Since the tour only stays at Istanbul for 2 nights which is definitely not enough for Istanbul, we decided to arrive at Istanbul 2 nights before the tour, and stay 1 more night in Istanbul after the tour ends on our own.
1. Our first look at the Hagia Sophia.
2. Even though it was during Ramadan, there were food vendors (and restaurants serving food) everywhere in Istanbul during the day.
3. Beautiful carpet shop.
There were so many carpet salesmen hanging around Blue Mosque / Hagia Sophia areas, and they were so 'friendly', if they ask you: "where are you from?" and you answered them with anything, they would attach themselves to you for the next 10 - 15 minutes, walking with you, asking more questions to carry on a conversation, and offering to take pictures for you ..., so they could invite you to look at their carpet shop later.
4. Beautiful lamp shop.
5. A police lady saw us taking picture of her car and smiled at us.
6. Cute police car.
7. First meal in Turkey: Iskender.
Since we were eating dinner before sunset, we asked the waiter if we'd better sit inside the restaurant, the waiter (who is a Muslim and was fasting himself) said it didn't matter, so we sat outside. It was clear in Istanbul and many places in Turkey that tourists could eat anytime they wanted during Ramadan. But that is not the case in Konya.
8. A cat watching us eat. There were lots of cats roaming in Turkey.
9. The most unpleasant experience we had in Turkey was taking taxies. Some of them didn't want to use their meter, and tell you a high number for the fare, you had to negotiate, or just tell them to use their meter in the beginning. But the worse ones are the ones that had their meter running before you get in, and if you didn't pay attention and tell them to restart their meter right away, they would charge you a much higher fare 'based on meter'. We were charged 70 TL for a trip that should be around 25 TL. So watch out!
FYI We were able to use Uber once in Istanbul which was great, but later that week Uber was banned by Turkey's President due to pressure from taxi drivers so we had to use taxies again :(
10. We saw this banner on Blue Mosque and typed it in Google Translate, and guess what it says: "waste of time". Really?! Later we checked with Rick Steves' tour guide, she said it meant: Don't waste your time and money.
11. Lots of vendors selling stuff by the Blue Mosque. This was around 10 PM on a Saturday.
12. Blue Mosque.
13. Waiting in line to enter Blue Mosque through visitor entrance.
14. Dress code to enter a mosque. Blue Mosque was particular tight on the dress code. If your pants show any shape of your legs, they would lend you a skirt to cover your pants up.
15. Blue Mosque was under major renovation. It was not really pretty inside like it used to be.
16. Istanbul Archaeology Museums.
We missed seeing their most famous possession: the Alexander Sarcophagus (late 4th century BC) found in the necropolis of Sidon. It was under renovation but not mentioned anywhere until I asked a museum staff.
17. Hagia Irene, one of the few churches in Istanbul that has not been converted into a mosque. The Roman emperor Constantine I commissioned the first Hagia Irene church in the 4th century, which was completed by the end of his reign (337). It served as the church of the Patriarchate before Hagia Sophia was completed in 360 under Constantius II. Today it operates as a museum and concert hall.
19. Second dinner in Turkey: Braised lamb. It was so delicious, we ordered this again the next day.
20. Mixed grilled meat (beef, lamb, chicken, veal, meatball).
21. Chora Church, a medieval Byzantine Greek Orthodox church preserved as the Chora Museum in Istanbul. It has some of the oldest and finest surviving Byzantine mosaics and frescoes in Istanbul. Part of it was under renovation of course.
22. Chora Church.
23. Chora Church.
24. Chora Church.
25. Chora Church.
26. Walking towards Basilica Cistern.
27. Walking towards Basilica Cistern.
28. Basilica Cistern, the largest cisterns that lie beneath the city of Istanbul, was built in the 6th century during the reign of Byzantine Emperor Justinian I.
29. Medusa column bases.
30. Medusa column bases.
31. Hagia Sophia again.
Rick Steves' Tour Day 1
We met the tour group and our guide (Yaren) at Azade Hotel at 3 PM. It was a full group with 28 people (including us). About half of the group had taken Rick Steves' tours before. One guy, Larry, had taken 9 Rick Steves' tours before! After an hour of introduction and other things, we headed out to see Hagia Sophia together.
32. Hagia Sophia.
33. Hagia Sophia.
34. Hagia Sophia.
35. Gli the Obama cat. Yaren told us ever since Obama visited Hagia Sophia years ago and petted Gli, one of the cats that lived at Hagia Sophia, they started to call it the Obama cat, and it even has an Instagram Account: @hagiasophiacat.
36. Hagia Sophia.
(To be continued)