Today we visited the top two tourist sights in Istanbul: Aya Sofya (also known as the Hagia Sofia) and the Topkapi Palace. Both were walkable from our apartment and are actually right next to each other.
Aya Sofya was first for the day, and we were a little worried about lines since our “early start” to the day ended up meaning out of bed at 9:20am, thanks to a toddler who wasn’t interested in sleep last night and a little power outage that meant we didn’t have fans for a while (which may be a trend because it’s happened at least two of the other nights we’ve been here.)Anyway, even with our late arrival, it was a short wait to get into the grandiose Aya Sofya, which was the world’s largest christian church for several hundred years until Istanbul was conquered by the Ottomans and it was then turned into a mosque. It later became a museum and now is the largest tourist attraction in Istanbul. The place is incredible in it’s decadence. The ceiling is covered in gold tiles and some of the ornate mosaics remain. There’s also the “floating dome” that sits in the middle of the ceiling. While we are not huge fans of visiting religious sights, this one is pretty amazing.
D only caused one minor scene when he grabbed a velvet rope to a podium so that the metal stand tipped, the heavy gold plated top of the stand came off and rolled across the marble floor. Yes, it was as loud as you may imagine. Only slightly embarrassing when you are surrounded by hundreds (thousands?) of other tourists. I grabbed D, then passed him back to Z so he could resume his post riding on daddy’s shoulders. So much for freedom. We then walked to the Topkapi Palace, where generations of sultans lived in an incredible compound surrounded by lush gardens and the sea on two sides. I don’t know what I expected, but this place was way larger than I ever imagined, and we spent almost four hours there. There are multiple courtyards with different rooms and collections of artifacts. You can see the kitchens and related cookware, cutlery, and dishes, the treasury with some beautiful gems and jewelry, and the armory, which we really enjoyed, it had some pretty wicked looking ancient and not-so-ancient weapons. There are also many gardens, some smaller living quarters, and a nice cafe on the grounds. We stopped at many places along the way to let D run around and play, especially since the weather was gorgeous (overcast and sometimes barely drizzling is gorgeous after 5.5 weeks of only sunshine and hot weather to Midwesterners). There is a harem area at the palace, but we decided to skip the additional entry fee and we were not disappointed. The wait was over an hour, and from the windows where you could see in, it looked somewhat similar to other sections of the palace. We really enjoyed our visit to the palace, and I think it’s partly because we took it slow and were able to stop along the way.
Tomorrow we head to Cappadocia for our last minute final side trip. We are looking forward to seeing the landscape and I’m really excited to stay in a cave hotel (I am a total kid at heart and love doing things like that). So be prepared for some exciting landscape pictures next post (we hope).