Almost a year ago I promised to post some more detailed information about our trip to Egypt and Turkey. For various reasons, I haven’t gotten around to this until now. In retrospect it would have been much easier to have written these blogs while we were actually in those countries rather than trying to remember it all now. Although, it is nice to look through the photos and re-live the vaction again (even though I have had to make numerous trips to Wikipedia to check the names and spellings of some of the things we saw).
In the past, Christina and I have backpacked around most of the time. For Egypt and Turkey, we took a tour from a Turkish travel agency which I would recommend. It was really a series of day tours that were all pre-organized so we were rarely with the same tourists and quite often we had our own private tour guide and car. The best part about taking a tour like this is getting picked up at the airport! Rather than struggling to figure out the new city that you are in, when you arrive at the airport you just have to look for the sign with you name on it and get driven to your hotel. I would caution other Canadians about going to Turkey or Egypt in July or August though because the temperature was at least 40 degrees Celsius most days, which is far too hot for me!
The first stop on our vacation was in Istanbul, Turkey. Istanbul is an ancient city that straddles Europe and Asia. Istanbul was originally settled by the ancient Greeks and was called Byzantium. In 330 A.D. the Roman Emperor Constantine renamed the city Constantinople. It was the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire until 1453, when the city fell to the Ottoman Empire. Finally it was renamed Istanbul in 1930 after the formation of modern Turkey. Istanbul is also the capital of Turkey and has a population of almost 15 million people, making it the largest city that I have ever been to.
Christina and I arrived in Istanbul in mid-afternoon and were taken to our hotel, which was located in the Old Town. Despite the incredible heat, most Turkish people only use air conditioning sparingly. Fortunately we were able to turn it to max in our hotel room, which kept us nice and cool when we were there. We spent the first few hours in Istanbul walking around looking for a place to eat. Neither of us was really feeling adventurous, so we ate at a restaurant/pub with western food. We were quite surprised by the number of stray cats that were around. The next day we met our private tour guide who took us to the Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque, Beylerbeyi Palace and the Grand Bazaar. On the second day, we joined a bus load of tourists and went on a cruise of the Bosphorus Sea and then off to the airport to go to Cappadocia.
Despite Istanbul being an enormous city, the people seemed quite friendly and we always felt safe (although I don’t know how badly I would want to take the crowded looking public transit). I don’t think that I would want to drive in Istanbul either because there doesn’t seem to be any real laws or rules.
Probably the most obvious landmark in Istanbul is the Hagia Sophia. It’s a must-see! The current Hagia Sophia was completed as a Greek Orthodox Cathedral in 537 AD. At the time (and for nearly 1000 years afterwards) it was the largest building in the world. In 1453, it was converted to a Mosque by the Ottomans. In 1930, the new Turkish Republic converted it into a museum. It is known for its giant dome, which is said to have changed architecture.
Inside the Hagia Sophia
Another very popular attraction is the Sultan Ahmed Mosque (otherwise known as the Blue Mosque). The Blue mosque is located quite close to the Hagia Sophia and is considered the last great mosque of the classical era. It is known as the Blue Mosque because of the blue tiles that cover the interior walls.
The Blue Mosque
The most obvious natural feature of Istanbul is the Bospherous Sea that divides the city. A popular tourist pasttime is taking a cruise along the Bospherous. The next three photos are from our cruise:
Adam and Christina on a Bosphorus Cruise
Indian Bride on Honeymoon on the Bospherous
Istanbul is also known for the Grand Bazaar, which is one of the oldest and largest covered markets in the world. You can buy almost anything in the bazaar but below are a couple of my favorite photos of some typically Turkish items:
Turkish Bowls in the Grand Bazaar
Hookahs for Sale