Tag Archives: turkey

Inside the Aya Sofia (Hagia Sofia/Aya Sofya)

The Aya Sofia (Hagia Sofia/Aya Sofya) is, in effect, a fascinating museum. Having served as an Eastern Orthodox Cathedral, a Catholic Cathedral and a Mosque (all before 1935) you could be forgiven for becoming a little confused upon entry.

This is part of its charm – it’s not often you get to see competing religons in the same space.

Aya Sofia

Aya Sofia

I visited the Aya Sofia on my Dad’s insistence (and given how long the queue was when we decided to visit, we probably would have left if not for it).

Upon seeing the queue, we were approached by a guide offering to help us skip the queue and provide a guided tour – despite initial doubts, we readily accepted. The tour was great value. From memory it was around $20 each, though the cost to enter is $13 in any event and we literally avoided about 2 hours of queue time. Further, our guide was very knowledgeable and pointed out things we would have otherwise missed. If you can afford the extra spend, I’d definitely recommend finding a reputable guide.

Aya Sofia

Our guide began by taking us around the outside of the building, which (by comparison to the inside) is modest. It’s only upon entry that you realise what you’re witnessing. It is pretty spectacular.

But how spectacular? You see, there’s a bit of competition in Istanbul between the Aya Sofia and the Blue Mosque about which one is well, more beautiful. Both are gorgeous buildings in their own right, however history tells us that when Sultan Ahmed commissioned the Blue Mosque to be built (around 1000 years after the Aya Sofia), he intended to design it in a manner which would outshine the Aya Sofia. So, did he succeed?

To be honest, I don’t know. What I will say is that the Aya Sofia blew me away. From the detailed mosaics (many of which have backgrounds of gold), the marble, the size, the competing religious graphics… All were just ‘wow’. By comparison, the Blue Mosque is (relatively) moderate in its decoration. However, the two buildings are so completely different, it is almost unfair to compare them. Coupled with the fact that the Blue Mosque is still used for its intended purpose, they have a completely different ‘feel’ to each other. We spent most of our time walking aruond Aya Sofia with our mouths open in awe.

I loved both the Blue Mosque and Aya Sofia. I can’t recommend visiting them highly enough. Though I’d be interested to hear your thoughts about whether Sultan Ahmed succeeded in his quest. You can compare by seeing my photos of the Blue Mosque here and my attempt to capture the Aya Sofia in this post.

Aya Sofia

So tell me, what are your thoughts on the two buildings? As you can see, we were pretty pleased with our visit!

The Healthy Globetrotter

Blue Mosque

Inside the Blue Mosque

Listening to my Dad has almost always paid off (ok, so I’m sure it’s probably always paid off!)

His advice on Turkey was no exception.

My whole family has spent time in Turkey and while they’d raved about it for years, I decided to go because it was a convenient destination. Not exactly on a whim, but a well-located stop over on a planned trip to sail the Ionian Islands in Greece.

When I told my parents of my plans, they were excited. Not just a “great, you’re going on holiday” kind of excited (which they always are when it comes to travel), but a rare excited that I don’t think I’ve ever seen them match for another destination. At this point in the conversation, my Dad took the phone from my Mum and insisted “You must see the Blue Mosque. And Aya Sofia. Magnificent buildings. You will love them. Go”.

He was right, I loved them both.

After my horrendous journey to Istanbul, my first stop was the Blue Mosque. This alone made up for everything that had occurred in the preceding five or six hours.

Technically named the Sultan Ahmed Mosque (Sultanahmet Capii), those who haven’t visited often wonder why it’s called the Blue Mosque, it’s not exactly blue from the outside. However, once you’re inside you quickly realise why: It is simply the number of blue tiles on the interior. That said, I must admit I do think the white/grey exterior seems to take on a blue tinge in certain lights, though perhaps that’s just me!

Blue Mosque

Outside the Blue Mosque

As the story goes, Sultan Ahmed (I) commissioned a mosque to be built, reportedly designed to intentionally outshine the Aya Sofia (deserving of a post in its own right so I won’t go into detail here). He was only 19 at the time and it took seven years to build, though sadly he died just one year after completion at 27.

Whether or not the story about his intent is entirely true, it is fair to say the mosque has a big impact on the city of Istanbul. It was the first thing I saw on my way into Istanbul, and come to think of it, probably the last.

Here’s a little evidence of why it’s so spectacular!

Blue Mosque

Blue Mosque

Blue Mosque

I went snap happy in here. Couldn’t put my camera down kind of crazy. That’s not altogether uncommon for me, but it was pretty phenomenal.

Blue Mosque Blue Tiles

Blue Mosque with blue tiles

Inside the Blue Mosque

Inside the Blue Mosque

Inside the Blue Mosque

Inside the Blue Mosque

A tourist mecca, this place is popular. Amazingly enough however, it’s still actively used as a mosque. Dress respectfully or you’ll be forced to pay to borrow scarves or other clothes (though given the heat when we visited, this was well worth it for us).

While it was certainly busy when we were there, it wasn’t as busy as we were expecting. This was because a group prayer session was scheduled shortly after our visit and we were asked to leave before it commenced (also be mindful of the ezan – the call to prayer – which occurs, as I understand it, at slightly different times each day). While this meant we had less time inside, it did allow us to have a few moments shared with far fewer people than normal, definitely something to consider if you’re planning a visit.

Besides, if we hadn’t been kicked out (read: asked politely to vacate), we may never have left. It’s pretty spectacular. A must visit on any trip to Istanbul.

Have you visited the Blue Mosque? Do you think it outshines Aya Sofia as Sultan Ahmed wished? I’ll let you know my thoughts when I share my photos of Aya Sofia

Until then,
The Healthy Globetrotter.

The kindness of strangers: Istanbul

Not long ago, I was in Turkey and I loved it. However, having just seen Taken 2, I feel like a few of the Istanbul locals may have gotten a bit of a bad rap.* But here’s the thing: two of the kindest strangers I’ve ever met call Istanbul home.

Beautiful Istanbul… despite the start to my adventure I loved it here.

I’ve previously alluded to the fact that my arrival in Istanbul didn’t quite go as planned. It was only with the help of two strangers that I arrived at my eventual destination and able to commence what was an absolutely amazing trip.

Upon arrival, I caught a taxi from the airport to meet my friends at our well located apartment near the (Sultanahmet) Blue Mosque. My driver only spoke Turkish, but nodded when I showed him my destination and drove off in the direction of the city. After around 10 or 20 minutes, my driver made a call, spoke briefly to his friend and then handed his phone to me. Confused, I accepted it and raised it to my ear.

The friend explained in English what my driver couldn’t: There had been a major accident on the bridge into Istanbul from the airport, meaning that if we took a taxi the whole way to my apartment, I may be in the taxi for several hours (which would also cost me several hundred dollars). Instead, my driver wanted to recommend I take the ferry, saving me considerable money and time. It might not seem like much, but as an English speaking tourist in a foreign country travelling alone, I was a prime target to be taken advantage of. The driver could have just kept going and left me with the fare and hours wasted. He chose not to and I thank him for that.

Upon arrival at the ferry terminal, my driver didn’t just dump me at the curb. He took me all the way to the terminal carrying my backpack, showing me where to go and how to buy a ticket. As an added bonus, there were some fairly fabulous views on the ferry.

A nice surprise on my way into Istanbul

Views from my unexpected ferry ride!

The ferry ride went well and upon reaching the other side there were numerous taxis lined up to take me to my apartment. So the problem? No one would take me.

I asked almost 20 drivers to take me to my apartment. The responses I received ranged from “too close” to “I don’t know it”. I even offered to pay extra money on top of the fare to those that stated my destination was too close, but to no avail. All of them pointed me in the right direction – up a steep hill. I wasn’t keen but as I had no choice, off I set:

  • Without a map;
  • In 35 degree celsius weather;
  • With 15 kilograms on my back; and
  • Wearing clothes suitable for a Copenhagen summer and an overnight flight (read: jeans and a jumper).

I asked for help along the way, but it was fruitless. However, after approximately 45 minutes of walking around looking for my street, I saw a man standing outside a hotel. He was young and smiled at me as I approached. He probably thought I was a guest at his new hotel; I wasn’t. But it didn’t matter, he treated me like one. 

Where I found my saviour!… Image via: http://www.ayasultanhotel.com/en/galeri.html#

By this stage, it is fair to say that I was in a bit of state. Upon explaining my predicament, the man told me that while he didn’t know where my apartment was, we could use the hotel’s computer (and google maps) to find it. Inside the hotel, he sat me down (in air-conditioning: Best. Ever.) and asked someone to bring me some tea. He then looked up my apartment and gave me instructions to give my friend who he insisted come and collect me (thank you, Anurag). Beyond nice and this kind stranger wouldn’t even accept a tip

Picture me, sitting exactly where this photo is taken from. Looking like a complete exhausted mess. Image via: http://www.ayasultanhotel.com/en/galeri.html#

The cynic in you might think that my cab driver just had somewhere better to be and that my friend from the hotel just wanted a good review on trip advisor, but I choose to believe in the good in people. Yes, I could have been better organised, prepared for the weather and the walk, but the kindness of strangers saved me on this trip (and that ridiculous walk totally counted as my exercise for the day). I am so grateful for that!

We all need to be cautious when travelling, but sometimes you’ve got to have a little faith too.  Who are the nicest strangers you’ve met when travelling?

The Healthy Globetrotter

P.s. In case you’re wondering: Time taken from my flight landing until my arrival at the apartment? Over five hours.  Without water. On zero sleep. Yup, it was an ordeal. The take away? It didn’t ruin my trip. Remains up there with the best of them.

*Ok, so obviously the Albanians got a worse rap than the few Istanbul locals who were helping the Albanians, but i’m yet to travel to Albania. When I do visit, i’m sure i’ll meet some kind strangers there too and i’ll be sure to tell you all about it. 

1 Reply

Yes to Turkey. No to bread.

Istanbul is one of those places i’d been dreaming of for a long time until i was lucky enough to make it there recently. Now i just dream of going back. I’d heard nothing but great things about the city and i certainly wasn’t disappointed.

The adventure didn’t start out as planned. Unorganised, i arrived on a flight from Copenhagen that landed around 5am without US dollars to buy a visa. Exhausted i lined up at customs only to be told that without that allusive currency, i wasn’t going anywhere. Fortunately, i was able to track down an ATM that dispensed US dollars and a short while later on my way to meet my friends! Tip: US currency is still powerful pretty much everywhere in the world, carry it with you if you can.

Given some mishaps along the way (a post for another time) by the time i met my friends we were all STARVING and set out for breakfast. Once we’d ordered our breakfasts (fruit and yogurt for some and cooked breakfasts for the rest) a bread basket was brought to the table. Certainly a nice gesture which was readily appreciated given we were all starving. However at lunch later that day, the very same thing happened…again came a side of bread after we ordered our meals. It was the same with EVERY meal we ordered. I’m all for carbohydrates and i’m definitely for bread (yum!) but with literally every meal?! Bread is great, but it is easy to blow out an otherwise healthy meal (or unhealthy meal further) without realising it. Tip: Do not eat all of the (normal) bread. Of course, have some and enjoy it (!) but save yourself for the things you can’t get at home. 

Now i’ve mentioned it before – but i love sampling local cusine and Turkey had plenty. While i said no to the bread i could get at home, here is some that i couldn’t turn down:

Saying yes to some bread!

Turkey had a number of wonderful culinary delights (including Turkish Delight!) and it would be a shame not to try them, but there are also healthy options to be enjoyed!

Corn! This particular cob was disappointing but you can see the excitement all over my face!

A quick swim and a turkish bath followed by all that walking and your day’s turned out not so bad in my view. Especially when the swim comes with a view like this:

Club Suada. Full image credit here goes to a member of our travelling crew, Joshua Barwick.

There will be certainly many posts to come on the wonders of Turkey, but if you’re headed there for a trip, keep the tips above in mind!

The Healthy Globetrotter

Leave a reply