The ancient Hippodrome, scene of chariot races and the center of Byzantine civic life. Of the ornaments which once existed, only three remain: the Obelisk of Theodosius, the bronze Serpentine Column and the Column of Theodosius Constantino. Obelisco is originally an Egyptian piece of art erected in 1547 BC and originally was 60m in height. The German Fountain is also within the hippodrome area; constructed in Germany during the second visit of the German Emperor Wilhelm II to Istanbul, it was imported and officially opened on January 1, 1901. The interiors of the three domes are decorated with gold mosaics.
Istanbul - Day 1 We reached the airport at around 5 in the evening. Honestly, our experience at the airport was not very good as we had to wait in taxingly long queues at the Visa check department. We also had to get our Euros exchanged to Turkish Liras because we couldn’t find any Exchange shops in Delhi which kept TLs. So till the time we got out of the airport at Istanbul, it was dark and the only thing we had was our host’s address. After some inquiry, we took the shuttle bus from Airport to Taksim (the most happening area of Istanbul). From there we walked some metres to the Taksim square. My shoulders had already started hurting with the 12 kilos of backpack I was carrying. Our host had told us to take a direct bus from Taksim square. We didn’t want to rent a cab as were cutting down on costs everywhere. However, on our failure to find that bus, we finally found a nice cab driver who ensured that we reached the home of our host safely. Finally, we were home! Our host Ada, a single woman in her early 30s, was waiting for us on the street and welcomed us warmly into her home. And guess who welcomed us inside her house. Her pet cat rubbed itself on us fondly as we entered our room. The room was neat, peaceful and cozy. Ada provided us some details about getting around the city and then left us to rest. That night we were too tired to go anywhere even though we wanted to go out for dinner. My sister Somya was in love with the interiors of the house and expressed her wish to have a house exactly like that. That night, partially due to the soft bed and partially due to our tiredness, we had the most comfortable sleep in a long time. Day 2 – Istanbul The next day we cooked our ready-to-eat breakfast and headed out. We discovered that we were living in a very lively and rather popular area called Besiktas (read Beshiktash). We walked downhill to the bus stand. Istanbul, and in fact most of Turkey, is hilly. We took a bus to the nearest tram station and then boarded a tram to Sultan Ahmet, where most of the tourist spots are located. We visited the beautiful Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sophia mosque. Both the mosques were facing each other and the site was splendid. We were lucky enough to catch a local musical band playing in front of Hagia Sophia. We were already hungry so we decided to have lunch. Across the road was a street full of expensive restaurants and bakeries. The street was bustling with tourists and the waiters of the restaurants were calling out to them, some even trying to flirt with girls not accompanied by men. And one thing I learned through these men and many others like them during those 15 days – people of Turkey cannot speak anything but Turkish (not even English) but they love Bollywood. And I either look Indian or Turkish. Anyways, we grabbed the famous Turkish Doner Kebabs, and trust me when I say, I have never tasted or enjoyed chicken and meat so much in my life like on my complete trip to Turkey. The Doner Kebab role was delicious and cheap. Infact, some tourists came to us asking where we got them when we were sitting near the mosques enjoying our heavy meal. After fooling around a little, we went to see the much-renowned Basilica Cistern located at walking distance. Basilica Cistern is an underground water storage system built to provide water to the residents of Istanbul in the 6th century. The entry ticket to the Cistern cost us around 600 INR. It was dingy and dark and I found it really fascinating. Somya didn’t like it much though. There even was an inverted head of Medusa lying in one of the ponds. The head has a long history behind it. We came out of the place in around 20 minutes after clicking some dark pictures. After that, we took the tram to the popular Grand Bazaar of Istanbul. It was much like the Sarojini Nagar Market of Delhi or Fashion Street Market of Mumbai, the only difference being that it was covered and much prettier. We reserved the shopping for the last day and went back to Besiktas after around 2-3 hours of inspecting the market. There we had dinner at a nice restaurant, which had good ambience but served pathetic Pasta. When I ordered that Pasta, the waitress said to me, “our customers don’t like it because it is very spicy. So I wouldn’t recommend it.” To which I gave a very stereotypical reply, “I am an Indian. I can handle spicy.” However, she came back with Pasta which was nowhere near spicy. Nevertheless, we enjoyed our dinner and went back home tired and happy. Not to forget, we also bought a Vodafone SIM card, which cost us around 1500 INR (the SIM alone). Day 3 – Istanbul Our next day started a little late as we were busy uploading our pictures on Facebook. We left at around 12 noon and went to take a cruise in the Bosphorous River. For those of you who don’t know, Istanbul lies both in Asia and Europe and Bosphorous River connects the two continents. The government cruise cost each of us around 350 INR for two hours. Before getting onto the cruise, which was to start at 2 pm, we roamed around a river-side lane which was full of restaurants serving seafood. The waiters of those restaurants were extremely playful and one even asked me to click his picture and save it for memory. Following that, Somya and I took some more pictures of the surroundings and then headed towards the cruise. We took seats on the top floor of the cruise so that we could have a better view of the city. The cruise took us through beautiful monuments and we cruised alongside stunning localities and we were in complete awe of the city that lie on the sides of the River. It was a little chilly that day so it got uncomfortable after a while and also bored but that cruise is the perfect place for someone who wants to sit and relax. Ice cream vendors and Turkish Chai and Coffee vendors came hawking every few minutes. And we saw so many Jelly Fish in the river. After finally coming back to the shore, we had lunch near the Galata Towers and then went to see the towers which looked like Rapunzel’s castle to me. We waited in a long queue to get inside and after spending 600 INR each we were standing in a lift opening straight into a restaurant made inside the tower. The tower was initially a light house and tourists stood in the gallery taking pictures and stepping over each other in an attempt to pass or stand there and take more pictures. The scene was all in all funny. But as the sun set and the sky became orange and then dark blue and finally black covered in white twinkling stars and the city lit up with twinkling lights, I was mesmerized. What a beauty it was! I stood there adoring the city for sometime before finally being troubled by people trying to click pictures and then went back inside. It was dark when we reached home and we were too tired to eat out so we cooked maggi for dinner that night. We went to bed quite sad about having to leave Istanbul the next day. We had grown fond of Istanbul’s culture, liveliness, friendly people and pretty faces.