Honors Grecian & Turkish Odyssey - Days 8 & 9 - Istanbul

Interior of Hagia Sophia
Gate of Salutation at Topkapi Palace
Day 8 was a travel day as we departed from the Athens airport early in the afternoon, arriving in Istabul at 3:15pm.  After purchasing a tourist visa and proceeding through customs, we met our van driver who took us to the Istanbul Turvan Hotel for check-in.  Overcome with hunger and tired from traveling, we asked the concierge for dinner recommendations.  He had one of the other employees lead us to the Turvan Restaurant that was 2 blocks from the hotel and we wondered if it was more than a coincidence that our hotel and restaurant both had the name "Turvan" in their names.  My favorite meal of the entire trip was at this restaurant, a spicy lamb dish.  After the women received napkin roses from the restaurant staff, we headed back to the hotel for the evening.
Group photo in the courtyard of the Blue Mosque
Group photo inside the Blue Mosque
On Day 9, we met our guide for Istanbul - Ali Karadeniz.  We departed the hotel for a walking tour with its first stop being the Hagia Sophia.  We had no idea the night before that we were so close to the major attractions of Istanbul and we knew we would have to revisit the sites at night.  The Hagia Sophia was constructed in 537, serving as an Eastern Orthodox cathedral until the Ottoman Turks conquered Istanbul in 1453 and changed it into a mosque.  When construction of the church began in 532, emperor Justinian wished to create the biggest church in the world.  It is 55 meters high and supported by 107 columns.  Istanbul encounters major earthquakes approximately every 50 years, yet the Hagia Sophia remains, even withstanding an earthquake in 1999 that demolished 70% of Istanbul.  In 1935, Mustafa Ataturk decided there were too many mosques in Turkey and converted the Hagai Sophia to a museum.  The white plaster that had covered many of the Christian church's mosaics was removed and we were able to view these beautiful mosaics on our tour.  Our next stop was the Topkapi Palace, the primary residence of the Ottoman Sultans from 1465 to 1856.  After passing through the Imperial Gate, we had the opportunity to visit the 4 courtyards of the palace as well as the inside of numerous rooms, including the Imperial Treasury.  The next site on our tour was the Blue Mosque.  We were required to remove our shoes and the women were required to wear a head scarf and some also needed to wear robes.  The nickname "Blue Mosque" refers to the blue tiles that adorn the interior walls of the mosque, with Sultan Ahmed mosque being the more formal name.  Our walking tour ended at the Grand Bazaar, a large covered market with over 3000 vendors.  It was a great opportunity to purchase souvenirs such as jewelry, Turkish Delight, t-shirts and lanterns, though our group avoided the temptation to purchase any Turkish rugs.  We returned to the Turvan Hotel for dinner and although tired from walking most of the day, a few of us returned to the Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque at dusk to admire the beauty of these structures at night.
Interior of the Grand Bazaar

Fountain and Hagia Sophia at dusk


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