Sunday, November 21, 2010

İstanbul, Turkey

I found a great deal on a charter package through Student Agency for a 5-day trip to Turkey. It included a round-trip ČSA flight from Prague to Istanbul and a 3 star hotel with breakfast. The only catch was that this was a Czech tour so I had to arrange the trip in Czech. And all of the transportation between the airport and hotel was coordinated with the travel agent in Czech. Since I went alone I was at least forced to keep practicing my Czech even while on vacation. The other tour members knew I wasn't Czech but they kept thinking I was either Russian or Polish. I had the option of going on day tours with others but there was no way I could spend €35-50 on a tour that was entirely in Czech. So I made my own tour arrangements and had a great time exploring the city because there is so much to see. Every time you turn your head you see the difference between old and modern.

İstanbul, formerly known as Constantinople, was the capital of both the Byzantine Empire (Eastern Roman Empire) and the Ottoman Empire. Today it’s Turkey’s largest city but not the capital. With 12.8 million people it is the 5th largest city in the world and the only one in the world built on two continents. The Bosphorus Strait divides the city into European and Asian sides. The Golden Horn harbor further divides the city on the European side.

Hagia Sophia was a basilica, then a mosque and today is a museum. For almost 1,000 years it was the largest cathedral in the world.

The Blue Mosque is absolutely incredible inside. It is the largest in the city and the only one with six minarets which helps in navigating the city because you can’t turn your head without coming across another mosque.

The Hippodrome is adjacent to the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia. The obelisks there mark the center of Roman and Byzantine Constantinople and was the site of chariot racing.

Little Hagia Sophia, formerly the Church of the Saints Sergius and Bacchus, was converted into a mosque during the Ottoman Empire. It was built during the 6th century and was a model for the Hagia Sophia. It’s one of the most important early Byzantine buildings in the city.

The Galata Tower is nine stories tall and was the city’s tallest structure when it was built.

Taksim Square is a major shopping and tourist district. It is home to Cumhuriyet Anıtı (Monument of the Republic) built in 1928 to commemorate the founding of the Republic of Turkey.

The Dolmabahçe Palace is located on the Bosporus and was home to six sultans from 1856 until the end of the Caliphate in 1924. The palace contains 285 rooms, 46 halls, 6 Turkish baths and 68 toilets. It is home to the world’s largest Bohemian crystal chandelier.

Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar is one of the world’s largest and oldest covered markets. There are thousands of shops on over 58 streets. Lots of great shopping for sure!

The Süleymaniye Mosque is the 2nd largest mosque in the city. The Muslim call to prayer rings out six times per day, all across the city.

This was a great trip and I saw a lot. Several spots are UNESCO World Heritage sites but there are still things that I didn’t get a chance to see so I’ll just have to go again. Next time I'll be sure to include the day trips to Troy and Gallipoli. It was also a nice break from the upcoming Czech winter. I left Istanbul at 11:30 PM and it was 16°C (~61°F) When I arrived in Prague at 2:30 AM it was 0°C (32°F). I'm already missing that warm Turkish weather.

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