Like our last visit to Lisbon, our trip to Istanbul was an add-on to one of my business trips, this time to France. Dan joined me in Montpellier, and then we flew to Turkey to spend a week in Istanbul. Once again, my desire to see famous buildings was the impetus for choosing this destination. Ever since I studied the Hagia Sophia in my sophomore year Art History course, I had dreamed of seeing it in person – though at the time, that felt about as likely as visiting Narnia.
Our flight from Paris was my first (and only) experience with business class after we got a complimentary upgrade. I entertained myself for a bit with the lay-flat seats, to Dan’s chagrin, and we both enjoyed the in-flight meal: artichoke heart salad; shrimp, tomato, cucumber and feta salad, and a nice minty tabbouli.
Getting through immigration and out of the airport took a while, but was pretty mellow. Our cab driver chatted us up on the way to the hotel, and gave Dan a big grin when he thanked him in Turkish. Our room at the Hotel Armada was lovely, with handmade lace on the curtains, wooden paneling hand painted with floral designs, and nice linens. After dropping our bags, we grabbed a light dinner at the rooftop restaurant while gazing up the hill at the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque on one side, and out to the Sea of Marmara on the other.
We took it easy on our first full day, starting with sleeping in and having one of the best breakfasts of my life at the hotel buffet. When we finally left the hotel around noon, we wandered up to the Sultanahmet district, accidentally going through an alley that seemed like someone’s back yard, and passing lots of cats sleeping in shady places. We sat in Sultanahmet Square for a little while and gazed at the Hagia Sophia until it we decided it was time to get a bit of lunch. We found a place just off the square and sat down for a simple but good meal: grilled kofte for Dan, and lentil soup with a marinated bean salad and nice bulky rolls for me.
After lunch, we finally went into the Hagia Sophia, after running the gauntlet of tour guides near the entrance. One of them asked if Dan was my father! The entrance takes you through the outer narthex, then the inner narthex, and then into the nave – the main space under the famous dome. Along with the sheer scale of the interior space, the most striking feature was the huge variety of marble panels, or revetments, used to face the walls inside. I tried my hand (literally) at the weeping column a couple of times, but my thumb stayed dry – no wish granted for me.
We took a break at the snack bar for a drink, then went back inside to explore further. By this time it was getting into the early evening, and much less busy. We enjoyed the quiet and having the opportunity to take our time looking at the mosaics and other details and taking photos, and finally left near closing time at 7 p.m.
After this we took advantage of the long summer evening and walked up the hill toward the Topkapi Palace and through the lovely Gulhane Park before circling back along the sea walls on Kennedy Drive to our hotel. We were glad to be on foot, since there was a massive traffic jam through this area. Lots of people were coming in to the restaurants in this district, ready to break the Ramadan fast with an iftar dinner.