I don't know why but I expected Istanbul to be a bit warmer and drier than the UK. However as it's on a similar latitude to New York, it shouldn't have been a surprise to me that it was a bit cool… well cold actually at 5ºC and wet later that day too!
Our first port of call (quite literally) was Eminönü where all the ferries arrive with some of the 1 million commuters that descend upon the city each day. Although it was cold and grey, the Bosphorus really lives up to its reputation of being blue. It's one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world and a bit chaotic to say the least, with passengers literally hopping on and off the enormous ferries before they've even docked properly.
We took about 10 minutes to cross the river from the European side into Asia to visit the old port of Kadiköy. A traditional shoe polish later (very impressive work by the way) and we hopped back to the other continent to head up to the main tourist square where the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia are.
Although I've been to Istanbul a few times before, I had never been into the Hagia Sophia (once a church, then a mosque and now a museum) as it was always closed. It was closed today too but we had our magic "QVC pass" and they let us in to film (all pre arranged by the way!).
Wow and wow again! For a thousand years it was the biggest enclosed space anywhere in the world. Plus, when you consider it had acres of 24 carat gold mosaics and was constructed before machines were around (and in only five years), it just takes your breath away! It even had a very friendly vermin control specialist who I talked to! (Catherine would have like him!)
One of my favourites sights in Istanbul was next on the agenda – the Basilica Cistern. It's a massive underground water store, which held water transported from the Belgrade forest by aqueduct for over 12 miles so the Grand Palace could fill up their basins. Now it's a tourist attraction with piped music and mood lighting, making an incredible spectacle.
The builders at the time must have thought that as it's 6 meters underground, nobody would be that interested in how it was put together. Almost none of the vast forest of columns match and there are a few that are upside down!
Because of rush hour being crazy we didn't make it to our next location before it got really dark and rainy – Ortaköy, the cool hip area down by the river. So, we just checked it out for the future before having a nice dinner and heading back to the hotel.
Unfortunately the weather looks poor for tomorrow so our schedule may be somewhat fluid. The Blue Mosque is on the cards and a few other gems!.
P.S. Here are a few more of my photos from today:
Ortakoy Mosque with the Bosphorous Bridge