Another hot day when we ventured into Asia. Overall our feeling is that Istanbul is somewhere you have to come to. There is something different about this city split between two continents which has more mosques than Rome probably has churches. But, and here’s the difference, Istanbul only has mosques. Okay, we did the underground Yerebatan Cistern, a huge vaulted ancient reservoir fed by aqueducts from a forest ten miles away, but other than that and its unique disposition, we’re talking a lot of mosques. There’s no Trevis Fountain, nor an Arc de Triumph. No great parliament buildings and no world-class art galleries. The mosques are huge – all of them. And with their achingly beautiful minarets, gravity-defying domes and significant mosaics, they are themselves must-sees. But once you’ve been in one, they’re quite samey in a jaw-dropping sort of way. I’ve just reread this and have to note that we are doing Topkapi tomorrow, which isn’t a mosque, so my view might change?
Last night we went back to the bridge with the cafes and chose the wrong restaurant. The whole of Turkey was is Istanbul celebrating Ramadan, but we never felt uncomfortable. It was a big party, with all the public places brimming over – and this morning, everything was clean again. It is a clean city. This morning we visited Hagia Sofia mosque/museum, which is a cricket ball throw from the Blue Mosque. Ugly from the outside, but beautiful inside – with some great mosaics, many of which are Christian as it was originally a cathedral. Then to the underground cistern, followed by a boat trip to Asia – all courtesy of the Oyster card.
We walked along the seafront in weather that was just beginning to get unworkable without a portable air conditioning unit, had a picnic lunch looking back over to Europe and caught a different ferry back. There are boats everywhere crossing the Bosporus. And it’s an immensely pleasant way to travel.
Tiring, we walked back a couple of miles to the hotel, up big hills through back streets. Here we were reminded that Istanbul is actually one massive clothes shop. There are thousands of them, some big, some small. Some spilling onto the street. The houses are either concrete, four/five storey affairs, or wooden colonial equivalents. There’s some interesting old brick buildings and, of course, a mosque on every corner – the architectural style is at best random. But there’s plenty of life and lots of colour.
We’re not sure about tonight yet. Hopefully we’ll chose a better restaurant. Wish us luck!