Country #43 - Turkey

The Transit

I awoke to the momentarily terrifying AP News update that there had been an explosion on the Tube in London. Not the best thing to see when you were planning on getting on the Tube in an hour. After reading all of the news and seeing that no one was seriously injured and that the Tube was staying open I decided to take it anyways and it was totally fine. Taking an Uber or taxi would have been almost 10-15 times more expensive.

I took the Stansted Express from London Liverpool Street and arrived at Stansted airport early for quite possibly the first time ever. It is still the worst airport even when you’re early! You have to sit in the crowded terminal waiting to be assigned a terminal then the sign will change to boarding, you arrive at your gate, and it’s still like thirty minutes until you actually board. It. Is. The. Worst.

My flight to Istanbul, Turkey was pretty long and I tried to sleep a little. I arrived after dark and it was a little stressful to find the correct bus to take into the city once I left the arrivals hall, but eventually, I found the right one. I was unable to take public transportation because unfortunately it only runs to Ataturk Airport and I flew into Istanbul Sabiha Gokcen International Airport (SAW) but supposedly it will reach SAW in the next year or so! I took the bus to the Karaköy area since for some reason there is no airport transfer bus that will go to the main tourist area, Sultanahmet. I then took an Uber from Karaköy to Sultanahmet. My driver tried to overcharge me so I complained to Uber and they refunded my entire ride!

When I arrived at my hotel, Dersaadet Hotel Istanbul, I was greeted so warmly. I was given amazing apple tea (and I hate tea) and a Turkish delight! After checking in I headed up to my room where, after a long day of travel I slept easily before my full day exploring Istanbul tomorrow!

The Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia

I got a good night’s sleep and had a great day exploring Istanbul! It is such a unique city and unlike anywhere I have ever been before. I started the day off with the two main sights: the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia. I walked up a cute market like street (called Kabasakal) from my hotel to the area between the two landmarks. Standing between the two is almost overwhelming they are just so breathtaking and incredible to see in person.

I headed to the Blue Mosque first. You have to be dressed appropriately to enter but luckily they provide coverings if you aren’t. I had a scarf with me so I was good but it was still good to see. To enter you also have to cover your shoes with provided covers. I had no idea what to expect inside but it was so unique and beautiful. After the Blue Mosque, I headed directly across to Hagia Sophia.

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Hagia Sophia is such a unique site because it has been both a cathedral and a mosque and is now a stunning museum. Built in 537 AD, the amazing structure is the most visited tourist attraction in Turkey for a reason. I really enjoyed walking around such a sacred site and learning so much about it. Make sure you visit the second floor as well because there are really interesting mosaics and other artifacts and you have an amazing view of the entire building.

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My next stop was some Turkish ice cream right outside and I just sat and looked at the buildings for a while. I then walked to Basilica Cistern which was unexpectedly one of my favorite stops of the day. I had no idea what I was quite literally walking into but it was so cool! Basilica Cistern is an underground water chamber that can hold 80,000 cubic meters of water. It is filled with columns supporting the chamber and there are famous Medusa heads inside as well. I really enjoyed walking through it even though I didn’t know what it would be at first and I highly recommend it!

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From Basilica Cistern I headed to Topkapi Palace Museum. The palace is different than most as it is all spread out and you walk outside to go from one part to another. It basically felt more like an estate than a traditional palace. There are so many buildings and each one had a beautiful interior. It was so interesting to spend time walking around and learning more about the Palace and Istanbul itself. I had to hurry through because I had to head to the airport to catch my flight but I was able to see everything, including the amazing view of the Bosphorus from within the Palace walls.

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On my way back to the hotel I stopped to buy some apple tea (I told you it was good) and Turkish delight (remember it from the Chronicles of Narnia movie?). My last stop was walking by Little Hagia Sophia on the way to my hotel. It was, as the name implies, much smaller than what I had seen earlier today. Unfortunately, the inside was closed but I still enjoyed walking by. When I got to the hotel I took a taxi to the bus stop and then took the bus back to Istanbul Sabiha Gokcen International Airport.

The airport was pretty stressful as they went through literally my entire backpack contents at the first (of two) security check. I get being safe, especially in a city that has had its other airport attacked, but my acne medicine and stuffed bunny pose no threat. Literally, I had to explain what everything was (every medication, charger, etc.). It was a hassle but thankfully I was plenty early for my flight. I grabbed Burger King because there weren’t a ton of options and it was such a disappointing meal. The chicken nuggets were so undercooked they were inedible! I chose Burger King for simplicity but it ended up being anything but. I found a few more snacks and boarded my flight to Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan exhausted but really happy to have had such a great day exploring an ancient city.

43 countries down, 154 to go.