Tuesday – 31/12/2019 | A tour around Sultanahmet & Old Town
This morning, for the first time this trip, my sister and I went out on our own. We spent the morning catching trams, walking in Old Town and eating street food (hello Nutella bagels, you’re a favourite).
After zohr, we met our parents back at the hotel to go for our Blue Mosque Tour. Once again, we caught the tram to Sultanahmet.
Turkey is a country with more than 8 500 years of history. It’s called the Historical Peninsula. The middle of Constantinople used to be opposite the Hagia Sophia. It was the centre of the world. The monument here says “Welcome to the Capital of the world.” It was zero ground. The beginning of everything started in Constantinople.
There’s a German fountain in the city centre. It was given to the Ottomans to form good relations between the Germans and Ottomans and it still stands today. Legend has it that if you drink water from this fountain, you’ll come back to Istanbul.
In the city centre lies Hippodrome Square with some part standing. The people used to play horse riding games there. There also used to be beautiful gold horses in Hippodram Square but it was moved to Saint Marcus square in Venice.
When the fourth crusade came, they saw the gold on the monument so they took the gold pieces therefore it no longer shines like gold. Funny thing is, it wasn’t gold, it was yellow metal. The guide described this monument as the definition of success because it was brought without ship/plane/etc, it was brought by 100% manpower.
The Blue Mosque was our next stop, the construction order for the Blue Mosque was five by Sultan Ahmet, who was the youngest Sultan at eighteen. It took eighty years to build and it has 31 000 blue tiles hence the name Blue Mosque, it’s currently under construction. It’s still really beautiful inside, it has Surah Noor in calligraphy (like Hagia Sophia) on a dome. There was a lot of tourists inside and it was really busy but the feeling inside was one of peace.
Outside the Blue Mosque, the Turkish government has put up posters about Islam spreading Islam in a subtle way. These posters answer questions about Allah, Nabi ﷺ, the Qur’aan, the five pillars and hijab amongst others.
After we left the Blue Mosque, asr athaan went. It went on for about ten minutes coming from a few masjids in the city centre. It didn’t matter how many times I heard the athaan in Turkey, I was still amazed by it being called out from so many masjids at the same time.
I found a small (compared to other masjids in Turkey) near the tram station in Sultanahmet that I adopted as my own. I would pray there and then catch a tram to our next stop. This masjid quickly took a place in my heart. I now get why my dad, grandfather and uncles are attached to their masjids.
We then went to Old Town and walked around for a bit. We came across a shop run by Egyptians and the reason we actually went in was because they recognised that we were South African. I was mistaken for being from India, Pakistan, Saudi and Dubai but no one assumed South Africa. This shop sold baklava, Turkish delight, saffron and teas for everything, beauty, sleep, detoxing, high cholesterol, diabetes, stress and even anxiety. We brought some home, we’re going to give it a try and see if it gives us the clear skin the shopkeepers promised.
As we left Old Town, the sun was setting. It was the first Istanbul sunset I got to see since we landed on Friday. I was really excited because, as you all know, sunsets make me very happy.
Before we went back to the hotel, we went to the Grand Bazaar because how could we come to Istanbul and not go to the Grand Bazaar. The Grand Bazaar used to be used to support the Hagia Sophia. But today, everyone we spoke to warned us that we should not shop in the Grand Bazaar because everything is overpriced. I thought that everyone was over exaggerating. But, it turned out I was wrong. Things we saw in Old Town were seven times cheaper than the Grand Bazaar.
The Grand Bazaar was literal hell for me because everything I saw I wanted and I couldn’t buy anything because they would clearly be ripping me off. After walking like 100m, I told my mom I couldn’t just window shop, so we left.
We went back to the hotel to pray and recharge for New Year’s Eve. I would just like to say that I think NYE is highly overrated and it’s my least favourite holiday of the year.
We went to Cafe Esmer Chef for supper. They were really busy but the service was great. We got seated inside and then proceeded to order. We had prawns for starters and burgers, chicken strips, pasta and pizza for mains. Unfortunately, we were too full for dessert but the chocolate soufflé looked amazing.
My sister insisted that we go to Taksim Square for the countdown. So my siblings and I took the tram and then the funicular to Taksim. It was absolute madness, there was a major police presence to make sure that the crowds were behaved and it was safe. The lines were long at all the restaurants so we ended up just sitting on the stairs.
There was a really nice vibe in the square which made it worth the cold. It was 3°C. When 00:00 hit, everyone started screaming and a few firecrackers went off. We watched for a bit, then made our way to the funicular so we could get to the hotel before the crowds. A new year had dawned upon us opening a new chapter.
Step count: 18 847