Flying from singapore to Istanbul
We flew premium economy on Singapore International Airlines into Istanbul. The cost of the return trip was about 50% more than the standard economy seats. Since it was a direct nonstop 11 hour flight through the night, we figured we would need some good rest before reaching Istanbul early in the morning and still “active” enough to go sightseeing.
We bought the ticket a couple of months before the trip and on hindsight we should have selected our seats then. A couple of days before our flight out of Singapore while checking in online, we found out that there were only 4 rows of premium economy seats on the entire plane with a configuration of 2, 4, 2 seats in a row. All the double seats were already taken!
Picking up our rental car
We booked a “Budget” car for 32 days. We had a difficult time placing a reservation for Avis/Budget car exceeding 28/29 days. Instead of daily rental it became a monthly lease and we had to reserve the car for two months. During the prebooking it was difficult to find out more from the companies to confirm a car for 32 days, the 2nd month lease rate was not available and the refund of the unused portion of the 2nd month was very “unknown”. Beside all these we were told that we had to call in from where ever we were in Turkey to extend the 2nd month lease.
All worries disappeared once we went through the details with the Airport Budget car rental counter staff. We leased the car for two months (and not 1 month + 1 month) and the 2nd month lease rate was the same as the 1st month. On the second month Budget charged only for the number of days used. We confirmed the one way charges as we planned to return the car in Rize, a town near to the border between Turkey and Georgia, so that we could continue with our travel into Georgia.
For our three days in Istanbul, our stays was in Sultanahmet, the old city of Istanbul.It was most important that our hotel was withing walking distance to all the important sights of Sultanahment.
On the first day we visited Bascilica Cistern, on day 2 we visited Hagia Sophia, took a ride up Bosphorus Strait, strolled through Spice Bazaar and Grand Bazaar and visited Tokapi Palace. On the last day we visited the Blue Mosque. Three days was great! Visit to these touristy sites required long queuing, with three days we did not have to rush through them. It gave us ample time to enjoy the sights, sat down for occassionaly coffee breaks, dine relaxing and pop back to our hotel for some nap and rest in between sights.
We chosed Ipekyolu Hotel because it was at the fringe of Sultanahment (less noisy), had onsite parking for our car and was within walking distance to all the sites of our interest.
Tulips Garden in Istanbul
We landed in Istanbul International Airport about 8am in the morning. It was too early to check into our hotel so we did not bother to drive straight to Sultanahmet. Our first stop was Emirgan Park. April was the right time for tulips viewing. The garden was about 35 minutes drive from the airport. Entry into the garden was free but car parking was not. It was 60tlr per car.
The tulips were at their BEST! We spent two hours wondering the park going from one tulip bed to the next. The colors of the flowers were at its “peak” brilliance. So lovely!
When thinking of tulips many people would relate them to Netherland. Tulips were orginally wild flower growings in Central Asia. They were cultivated by Turks as early as 1000AD. In the 16th century, tulips were imported to Holland from the Ottoman Empire (present-day Turkey).
Our first encounter of Basilica Cistern was in a James Bond Movie, “From Russia with Love”. It looked like a “must visit” bleak mysterious place. We read that the Basilica Cistern was less crowded in the late afternoon near its closing hour.
So after a good rest at our stay we walked for about 650metres to the Basilica Cistern. In was a sightful walk, on the way we passed the wall/gate of Tokapi Palace, the outside of Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia before we reach Basilica Cistern.
Surprising there was already a long queue just outside the Basilica Cistern. We joined the back of the queue which did not seem to be moving at all. The lady standing infront of us, told us that it was a “free entry day” and the entry start only at about 7pm which was about 1.5 hour later.
Our happiness was short-live as the free entry was limited to locals!
We skipped the “free entry” queue and joined a much shorter “paying” queue. The ticket per person was 300tl and could enter the cistern immediately. Apparently ticket prices to Turkish sites/museums had went up by 200% since the start of the month.
Basilica Cistern was a subterranean cistern (palace) the largest of several hundred ancient cisterns that lie beneath the city of Istanbul. The cistern provided a water filtration system for the Great Palace of Constantiniple and other buildings. Till 1565 it was still providign water to the locals
The Fifty-two stone steps that descend into the cistern which was surrounded by a firebrick wall with a thickness of 4 metres (13 ft) and coated with a waterproofing mortarm, was already replaced by steel grided steps.
This cathedral-sized cistern was approximately 138 metres by 65 metres and was capable of holding 80,000 cubic metres of water which was equivalent to about a combined volume of 21 olympic size swimming pools.
The ceiling was supported by rows of marble columns, each about 9 metres tall, arranged in 12 rows of 28 columns at 5 metres spacing. Surprising the places did not feel moldy or stuffy, it felt cool and quiet and sort of serene.
Most of the columns looked plain and greyish, not the shining polish marble type of appearance. There were a couple of very interesting columns. Two had medusa’s heads at their base while another had flower pattern along the length of the column.
It took us less than 25 minutes to complete the visit of the cistern. The ground of the cistern was flooded with a small depth of water and gridded metal platform over the water allowed us walked though the rows of columns.
Hagia Sophia was built as a Christian church in the 6th century under the direction of the Byzantine emperor Justinian I. In subsequent centuries it became a mosque, a museum, and a mosque again. The building reflected the religious changes that had played out in the region over the centuries, with the minarets and inscriptions of Islam as well as the lavish mosaics of Christianity.
Entrance to Hagia Sophia was free. Usually there was no entrance fee for mosque. The interior of the mosque was huge and stunning. The many columns and the high dome was absolutely majestic. Woman entering the mosque needed to cover up her hairs. For those that forgot to bring along a head scarf could buy a disposal scarf at the entrance. We noticed several women left their hair uncovered and did not encounter any issue as there were no officials around to enforce the “cover up” rule.
Bosphorus Strait and the Asian Side
On day two we went on local ferry rides that frequent the strait of Boshphorus. These ferries transferred locals to various jetties on the European side, Asian side and Sultanhment (southern west European side).
It was short walk from our stay to a bus stop and after a short 10 minutes bus ride we were at Eminonu Jetty. The only way to pass the turnstile of the jetty was an “Istanbul Transportation card”. There were no counter selling the card and the only way we could buy it was from the several machines outside the jetty station. We tried several times to buy a card from a machine but kept encountering problem as the machine seemed to be for “top up” only.
A Turkish mother and her two sons saw our difficulties and tried to help us, they even offered to pay for our ferry ride which we politely declined as we would still need the transportation card for the return trip. Finally someone was able to help. We bought a transport card that was good for 20tl and quickly entered the crowded jetty hall.
The Golden Horn was a major waterway and the primary inlet to the straight of Bosphorus. We boarded a ferry intending to go to the European side but ended up in the Asian side. It actually did not matter which side we ended up, the purpose was to view both sides from the sea.
We went straight up to the highest deck (3rd level) of the ferry and had a great view of the waterway and the buildings. We were able to spot Galata Tower, Dolmabahce Mosque and Dolmabahce Palace.
We alighted the ferry at Uskadar Ferry point on the Asian Side. We walked along the seaside boulevard and ended up in Askadar Cafe & Restaurant for a tea break. We had turkish cay (tea) with cheese cake and tiramisu. Tea was 20tl each and cake was 80tl each, pretty affordable.
We could “bus” back to Sultanahment or “ferry” back. We enjoyed the earlier ferry ride so much that we decided to return by ferry. Our transportation card was 100tl and after two ferry trips for two there were still a balance of 30tl.
Spice Bazaar and Grand Bazaar
When we returned to Eminonu Jetty after our ferry ride, we chanced upon Spice Bazaar. It was just across a major highway and was accessable by underpass lined on both sides with shops. . From there it was a delight to walk among colorful stores selling nuts, cheeses, spices and spices. We strolled along and soon without releasing it we reached Grand Bazaar.
At the Spice Bazaar the commodities were mainly edible stuffs as for the Grand Bazaar it sold all sort of stuffs such as clothes, bags, lights and other daily usage stuff. We bought some cashew nuts at the Spice Bazaar but nothing at the Grand Bazaar. We were there to enjoy the buzz and lights, and sound.
It was such a vibrant place, packed with people. We found a cafe to sit down for a coffee/tea break. Glad to do nothing but surf the internet and watched the people go by!
We had been walking past Tokapi Palace as it was very near our stay and we had walked by it several times already. Finally we had the time to go in for a visit. We gave ourselves 3 hours to explore the palace and its ground.
We were told that the palace might be closed the next day, so even when the weather was no good (raining) we just had to visit it. We paid 650tl for an entrance ticket per person which include the optional Harem Building visit and an audio guide.
From the 1460s to the completion of Dolmabahçe Palace in 1856, Tokapi Palace served as the administrative center of the Ottoman Empire, and was also the main residence of its sultan and harem. This was a place of WORK & PLAY.
After the end of the Ottoman Empire in 1923, a government decree dated April 3, 1924 transformed Topkapı into a museum. The palace complex has hundreds of rooms and chambers, but only the most important were made accessible to the public as of 2020, including the Ottoman Imperial Harem and the treasury, called hazine where the Spoonmaker’s Diamond and the Topkapi Dagger are on display.
The museum collection also includes Ottoman clothing, weapons, armor, miniatures, religious relics, and illuminated manuscripts such as the Topkapi manuscript. The Topkapı Palace forms a part the Historic Areas of Istanbul, a group of sites in Istanbul that UNESCOi recognised as a World Heritage Site in 1985
Blue Mosque was undergoing detailed renovation. The renovation started in 2015 ending in 2024. The Blue Mosque was closed for a long time and was opened on the first day of Ramandan Feast on April., 21, 2023. It was such a coincidence that we were in Istanbul during the opening!
We were NOT able to get into the mosque the entire morning, finally at about 1 pm we managed to get through the main gate. We were surprised to see that the prayer session was still going on. The placed was filled to the brim with worshippers.
We stood at the side of the open space just outside the main door into the prayer hall. The worshippers filled the entire prayer hall flowing all the way out to the square space outside the hall. We stood for about an hour witnessing the praying session and the president speech after praying. We did not understand a single word but could feel the gravity the session.
It was a huge “human jam” after the prayer session concluded. There was no “human flow” control. The worshippers in the hall could not get out as the huge exit door was blocked by the worshippers and visitors pushing their way in but could not as the hall was already “sardine” packed with people. It was a practically a standstill after more than an hour we were finally able to get into the prayer hall door which was only about 50 metres to our sides.
The Blue Mosque (Called Sultanahmet Camii in Turkish) is an historical mosque in Istanbul. The mosque is known as the Blue Mosque because of blue tiles surrounding the walls of interior design. Mosque was built between 1609 and 1616 years, during the rule of Ahmed I. It was definitely the most visited mosque in Turkey.
It was amazing to look up to the intricate design/pattern of blue tiles over our head!
Dinner at sultanahmet
There were many restaurants in Sultanahment. Streets were lined with restaurants on both sides. Every other restaurants looked nice, interesting serving “yummy food”. We could not decide which was better than the other so without wasting time we walked into one that looked nice.
The main meal came along with many free sides dishes (bread, cheese, olives and tea etc). Even before the main meal was served we were already half full eating the side dishes. We ordered a chicken testi, which was meat in a sealed earthern jug cooked in an open fire, before the lid was cracked off and the meat poured out. Basically it was a “fire cooking” display for the customers.
For our second dinner in Sultanahment we picked a “quaint” looking restaurant and had an assortment of meat. Lovely restaurant by the name of “dubb ethnic restaurant”.
The meal came up to 869tl for, sides dishes and tea were free.
On our last night in Sultanahment we picked a restaurant with a roof top view! The restaurant was called “Seven Hill Restaurant”, located on the seventh floor of “Seven Hill Hotel”.
We placed a booking for dinner for a table on the restaurant roof terrace. When we returned near dinner time, it was raining so the open roof terrace was closed. We had our dinner a level below which had huge window with great view of the Blue Mosque.
After the dinner with rain lessen to very light dribble we went up to the roof terrace and had a great night view of Hagia Sophia, Blue mosque and the surrounding view of Sultanahment!
Our Stay at Sultanahment
Our stay at Sultanahment was at Ipekyolu Hotel. We picked it for its location, parking on site, nice room with many windows. Our room was on the 2nd level and the hotel had a lift so it was easy to bring our bags to our room.
The disappointment came when we found that though our room had four windows they are practically of “no use”.Two faced huge court yard in the midst of heavy construction. One opened to a pipe vent another to electrical cable vent. The booking listing stated city view and garden view. But in our case was NO VIEW! The windows are as good as none at all. We must have been assigned to the WORST “standard double room” in the hotel.
Cost of the hotel was 170Euro for three nights with breakfast for two and the toilet was ensuite.
Breakfast was okay, there were cheese, some meat, bread and tea. We would have loved this hotel very much if we had a better room. In term of location Ipekyolu Hotel was great.