After an early start (4.45am) I arrived in Istanbul's Ataturk airport around midday and decided to use public transport to get me into the Old Town (Sultanahmet) part of town. It's super easy (& cheap) if you're considering it. I caught the metro (M1) to the end of the line (Arksay) where I switched to the tram to take me onwards to Sultanahmet.
I'd used hotwire.com and managed to get a hotel room right by the main sites of the former capital of the Ottoman Empire - Aya Sofya & the Blue Mosque, right at the heart of the Old City.
It was lunchtime and I (of course!) was starving so headed straight to the square in front of the mosques for a sweet snack lunch. I chose BBQ sweetcorn to quieten my rumbling stomach.
Istanbul is the 5th most popular tourist destination in the world, particularly for it's historic centre...
The Blue Mosque
|Asia on the left, Europe on the right|
I jumped off at the Egyptian Spice Bazaar which was awesome - packed full of people and a really lively local market.
This atmospheric market was built in 1660 and was / is the centre of Istanbul’s spice trade.
I was surrounded by Turkish Delight, teas, spices, dates, soaps and all sorts of trinkets and treats.
From the Spice Bazaar I continued my shopping theme into the Grand Bazaar (“Kapalıçarşı” in Turkish, meaning ‘covered market’).
• Southern “Skullcap Sellers’ Gate” (Takkeciler Kapısı)
• Eastern “Jewellers’ Gate” (Kuyumcular Kapısı)
• Western “Women’s Clothiers’ Gate” (Zenneciler Kapısı)
While appearing more organised than the chaotic Spice Bazaar, the Grand Bazaar is a maze of lanes with different treasures found in different areas. Including jewellery and gold, furniture, carpets and leather.
I was about to go into one of the bathhouses I’d seen in Hope Engaged's blog when a local started chatting to me and actually recommended another place for me to try - Cağaloğlu Hamamı. Katie's blog was actually my 'To Do' list for my first day...she also shared a beautiful quote about the city, which I definitely agree with:
I’m always keen on to take recommendations so followed this random local to a300 year old bathhouse. It was built in 1741 for Sultan Mahmut I and offers a range of bathing services.
The hamam appears in the “1,000 places to see before you die” book and it’s gorgeous interior is a combination of Baroque and classical Ottoman architecture and one of the last great hamams built in the city during the Ottoman era.
It is a segregated bath house, offering a men and ladies section, so after paying I headed into the ladies area. I appeared in a courtyard surrounded by small individual changing rooms with a domed roof above and a water fountain below with women relaxing in their bath clothes.
My masseuse got me to lie on the central marble for a while to warm up. I happily admired the beauty setting and relaxed into the peaceful surroundings.
Then the service started. I removed my cloth and it was placed on the central slab. First I was covered in lukewarm water, then lay on the cloth as she exfoliated me head to toe, front and back with a mit (bye bye tan!!). Then I was rinsed off before being soap massaged all over and again rinsed. Then finally my hair was washed before being left to relax and soak to my heart’s content.
After some time I drifted back to my little room and got dressed, ready to do some final exploring.
I decided to jump back on the bus tour and did the blue route, taking in the Golden Horn part of the city as the sun set.