Istanbul Diaries, Day Two: Covid, Hagia Sophia, Eminunu, Eyup, Taksim Square

Our first productive full day in Istanbul, and boy were we excited. Lock-Down made us feel like we had to make the most out of this trip especially with talks of a second lockdown happening at anytime soon…… (these talks are still going on)

So first thing we do….. well Breakfast. Of course……but not as we know it.

Breakfast is served in a cosy little room but once again, Covid! Oh Covid. What do we do with you?! There is no buffet, we were asked what we would like and it gets put onto our table. Yup breakfast is turning out to be my worst meal of the day now.

The views from the Terrace is nice though- with views of the Hagia Sophia its actually breath taking, especially early morning in the cool fresh air. (If you missed it here’s my review of The Great Fortune Hotel and Spa.)

The Terrace at Great Fortune Hotel and Spa
View from the Terrace.

…….and so we headed off- with just tea, a few chunks of cake and watermelon for breakfast in our bellies and a mask covering our faces to the Grandeur that is Hagia Sophia.

Hagia Sophia

We were planning to go yesterday but when we saw the queues, we decided to leave it till today, Today we were ready to queue and much to my surprise we were in within 5 minutes. Social Distancing was being maintained outside and inside as best as it could. You would need to take a prayer mat with you, but if you do not have one, you will be provided with a disposable plastic sheet to pray on. Also covering of the body is a requirement, however once again if you are not suitably dressed there is a clothes bank where you can borrow some clothes to put on. And masks are mandatory inside and outside, So keep it with you at all times!

Once inside- the world stopped:

It is so breathtakingly big on entrance, and it has an eerie silence to it, although there were so many people inside, it left a dull murmer, but I could tell that a loud cry would definately echo off the walls. The darkness of the Fortress was kept alight with the natural light from the large windows and also the large chandelier in a warm glowy burnt orange adding majestic to the place.

I could actually imagine the cast of Ertugrul (netflix series) inside here waging deals and hosting dinner.

The Hagia Sophia is so stunningly beautiful inside, so grand and so much detail. At Almost 1500 years old, the beauty and the structure has been well maintained, and we can see the detail of the tiling, the mosaics and the beautiful stained glasses. It really is truly amazing to see how the roof so high up has been held together by the hundreds of columns. Masks are to be worn inside at all times. We made our prayers and then left with the intention to come back at prayer time so that we could pray with a congregation for any of the 5 prayers we could manage. It truly did take my breath away.

Buy an Istanbul Kart for Public Transport.

The next thing we did is to buy an Istanbul Kart (around € 1.50) with which you can travel by public transport. You can buy this card at any small kiosk on the streets. I would advise All of you to purchase one of these and use this to travel around. Travelling on the trams give you the experience and also its at a fraction of the price. The Card can be used on any public transport whether that be the trams, bus or boat. Although there are 4 of us, we only bought one card and topped up. All four of us used the same card. All forms of transport require a mask to be worn otherwise they will not let you in.

Eminunu

We used the card and the trams to get to Eminunu. Eminunu is a harbourside, and on one side you have the docks, and the boats. On the other side you have the buzzing Markets, the Spice Bazaar, and various different places to eat.

So why did we come here? urm …… Burgerillas….. you guys know Burgerillas? the most awesome Burger Place in Istanbul. EVER. We had this the last time we came and it is forever going to stay in our ‘To Do’ list for EVERY Istanbul visit. Having said that I recently noticed that they are opening a store in Knightsbride in London!!! I am sooooo excited!

Well we hyped this place up to the boys as it was their first visit, and it did not disappoint. At all. So much so that we actually came back again.

After Burgerillas we walked to the Spice Market. On entrance to the market, masks are put on and temperature is checked. It is here were I picked up some Apple Tea and Sumac. The Spice Market is what it says, a huge market full of vendors selling spices, fruits and Tea. Each vendor is identical to the other, and you just go through rows and rows of spicy and sweet smells, and it is the building once again that makes it an experience not to be missed.

The Spice Market

Eyup Sultan Mosque

From Eminunu we caught the number ’99’ Bus to Eyup once again using the Istanbul Kart card. Here we wanted to visit the Eyup Sultan Mosque. This mosque is Istanbul’s very first mosque and also holds the tomb of Abu Ayyub al-Ansari, A fellow companion of the Prophet Muhammed (SAW). It is a area full of tourists and locals. Set on a forecourt with a fountain said to be flowing with sacred water and olive trees that have survived from the Ottoman era. It is so Picturesque. But also the environment is so different from Sultan Ahmet. There is a sense of calm and coolness that you can feel in the air.

I felt this same feeling on both times I have been here. The mosque once again is so grand and beautiful, the beautifully soft carpets, the low hanging chandeliers and the attention to detail on the mosaic tiles and high arch windows take your breath away. Unlike the Hagia sophia this is a very well lit Mosque and decorated with a lot of light. It was Originally built in 1458, but was reconstructed in 1800 due to damage by an earthquake, but it still holds its magic.

We offered our prayers inside the mosque and went to visit the Tomb. I did not take photos of the Tomb due to respect but it definitely not a place to be missed.

On exit we then made our way up the hill to the Cable cars sitting on Ayup. The cable cars take us further up the hills to a sweet Café ‘Pierre Loti’ where we can sit and watch the breath taking views of the city below whilst having a cup of traditional Turkish Tea. It is a breath taking view and not to be missed whilst here, especially because we can use the Istanbul Kart card once again and the cost of roughly under a £1 per person.

Cable Cars
View from Pierre Loti Cafe.

To get back to our hotel we used the Cable cars once again, and then used the Bitaksi app to catch a taxi back. Bitaksi is similar to an Uber. It roughly cost just under £4 to get back.

Taksim square

After having a bit of a late afternoon lie down we headed off again, this time to Taksim Square- now that we know about the ‘Bitaksi’ app, getting on trams and buses seemed a chore. We got to Taksim for just under £6.00, around a 25 minute drive. Taksim Square is a shopping, dining, nightlife busy area. It was pretty busy considering Covid, but at the same time, we had seen it busier on our last trip. This area holds the High Street and Designer shops to the likes of Zara and Lacoste. Honestly speaking we walked up and down Taksim Square, but didn’t really go into any of the shops. We have all this at home, so it didn’t seem worth going into. One thing we did go into though was McDonalds. I know we can find a McDonalds at home too, but its not halal- so this has to be the highlight of our day…….. but and wait for this…… Mcdonalds had run out of food! yes. I will say it again. McDonalds in Taksim Square did not have any food. Not only were we annoyed but we could not stop laughing. Never heard of that before. Right? (Hey McDonalds. Sort your act out!) I am still in disbelief today.

We did find another McDonalds- but it was in an amusement arcade, so seating wise it was not the best of places, but we got our McDonalds fix and it was worth it too.

Hasan Pasa Konagi

And last up- Our night Cap. It can only be one place…. This absolute heaven of a place sits further down from the Grand Bazaar and you can get to it from the trams, we preferred to walk it down. We needed to shift the Burgerillas and McDonalds.

This is ‘OUR’ Place as my hubby calls it. We ended our night with shisha and desserts out in the open, and then walked it back up to our hotel, a good 40 minute walk. And hit the bed within seconds, ready for the next day.

And that ends Day 2 in Istanbul.

If you missed Day 1, click here.

More to come on Day 3….

Love and Regards.

M11bna

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Istanbul Diaries. Day One: Covid, Hagia Sophia and The Blue Mosque

After the long haul of the flight with the mask over our face for 4 straight hours, We landed at Sabiha Gokcen Airport in Turkey. But yet the mask had to stay on for a little longer. I had a little breather where I dropped my mask took a deep breath and then stuck it back on, and then resumed my journey. In Turkey masks are mandatory and worn by everyone. The Airport was empty once again, and the whole arrivals process was quick…. so quick that we ended up sitting down for half hour before our luggage started coming through on the turning belts….(That has never happened before!)

We landed mid day at 5’oclock, so the evening belonged to us. With the flight being only 4 hours and the overnight stay we were not as tired as we usually are after a flight and decided straight after checking in to our hotel we will start exploring.

The Hotel.

The Great Fortune Spa and Hotel.

Right where do I start with this one….. Claiming to be a 4* hotel near SultanAhmet Square, it ticked the boxes we needed for what we were after and also fit the budget with a little extra to spend! So Bonus and Bonus….. that is until we got there…..

On arrival, we were a bit dubious as the reception area had no real reception- it was just a long….. urm reception area. Nothing else, nothing to lounge on, or anywhere to sit and have a drink, but having said that it was super clean and it was nicely decorated….

We went for a family room. The boys room was quite big, 2 large beds, and sofa seat and fitted furniture. The bathroom was sufficient. The room we had for ourselves had a double bed and there was literally no room for anything else. It was cramped to a point that we had to leave our own suitcases in the boys room. Lets be fair in saying that the internet pictures of this place are far more glamourous then the hotel itself.

Boys Room
Our Room
The bathroom
This is literally the only space I had to change into my clothes

The hotel boasts a spa- once again its not the best. There is only one changing room for male and females (OMG! I could not deal with this! we are in Turkey!) It has one tiny corner where it seems like they have tried to make an effort to do something with, the pool was tiny- enough to do 2/3 strokes and we reach the end of the pool- it felt deeper in depth than in length!! but…. yes there is a positive, the steam room and the sauna was really good, really clean and big!

That’s me posing 🤣. But swimming pool behind and 2 deck chairs. Anymore people in here and we would be overcrowded.
The sauna was quite big. Was impressed with this.

I am not going to knock the Hotel, it is a good Hotel, for the price we paid of £100 per night for a joint family room including breakfast, I cant really expect it to a haven, but this hotel definitely does not fit the 4* rank it has, its a 3* or below. If I had known it was a 3* I probably would not complain as much.

Having said that the staff from the kitchen staff, to the receptionist to the cleaners were overly eager to help us throughout. So all in all, its not a bad Hotel, it just doesn’t say what it is on the label and that’s what I am cheesed off about more that anything else.(*roll eye*) For a city break, it will do the job I want it to do.

SultanAhmet Square

The Blue Mosque

First stop- the reason why we came here- the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia which now has a small quarter available for prayers. I know there was a lot of controversy around the conversion of the Hagia Sophia from a Museum to a mosque, but I do need to advise it is just a small area that has been given for prayers. This area is accessible to anyone who wants to see inside the building and also pray.

Hagia Sophia

The beauty of this is we can go inside without having to pay, so if you really did want to see the construct without the full museum tour- this is perfect.

Turkey is very strict in its wearing of the mask- Everyone wears a mask- its a norm! if I did put my mask down for a little while- you can be sure that someone will tap you on the shoulder and advise you to put it back on politely. This was actually really nice- and shows that people have a love for themselves and others and also a love for their country by adhering to the rules.

We tried to get into the Blue Mosque but were told it was closed due to renovation, and not due to open for maybe a couple of years….. so we decided to take a walk around. We ended up at the Terrace of the Seven Hills Hotel to have a breath-taking look at both the Blue Mosque and Sophia Hagia from what is the tallest building in Istanbul (Apparently although after this we learnt that a lot of hotels say the same thing, we are tourists, we believe everything people tell us!)

Hagia Sophia from the Top.
View of the Blue Mosque from The Seven Hills Hotel.

My brother’s family who arrived to Istanbul a week earlier, were spending the last day and so we decided to join them.

We met up with the family at The Panoramic Istanbul Roof Terrace- apparently the highest building in Istanbul which boasts the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia. (**rolls eye. where have we heard this before?**). It truly was breath taking I wont deny that, but yet the food was not quite to our requirements. It was expensive (for Turkey!) but also just bland. This is definitely a place I ticked off and not going back or recommending to anyone. If you want, just go see the views- but make sure you eat elsewhere!

Tea with a view from The Panoramic Roof Terace

We were lucky in that we got to listen to the Adhaan (The call to prayer) from here… from both the Mosques. Truly a beautiful experience. It was our first day, we did not want to do too much, so we wined and dined (somewhat with bland food) and then we ended up with Shisha at night (which was just as awful). But the beauty was I caught up with my sister in law.

Night Cap with Babs

Before the end of the day, we walked down the beautiful streets of Sultan Ahmet square. The perfect end to our half day in Istanbul….

More to come on Istanbul. Stay tuned

Istanbul Day Two: can be found here

Love and Regards

M11bna

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