After a nice time in Belgium, and an easy flight back to Istanbul, while I had the business class cabin to myself, I would finally have some time to leave Atatürk Airport and see a few of the sites in Istanbul. Of course, a few hours exploring is not nearly enough time, but I was pretty happy with what I got to see in the short time I had.
The Sultan Ahmed Mosque, commonly known as the Blue Mosque
Once I cleared customs formalities in Istanbul, I headed to the Hotel desk, and requested a ‘city hotel’ since I wanted to be closer to the city than out near the airport. I was booked at the Akgun Hotel, which is listed as 5 stars, and while it was perfectly fine for a place to sleep, it doesn’t compare with most other 5 star hotels I’ve visited, or even close. The location was excellent though, it was about 2 minutes walking from a subway stop which I took towards Sultanahmet.
I arrived at the hotel after dark, and after a long day of some multi-modal travel between Wallonia and Istanbul which included: a bus, a train, a bus, a plane, and a van, I was pretty tired. I wimped out didn’t venture out very far. Ultimately I just ate at a relatively mediocre place within walking distance from the hotel where I had a decent and very affordable meal. The owner was very nice, made me feel welcome even though I was the only non-local guest. I mostly wanted to get some sleep since I planned to get up early to explore before returning to the airport for my onward flight.
A drizzly morning in Istanbul.
I awoke early planning to get to the Blue Mosque just after morning prayers. The subway to a tram was easy way to get to the Sultanahmet area. I hit several of the sites that Mike did when he did the official Turkish Airlines Istanbul tour. My flight schedule wouldn’t allow a tour, so I took advantage of the hotel benefit, and made my own way to tour.
A small sample of the intricate tile work inside the mosque
After visiting the Mosque and the area around it, I still had some time to kill before the Hagia Sofia would be open, so I made my way on foot over the the Grand Bazaar. Of course it started to rain about this time. I had a rain jacket, so I didn’t get soaked, but it was a bit annoying. I didn’t have time or space in my bags to partake in the true bazaar shopping experience, but I enjoyed just walking around and seeing the goings on despite the rain.
Waiting at the Hagia Sofia before it opened
I headed back toward the Hagia Sofia just before it was scheduled to open, and was among the first people admitted that day. This was an amazing place, and despite the ongoing renovations, its still remarkably preserved for its age. The current standing structure was completed almost 1500 years ago. Much of my family is Eastern Orthodox, and although I wasn’t raised in this faith, I have attended multiple services so I am familiar was much of the symbolism of these churches. Seeing such a historical place was an amazing experience for me.
Some interior views of the Hagia Sofia
Some of the outer walls of the Hagia Sofia. Not bad for nearly 1500 years old!
‘front view’ of the Hagia Sofia
Humans aren’t the only guests to the museum
While I would have liked to spend much more time in Istanbul, I had to return to my hotel to collect my bags, then head to the airport. Rather than take the very early departing Turkish Airlines bus that was scheduled for me, or wait for another one, I just opted to take the subway, which was probably faster anyway. My last taste of Istanbul was a simit I purchased in the subway station. It was 1TL, and very tasty.
Great Turkish snack while commuting.
As I made my way back towards the airport, I began to notice long lines and craziness. My check in experience would be a bit more stressful than I planned. I had plenty of time before departure, but the long delays ate up most of that spare time. Istanbul airport is growing fast, and based on my experience the infrastructure is not keeping up with the growth. I’ll share more about my experience in my next post.
Booking an award trip to Europe in Turkish Airlines Business Class
Turkish Airlines 777 Business Class from Houston to Istanbul
Turkish Airlines 737 – True Business Class within Europe
Swiss Air Lines Business Class to Luxembourg
A few hours in Istanbul (this post)
Turkish Airlines CIP Business Class Lounge Istanbul Airport
Turkish Airlines 777 Business Class from Istanbul to Houston