1 September 2009: Today is a mixture of sightseeing and chores. One of the plan of this trip was to switch hotels in Istanbul. The idea is not to experience all the hotels in the vicinity of Sultanahmet, but rather, to move around to get a different vantage point of all the landmarks of the city. It is possible, within some tolerance, to determine if a hotel terrace has a good view in Google Earth. Sometimes it works, sometimes there is a building in the way. So it only makes sense that I stay in 3-4 hotels during this trip. The next two days I will be taking day trips out of Istanbul, so it is only making sense that I move to a hotel that allows me to move around to the otogar or the ferry pier easily early in the morning.
0852hrs: Paid 170TL for the hotel and on my way to Aya Sofia for this morning's trip. It is starting to rain so it is no fun. It did rain overnight, wet roads and all visible this morning. My window was opened all night long and I was lucky not to drench out the whole room. Woke up early in the morning by the morning Fajr prayer calls from countless mosques in the area. In my state of early morning concussion, I was still able to find my audio recorder in the darkness and recorder the prayer wars between mosques. I wouldn't politically call it 'fighting' but it does seem like there is a small element of rivalry there. But overall the plan for this trip to Istanbul has turned out well, walked the city when the weather was fine in the last few days and just as the weather turned bad, I've only got the interiors of Aya Sofia left to go through today. Plus some time wasting walkabouts this afternoon.
0901hrs: Queue for Aya Sofia is already relatively long despite the rain, and mainly made up of private tour groups with special tickets ready. On the way in the entrance is strewn (not exactly true, there are some elements of orderly arrangement) with pieces of the old building that was supposed to be here before the current one was build. I spent a little more time than the tour groups checking all the pieces out , architecturally it seems rather roman, carved marble slabs, columns and arches are all over the place. But if the previous temple was all stone, I wonder how it got burnt down.
I don't think I have to mention everything that is inside Aya Sofia, every book out there describes it in much more detail than I could in a single post. One thing is for sure, this is one big, elaborate and impressive building. The marbles look as though they have been chosen for their pattern, and they are arranged so that the patterns repeat somewhat, done by cutting it into two and putting the two newly exposed surfaces next to each other, so they look like mirror reflections. Very nicely done if I may. First time I've seen it arranged like this.
Some of the arches and column dont look very even, appparently due to a rush job while fitting out the building. Columns are not mathematically straight either. But it's good timing as I happen to watch a Discovery Channel documentary on the building the night I was supposed to leave for Istanbul!
Grand as it is, Aya Sofia is also under renovation, with 13 storey scaffolding right under the main dome obscuring the size of the place. I'd say that the Ottomans were lucky that the church was built in an orientation that approximates the direction of Mecca, so that the devotees only have to skew it a few positive degrees, not more. Or else the interiors would have been a mess.
1116hrs: Out of Aya Sofia. Spent a reasonably good amount of time looking closely at just about everything while trying to avoid the rude tour groups trying to do a rush job of visiting the venue and steam rolling everyone down. It is still drizzling but I will have to switch hotel at noon.
1315hrs: At the train track going to Sirkeci, hoping to scout the vicinity of Galata bridge and see if there is a late cruise trip. If it is not available, then it will be walking Beyoglu for the afternoon. We'll see how things goes, no real plan except to roam the areas of the Halic for the rest of the day.
1340hrs: At Enimonu docks looking at Beyoglu and the Bosphorus ferries. This is a busy place. Once the ferry leaves another one arrives to take its place. Not all are full to the brim like sardine cans, but still busy nonetheless. Each pier is its own little terminal. Tickets is by the usual Jeton token. 1 token will get you across the Bosphorus. But I will not go yet at this moment. Continued walking towards the Galata bridge, having a 4TL fish sandwish along the way. The sandwich is tasty good stuff but I think I got part of the gills of the mackerel fillet along with all the bones that are clearly not for consumption. As Turkey is not a clean place, I guess it is possible to just throw away fish bones anywhere on the street.
Galata Bridge: what can I say. Was expecting something like the Tower bridge in London or one of the elaborate bridges across the Seine, at least Bir Hakeim, but no, this is as boring as it gets. Causeway style most of the way with restaurants lodged between the water and road deck and a little bridge in the middle for low river boats to pass. Above on the road deck, anglers line the bridge with their wooden contraption to keep the rods held and locked to the railing.
Walked across to Beyoglu end of Galata Bridge, and time for a little snack. Fish soup, bread and some more of the Turkish Tea should complete my tea time meal. There is an area selling hardware and tools and that is where I find this small shop selling soup.
1612hrs: Managed to find my way up to Galata tower by the furnicular tram and then short 100m walk downhill. The walk passes through small cobblestoned streets with many music shops. Now sitting by the tower while my Garmin is having much difficulty locking onto satellite signals. No photo opportunities here as the light is coming from the wrong angles. Time to go back down to the waterfront and walk across Ataturk Bridge back to Eminonu to catch a ferry to Asia.
1804hrs: After a long walk back, now at Eminonu-Karakoy pier. Wanted to go to Uskudar but got on the wrong ferry instead, but not an issue, there is a nice view of mosques at Sultanahmet here. The ferry stops at Haydarpasa, where there is a train station before hitting Kadikoy. However, here in Kadikoy I realised the line of sight to the sun setting is not too ideal for a sunset photo. Not too much time left, and I will have to quickly look for a bus to Uskudar. The timetable at the pier seems to suggest that ferries run till close to midnight so I should be safe as far as the idea of getting stuck in Asia is concerned. Good that I managed to get an Akbil stored value key fob today. Allows me to travel without the need to dish out coins or look for a token booth.
The bus slowly meanders its way all the way to Uskudar next to the ferry docks. After checking the pier timetable to be sure there is a boat back after my photoshoot, its time to fast walk the coastline all the way towards Harem till I find the best spot for the shoot. Did what a lazy photographer would do, sitting down on a bench while shooting. For this session, a tripod will be required, which I deployed while homeless kids asking for money, thinking all asian looking people are rich Japanese. They don't understand English, so its time to practice my insults on them. Didn't work so I tried the cock-stare, as Singaporeans call it. That worked.
The sun sets behind Galata tower, was hoping for it to go behind the tower but it seems to miss it by just a bit. Suleymaniye Camii is on the left, not as nice as the Galata tower as it is too far from the setting sun, but still a good shoot. Met a local photographer during the shoot. We talked photography while waiting between sun setting and the dusk glow setting in.
2054hrs: On board the SH Fatih on the way back to Golden Horn and eventually back to the hotel. Been a long day today, pretty eventful, no mosques, but more of a landscaping day. Sitting on the deck on the right side to have a nice view of European side of Istanbul. The boat is not too full on the way back. Very tired by now, and tomorrow a day trip to Edirne.
Continue to Edirne...