Thursday March 8
Today the whole group had a scheduled tour of Hagia Sofia, Topkapi Palace and a boat tour of the Bosphorus. We were scheduled to meet down at the lobby at 8:30am. I think we showed up about 8:35am. Lucky for us, we were not the last people to arrive in the lobby so we made the bus without too much of a fuss. The bus left about 8:45am and we were off toward Hagia Sofia. The bus took about 15-20 minutes to the get to our attraction from the Titanic City Hotel Taksim. Once there we were given our tickets and we had a tour guide that talked to us via audio device with headphones. We toured the inside of the basilica turned mosque turned museum for about 2-3 hours. The inside of the church was mixed with christian mosaics and mosque inspired chandeliers. The mosaics were remarkable and adorned some walls and ceilings. It’s very massive on the inside from the bottom floor to the ceiling of the dome. Once we completed the inside we worked our way to the outside briefly and snapped a few shots of the grounds and the Blue Mosque that can be seen in the distance.
Next stop was Topkapi Palace which was a short walk from Hagia Sofia. It was overcast in Istanbul today and a bit windy during midday. It was quite cold while inside the grounds of Topkapi Palace. Inside the grounds we stopped to get instructions on the plan for the group next to the Hagia Irene. I snapped a few photos and tried to get a few shots of the gate entrance (The Gate Of Salutation) to Topkapi Palace. The first thing we checked out was the holy relics located in one wing of the courtyard. Inside were supposed relics from prophets such as David, Muhammed, and other religious articles. There was a “hand and forearm” of John I believe which was interesting along with the Staff Of Moses. Topkapi Palace is filled with things to see including my favorite the Arms collection in one building. It had some fascinating weapons from the Ottoman period and dating back throughout the ages. It was quite remarkable and I highly recommend it. One building housed a collection of jewels, art, and wardrobes named the Imperial Treasury. A lot of people seemed to be focused on seeing this collection and it was kind of hard to get a good view while we were scurrying through. There was a royal sultan baby crib that I found interesting and some of the thrones for the sultans. One area Kat and I didn’t pay extra to see was the Harem. Some of the others toured this area and said it was great. You really needed a long time to tour Topkapi Palace and the fact it was windy and cold lead to us skipping some areas of the palace due to walking all day and the weather. If I were to go back I would almost set aside a whole 4-5 hours to see everything. We were able to see some good views of the Bosphorus/Golden Horn from the grounds since its high up the hill from the waterways. While we were walking out, there was a group of kids that were hovered over one of Kat’s classmates and seemed to be fascinated with getting a picture with him. They tried to get a picture with us too but we were on the move!
The final tour of the day included a boat tour of the Bosphorus Strait. Before we got down to the dock, my only thought was I hope this has an indoor area or we are going to freeze! Fortunately for us the boat did have a bottom deck area that was indoors with heat and plenty of windows to see out so we took a table down below. You could purchase snacks and beverages on the boat tour which was nice. Since we had been so cold we got some hot apple tea which is big in Turkey. I’ll have to say it is quite tasty. It’s like hot apple cider and it went down nicely. They bring it in a little cup and saucer which is nice. I took quite a number of photos of the shoreline and sites from the boat. I took a few inside and braved the decks outside for a bit to get some video and photos. I was glad I was able to take photos of the Fortress Of Europe and Fortress of Asia from the decks while on the tour. I had read about the fortresses in the guide book and wasn’t sure if we would get to see them. A lot of the group was tired and some were falling asleep on the boat ride due to the nice comfy surroundings of the bottom deck (ie hot tea, heat). Kat and I stayed awake the whole time though I will say! Overall it was a good day with the whole MBA class and touring group. All 3 tours are must see stops if you are ever in Istanbul!!!
Once back at the hotel, most of the group decided to take a rest and retreated to the hotel rooms. Everyone met up in the lobby for dinner plans to be hashed out and most of us decided to go to a spot on Istiklal where Kat’s Turkish classmate Alp had planned to have dinner with his father and a few friends. A group of about 20 of us met at this multiple story restaurant down off a side street of Istiklal. Alp’s dad ordered for the entire group and the waiters just kept bringing us food! Some things we found excellent and there were a few choices we were not brave enough to try I must say, that being the liver and onions. However, the fried sardines were excellent, along with this dessert made with bananas, honey, cinnamon, and a lite cream. It was ridiculously good! Our table ordered 2 extra dishes of the treat!
Earlier in the week Alp had promised he could get us tickets to the Galatasaray–Gençlerbirliği soccer match that I believed was on Sunday coming up. So at dinner that night, his friend showed up to hand us our tickets. When he handed over the tickets the date was Saturday. This was not good however since we had plans to fly to Izmir and tour Ephesus. I was distraught since I had really wanted to go to the game and see the atmosphere at the Turk Telecom Arena which was barely a year old and home to Galatasaray who are currently in 1st place in the Turkish league. Unfortunately, our plans got in the way and we couldn’t go to the game now since it was on Saturday night. Lucky for us Brad and Mandy decided to buy our tickets and go themselves. This was fortunate or we would have wasted approx. $110 dollars. I was glad someone got to go since we couldn’t also since we had gotten Alp and his friend to buy us tickets to the match. (per a facebook post from Mandy they had a great time so I’m glad they got to experience their first international soccer match!)
Once dinner was complete we a big group went to another Nargile (hookah) bar and hung out late into the night. Sami and Alp played a fierce game of backgammon which is big in Turkey. I tried to learn the rules of the game as they played but it was pretty difficult to pick up on the fly. I may have to go learn how to play just in case I ever go back to Turkey or at least to give Sami another person to play the game with! We walked back in the cold to the hotel past 1am and Day 5 was in the books. Another long day, some great sites seen, and some good memories made.
Here are some photos from Day 5: