Today we explored Istanbul before taking an overnight train to Turkey’s capital, Ankara.
We started the day by checking out of WOW Istanbul Airport hotel and taking the metro to the tram line down to Sirkeci train station to drop our bags. We then headed over to Topkapi Palace and followed the Rick Steves’ walking tour through the palace. While the Palace was amazing, it was very packed and some of the fellow tourists were quite agitating – with their pushing and cutting in line (mostly Turkish, it seemed). We had an overpriced, but delicious lunch/snack at the palace on a terrace overlooking the Bosphorus River and Asian Istanbul.
After Topkapi Palace, we went over to Hagia Sophia. As with the Topkapi Palace, we followed the Rick Steves’ tour guide and found it to be very useful in pointing out items we would not have heard about otherwise. The church was absolutely stunning and it took us a while to try to wrap our minds around how long ago it was built!
We then did the Rick Steves’ Old Istanbul walking tour – which led us through the Blue Mosque, Hippodrome, German Fountain, and Milion (an ancient mile marker). Unfortunately, the Underground Cistern closed early, so we were unable to visit it today. We ran into Todd and Piyush at the Blue Mosque entrance, but we did not hang with them for long as they left soon after arriving.
After finishing in Old Istanbul, we picked up our bags from the Sirkeci train station and took the inter-continental ferry from Karakoy to the Haydarpasa terminal (costing an amazingly-cheap TL1.75 per person for the 25 minute one-way trip). Although the ferry dropped us right at the station, we decided to drop our bags in the left luggage lockers and run over to nearby Kadikoy neighborhood to find Ciya Kebabs. Although we were “kebabed-out”, this place came highly recommended by Budget Traveler and others, so we decided to try it. We are glad we did, as it was delicious! But, we could not enjoy it for long as we had to rush back to the train station – utilizing a nearby taxi to shorten the 10 minute walk to just a few minutes.