Istanbul is the largest city of Turkey and with it a wide array of people have come to this bustling metropolies over the years. Generally in a city of this size one should excersise caution particulary with crime. I walked around the city at day and night and was always suprised to see a large police presence at every tourist spot and all around the city, even at night. At no time did I feel threatened and even walking from Taksim Square back to the Haghia Sophia in middle of the night it was a pleasant walk.
If you have your "normal" wits with you when traveling to a city of this size you will be as safe as I was.
My Friend and Guide,...
My Friend and Guide, Mehmet
Not too difficult, this one. To me the single most important thing in a strange city is a friendly face! Mehmet and Diane Toluay (yakacik and SnowWhite) were some of my very first VT friends. During my short stay of only 3 days, they hosted me in an exceptional manner. Nothing was too much trouble for them, although the bad weather rather put paid to doing more sightseeing than I did. Istanbul is like no other city I have ever visited. There is so much history here, and you wil need a learned guide to show you around. Mehmet was my guide, and I thank him, and Diane, for that. Unfortunately my photo of Diane got losst somewhere between my camera and the computer, so I only have this one of Mehmet (although Diane is elsewhere!).
Ask for the check
You know how when you go out to eat, as soon as you are done, they bring the check right away, and make you feel guilty about hanging around?
They don't have that custom in Turkey. In fact, in lots of places, they just keep bringing you tea and fruit and stuff until you have to beg them to stop.
So if you dont have hours to sit around smoking and drinking tea, it is best to ask for the check when you want it....otherwise you will be waiting frustrated for a very long time.
In Turkish, say "hesap lutfen" or just make the air signal of writing and they will get the hint.
Caferaga Medrese handicrafts school and cafe
This lovely medrese (Qu'aranic school) is another one of the great architect Sinan's accomplishments, added to the Aya Sofia complex when the cathedral was transformed into a mosque. Today, the courtyard surrounded by small cells is a school for traditional arts and you can browse and even purchase works by students and teachers.
It also has a small cafe and is a wonderful place to sit, drink tea, or eat a very affordable lunch or early dinner, a little refuge from the bustle of Sultanahmet Square (and from salespeople).
The food is basic student fare, not much variety, but quite decent and affordable. The artwork for sale is exceptionally fine and the (fixed) prices are very reasonable indeed.
It's on Sultanahmet Caferiye Sok, behind Aya Sofia.
The Hippodrome/At Meydam
Once 'the' place in Byzantine Istanbul for fun and excitement, the Hippodrom is now a pleasant park set between Topkapi/Atyia Sofia and the Blue Mosque.
It dates from 500AD, built by Septimus Severus and later enlarged. Scene of ceremonies, festivals, parades, horse races, games, hcarioteering it must once have rung with the cheers and boos of the 100 000 it could hold.
The later Ottoman rulers continued to use it for their ceremonials.
But its amphitheatre is long gone, buried under the Blue Mosque. Little remains of this wondrous arean except for three of the many statues, columns and obeslisks which once markedout its centre.
The Egyptian Obelisk dating from 1600BC and erected here in the 4th century, was originally much taller but a shipping accident reduced its height. Its base is decorated with scenes depicting its erection.....dancing girls, races, chariots.....
The 'Serpentine Column'a truly wondrous bit of metal work.....made of bronze, depicting (originally) three serpents. It came from the Temple of Apollo at Delphi and is a superb example of skilful metalworking.
The Column of Constantine, now nothing very special. In fact, it was probably nothing very special for many centuries...in the 1Oth century it was covered in gold-plated bronze (duly removed and melted down in the 12th century).
It is well worth making a detour through At Meydam on your way to or from the Blue Mosque, and seeking out these three remnants. Too easily missed, they give a clear idea of what a wonderful place Byzantine Istanbul must have been.
And the park itself is pleasant, with greenery, flowers and fountains, and a little bit of quiet amongst the noise, crowds and bustle of Sultanhamet.