Saturday, April 27, 2013

Turkey 2013 - Istanbul Day 1 - Arrival and Hagia Sophia

View of the Hagia Sophia from the Galata Tower, Istanbul.


Welcome to my biased, American tourist trip report for my trip to Istanbul, Cappadocia, and Ephesus, Turkey.

My itinerary was broken up as follows: day and a half in Istanbul; 2 days in Cappadocia; then return to Istanbul for 5 more days, one of which was fully committed to the "Other Tour" which I will write about later.  But I wanted to hit up as many of the things from the top of my to-do list as I could early on, particularly those close enough to the hotel to walk back and forth to.  The city is a little bigger than I expected (not the actual sprawl but it looked like shorter walking distances on Google Maps).

Fisheye view of Hagia Sophia dome.
 Had a deal with the hotel I booked that included a lot of perks if you booked directly with them (as opposed to Expedia, hotels.com whatever): Stay 6 nights, 7th night free; pay cash (euro, lira, dollars, whatever) you get 10% off (I brought euros since everything was quoted in euros and not just this hotel - seems like everyone wants cash euros instead of TL); and if you stay three nights they pick you up at the airport!  So that was a nice perk, a "MR PIRMANN" sign at Arrivals after a ten hour flight and an hour navigating Passport Control.  Lots of traffic on the way to the hotel but we got there.  The hotel was right along the tram line in between two stops which would make getting around the main sights very easy.

Checked in around noon, room was ready (another nice thing after a long trip). Took a shower and a nap for a while, then headed off to the Hagia Sophia, easy walking distance from the hotel.

View of the Hagia Sophia interior from balcony.

So back to the Hagia Sophia. Long line to get in but moved fast. Prebooking the ticket on the Turkish Muze website helped a lot, because otherwise you'd have to wait in TWO long lines. I will let the tour of the Hagia Sophia speak through photos.  I missed the Sultans' Tombs outside the main building (which Rick Steves talks about in his walking tour; hint: always read the walking tour notes for a place BEFORE leaving it. That hurt me in Pompeii in 2012 when I missed the Villa of the Mysteries...)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hagia_Sophia More on the Hagia Sophia


After that, and a couple annoying carpet touts, I went back to the hotel and had dinner at a place called the Red River Pub - looked American Western theme, was playing Cuban music when I got there, and I had the Turkish meze plate of some things I couldn't tell you what they were, but were tasty spread on bread, and a doner lamb wrap with fries. And Efes beer (Turkish). Booze is expensive here since it's heavily taxed-- and it helps discourage the 98% Muslim population from drinking too too much. A rum & coke will run you about 20 TL in a tourist-oriented pub ($10) and I don't think that's due entirely to the tourist markup.  The local beer is more reasonably priced but I didn't think to check what it was before I paid up.


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