I didn’t quite figure how compact the main landmarks in Turkey really were! We managed to see the Hagia Sofia, Blue Mosque, and Topkapi Palace, all in one day! After reading about queues on Lonely Planet, E suggested we head for the Hagia Sofia first. I guess one of the marvels of travelling off season is the lack of crowd. There was absolutely no queue in the Hagia Sofia (entrance = 20TL/~14USD). We just waltzed into the main hall, and at no point did we feel crowded.

The Hagia Sofia is no longer an active site of worship, but it was last used as a mosque. Before its last life as a mosque, it used to be a cathedral. But after the Crusades, the Muslim conquerors decided to turn the former cathedral into a mosque. Uncovered parts of the Hagia Sofia show some of the Christian emblems that have been covered over. For instance, near the upper levels, on the four corners, there are three stars, but the last one is an angel. I guess the stars were used to cover over the angels. It is a really remarkable architecture!

Next, we headed towards the Blue Mosque, which faces the Hagia Sofia. As it was prayer time (and hence, we couldn’t go into it anyway), we decided to take a lunch break in the nearby area. That was the first of many swarma sandwiches on this trip. It was at an ok price of 5TL (~3 USD). The interior of the Blue Mosque is pretty stunning. It is blue because the interior is blue in colour, and part of the reason being the number of blue mosaics used. This was my first visit to the interior of a mosque. Inside the mosque, there were also four disproportionately huge pillars. Probably need about four people linking hands to surround it! Well, I ran out of words to describe it, so hopefully the pictures will give you a better idea.

Next, we headed to the Topkapi Palace, which is behind the Hagia Sofia. The three buildings seem to have been laid on some sort of axis, making them really walkable (less than ten minutes from one end to the other). We took a detour to get to the Topkapi Palace, which brought us up a little hill path with a hooka café, and graffiti by an inspiring artist whose workshop is made of galvanized iron. Perhaps it is because it is wintertime, but the Topkapi Palace felt like a ripoff. The 20TL (~14USD) entrance fee gave us access to the general areas, but several of the potentially interesting places like the kitchen was closed. So there wasn’t much to see with the general entrance. Entrance to the harem (inner court of the palace) was another 15TL (~10USD). There are some beautiful mosaics in the harem, but some parts were badly lit, making it hard to see things like frescos. Also, there was quite a lack of explanatory signs.

After visiting these three landmarks, next we headed for the Grand Bazaar (which closes at 7pm) for some shopping before dinner. Honestly, I wasn’t so impressed with the Grand Bazaar. It is like a regular shopping mall, just that all the shops are on the ground level, and in various nooks and crannies, making it quite easy for one to get lost. Prices were also much higher than the Spice Market. I did enjoy taking pictures of souq life, though. Dinner was by a cafeteria near the Grand Bazaar that offered bargain meals. I ordered a swarma dish for 6TL (~4USD), which came with an tasty butter rice, delicious grilled aubergines and peppers. The swarma was almost like a side dish, than the main event for the dish. I finished my meal with a sinful chocolate baklava (1TL/~0.60USD). Yum!

Hagia Sofia

Inside the Hagia Sofia

Inside the Hagia Sofia

Blue Mosque

Blue Mosque and Cat

Inside the Blue Mosque

Graffiti in Istanbul

Grand Bazaar Life

Good for sale in the Grand Bazaar