my visit is how old the palace look, partly due to the lack of maintenance and how amazing it might looked like in its’ prime days: designed and built to impress the visiting foreign dignitaries, especially the chandelier in the main reception hall. My favourite part of the palace is the gardens; maybe because it isn’t many stuffs to take pictures with, I didn’t see a lot of visitors in the garden. Seeing chickens, roasters and peacocks grazing around is really therapeutic. I made my way quite quickly from the palace as it was getting too crowded with visitors.

One cheap thrill was as I was walking out from the palace grounds, a group of teenage schoolgirls asked me to take pictures. I naturally assumed that they needed someone to take pictures for them but as it turned out, they want to take pictures with me! Maybe they don’t get to see typical skinny Asian guys there often, or just teenage girls being teenage girls but this started off the whole frenzy of school girls lining up to take pictures with me. Talk about inflating my ego!

Taksim Square

Taksim square is the answer for all visitors who need a bit of shopping break. Nothing would make you feel comfortable than seeing something you familiar with. For me, that’s Zara (for those of you who don’t know, it is a clothing label). I went into the store started looking at the clothes. The famous seafood market is pretty close by to the square; one alley along the main road where the train line is. The train is pretty much for the tourists who would like to have a flavor of riding an old-school nostalgic train, you can pretty much walk along the main shopping street and that’s quite the fun.

During my stay, I visited Süleymaniye Mosque as well. I read that the mosque has less visitors compared to the blue mosque and yes indeed, it was. Quite a nice place to sit down and enjoy the sights in peace but if you are on a tight schedule, you can probably skip this one.

This concluded my experience in Istanbul and I was pretty sad to leave Istanbul on the last day. (Well, that’s usual.)  I really would like to visit again one day. I think it was a good choice that I visited Istanbul last on my trip to Turkey. I can’t recall where I read this but one writer suggested that the best way to see Turkey not to start from Istanbul but end in Istanbul and the writer was totally right.

After seeing Istanbul, hardly any cities can impress me, for Istanbul raised the bar on expectation level too high. I went for a Europe trip a few months after seeing Istanbul; visited Paris second time on the trip. I was anxious to visit Notre Dame again but no, it failed to marvel. But that’s a personal opinion anyway.

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