** Warning: This post contains a lot of photos! Click each picture to enlarge. **
At last, the final instalment of Joanna’s and my whirlwind holiday. By lucky chance, the our flight from Zagreb to Edinburgh went via Istanbul — with a 19-hour layover. In the airport, we got our visas, asked the airline to book us a hotel (which Turkish Airlines will do if your layover exceeds 10 hours, by the way!), and then the airline provided us with a lift to the hotel. Upon checking in to our room, we were served cooling cloths and cold mint water. Already this hotel was posher than anything we had stayed in for the rest of our holiday.
We had an afternoon, and we made the best of it. What can you do in Istanbul in an afternoon? We hit Sultanahmet, the neighbourhood that is home to the Hagia Sophia, Tokapi Palace, the Blue Mosque, and more. First things first, of course. The Hagia Sophia.
Pictures just can’t do justice to the magnificence of the Hagia Sophia. I’m fairly certain I spent most of my time there open-mouthed in wonder. The architecture defies physics. The arches, the light, the colour… How can one begin to share such an experience?
We were short on time, so we had to tear ourselves away from the Hagia Sophia if we wanted to see anything else in Istanbul before things closed. So, with a very small map and the occasional road sign, we headed for the Egyptian Bazaar, or Spice Market. Because it was hot and because we were in Istanbul, we bought fresh watermelon from a street vendor. Never has watermelon tasted sweeter.
Joanna and I both wandered back and forth down the aisles in the bazaar, overwhelmed and in awe at just how colourful, busy, everything was. So many sights and smells. So much stuff. How could we choose what we wanted for our souvenirs? Joanna eventually chose a handpainted teacup. I chose an evil eye talisman in the Hand of Fatima, and haggled for it, too. We also bought a few snacks — how could I pass up dried strawberries or apricots stuffed with hazelnuts? The dried strawberries are the most wonderful thing I’ve ever tasted. The sweetness of a strawberry, intensified.
When the bazaar closed, we raced back to the main square to get to the Blue Mosque before dusk prayers. We took off our shoes, donned headscarves provided by the mosque, and entered. Already people were there praying; as visitors, we stayed in the back. The walls and ceilings were covered in intricately painted tiles and a giant chandelier hung from the ceiling just above our heads.
We left the mosque just before dusk prayers, but lingered in the courtyard while the muezzin called to prayer. Then we wandered back in the direction of our hotel. We ate kebabs for dinner, sitting outside, drinking apple tea until the muezzins called again. We must have been sitting between two mosques, because the calls were just a few seconds off, resulting in a call and response, an echo, between the two mosques.
Then, after a short night’s sleep, we were taken back to the airport early the next morning. When we landed, we were back in Edinburgh. Back home.