Day 13 (September 22, 2013)   Istanbul


Map of Istanbul's touristic area    We should land in Istanbul around 11 AM. After immigration check we would join the free tour Turkish airlines offers to their transit passengers.

   This tour includes lunch, English speaking guide and tickets for Blue Mosque, Basilica Cistern and Topkapi Palace.

   I’ve preferred the tour including Topkapi Palace than the one with Hagia Sophia because a must-do of this city is the views to Bosphorus.

   As we’re free to leave the tour, we could do a scape to Grand Bazaar.

   We finally must be at airport on time for our final flight to home, at 9:05 PM.

   The spots marked at map are:

 1- Blue Mosque
 2- Hagia Sophia
 3- Basilica Cistern
 4- Topkapi Palace
 5- Grand Bazaar


Mombasa aiport   At 5 AM we’re loading our baggage in the car our driver has taken today. He has used three different cars for each of the three trips we’ve got with him. As there is not a soul on the street or road we reach the airport in 10 minute and say goodbye to him and the whole country.

   We join the line for going into the airport as there are security checks at doors. When we’re taking our things from the tray coming out from the scanner a man from the Turkish airlines staff is taking us as he is explaining we’re not as good on time as we thought.

   But we are and with the quick check in, where we’re delivered the boarding passes for this flight to Istanbul but not for the flight to Barcelona – although we’re assured our baggage is going to Barcelona indeed -, and the small this airport is, when we’re in our boarding gate I have time enough as per looking where to exchange my spare shillings. As I don’t find any place I ask about to a woman working at airport who answers me there is one before the security check for gate we just passed, so she can only propose I give her the money and she will go to exchange it for me. I trust on her and give all the Kenyan bills I have. You would lose your bets here as 10 minutes later she appears and give me the euros.

   I don’t wonder why this airport is so small when I can see on screen the list of all the departing flights for the whole day: 9. Ours is the second one.

List of flights from Mombasa airport for the daySun rise in Mombasa while taking off

   We take off when sun is appearing by Mombasa and have a gentle flight to Istanbul, passed between movies and sleeping.

   We land at scheduled time, around 1 PM, and go to the visa box to get two Turkish visas by 15€ each. Then we get some local cash from the ATM just beside and go across the way to join the long line for immigration. After the procedures, and on despite we ask to four persons working in this airport, we take a long on finding the desk for the free tours to the city. We knew we’re going to be late since the flight time was changed but I’m coming for some information about how it works: the tours is a service independent from the flight, it leaves at 12 AM and, if you’re not on board, you’ve missed it whatever the reason of the delay or even it is not your fault by airlines’.

   We already have the thought of going to visit Istanbul by our own and the baggage store service is just at right of the tour desk. They charge us 18 TL by our bag and, just in front, we have the stairs down to the metro. We get also a map of the city from the desk.

   We pay 3 TL in a machine for each of the two tokens we put in the turnstile to be allowed to get in. There is no ticket, just the token, and it is gone once you’re in. This is a short ride in metro till Zeytinburnu station where we must get tokens again to pass to the tram. This trip is long, 15 stops until Sultanahmet, although less dull as you can be watching the city. We take some minutes more than one hour on getting there from the airport.

Korean festival at SultahnametKorean festival at Sultahnamet

   When we leave the tram we get into a park where it seems a Korean festival is going on all around, with shows and stands. We don’t know what this is about but the entire place is crowded. We use a shawarma place with a sign saying one plus drink is 5 TL for a quick lunch.

   We leave the park and avoid the festival to get into the Hippodrome. This is a square with a strange shape of a very long rectangle because it is keeping the shape of what was here on times of Byzantine Empire. There are two old obelisks which should point the two 180 curves.

Obelisks in HippodromeBlue Mosque minaret

   The two obelisks are very different to each other: the one looking new is the older one by far, brought from Egypt, and the one looking older was built in honor of Constantine, who split the Roman Empire by two.

   Just here is the entrance to what is for me the most beautiful building in Istanbul: the Blue Mosque. Although smaller, it is more beautiful than Hagia Sophia, whether outside or inside. It looks magnificent from its crowded courtyard.

Blue Mosque in IstanbulBlue Mosque in Istanbul

   A sign marks the times for praying, as these are the times the mosque is closed for the tourists. The next is at 4 PM so, as we’re only 15 minutes to that time, we go to the right side, where the visitors’ entrance is, and follow the rules for going in: no dressing short – although my capris are good enough -, taking off the shoes and keeping them in a plastic bag they deliver and Eva wears a scarf on her head.

   All the floor inside is a red carpet and the walls are decorated with beautiful paintings until the high ceilings from which the big lamps are dramatically falling until being hang at a few meters from the floor.

Interior of Blue MosqueInterior of Blue Mosque

   We take the exit at the opposite side we came in because it is taking to fountain with some garden which is sited in between of this wonder and the official one: Hagia Sophia.

Outside of Blue MosqueHagia Sophia

   Although the entrance fees are cheap, we’ve decided not going into Hagia Sophia (20 TL pp), Cistern Basilica (10 TL pp) and go to Topkapi Palace, but only looking for some views of the Bosphorus and the Marmara Sea, so we won’t pay the 20 TL of its fee either. I’ve already visited these three places when I was here in 2010, and these visits are explained in Istanbul page.

   We pass by the stage they’ve set in front of Hagia Sophia and turn following the monument’s side.

Front of Hagia SophiaSide of Hagia Sophia

   We have the entrance to Topkapi Palace in front of us. The street goes on down to the coast and I’m tempted on following it looking for a good sight of the Bosphorus, but my wife prefers to save the effort and looking out from the first courtyard of the palace, which is free.

Entrance to Topkapi PalaceBuilding at Topkapi Palace entrance

   There are people everywhere around this area. Courtyard’s right side, which is the one looking to the sea, is fenced as it seems to be a military place. We cannot get close to the wall, but we can get a good view of the Bosphorus from here.

Bosphorus views from Topkapi Palace

   We come back. We’re saving all these visits looking after having time for being in Grand Bazaar, which I haven’t seen either. We’re leaving the palace enjoying the beautiful view from its door.

Topkapi Palace doorView from Topkapi Palace door

   We buy a pack of chestnuts by 3 TL which we eat in our way back to the tram. This time is just a two stops ride, but in a completely full tram.

   The station name is Beyazit and, once there, we’re following the signs pointing to Grand Bazaar but, although we get into a couple of places looking like it, they’re finally very small bazaar areas. When we ask around we’re told the bazaar is closed on Sundays. I missed to check that!

   With this, our Istanbul visit is over. We buy some souvenirs nearby and get the tram again for our return trip to the airport.

Small bazaar in IstanbulIstanbul metro

   There we take our bag back and check in to get our boarding passes. We have plenty of time, which we spend on the airport stores.

Air view of Istanbul   When we leave Istanbul we know we’ll arrive late at night to home, but it doesn’t matter, we will have time for resting from this adventure, which is what this travel has really been.

   Looking at the pictures, the memories from this experience are fantastic and the images with which we lived there were natural on site, but brought to home is kind of incredible we were really there seeing what they show.

   The lodges and hotels have been good and the roads have been bad, but they’re part of the experience. Now, we even have all the bumping on those roads of the hell like good memories.

   I wouldn’t change our itinerary too much, although we feel as we should have more safari journeys. One thing I’ve learnt, though, is anticipating some problems for 3rd world countries, even not being their fault, as, for example, notifying my bank I’m going to go there.