How to experience a coup in Istanbul….
So far I have taken you guys on so many trips with me. I have spoken about my wedding, followed by my honeymoon, my surprise birthday weekend in Dubai and my experience of performing Umrah. Most of which I had a part to play in.
But this is a strange blogpost for me to write as I literally had absolutely nothing to do with the itinerary or the planning. Plus at the time, my brain was so full of issues around the spouse visa, new job, and struggles of a long distance marriage that I didn’t necessarily think about the holiday much. Throughout this holiday I lived every second in the moment.
And actually, writing this blogpost has reminded me that we had initially planned and booked to go to Bali, but because of Ahmed not being able to get a visa from Qatar, we weren’t able to go. We ended up losing money for the holiday and Turkey was a very last minute plan!
To make matters somewhat more interesting, a series of very interesting events aka the attempted coup happened while we were in Turkey. It was described as “the bloodiest coup attempt in its political history”. On 15th July 2016 a section of the Turkish military launched a coordinated operation in several major cities to topple the government and unseat President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Arriving at the airport and seeing Ahmed there after three very long months felt magical. Ahmed had landed a few hours ahead of me and had his bearings sorted. When I landed, we took the train/tram to the hotel, dumped my luggage and off we went exploring the city. After what was supposed to be a brief walk (but wasn’t) around to some nearby historic sites, we found ourselves tucked away in a Turkish restaurant, noses buried behind a menu, trying to make the impossible decision of what food to order.
Needless to say the food was extremely flavoursome and well presented: splendid. Making nothing of the airplanes and helicopters flying overhead every now and then, we made our way to the hotel. At this point, neither of us had had any sleep in the last 36 odd hours (trying to complete work related milestones before the holiday and because of awkward flight times) so we crashed out as soon as we got the hotel.
We woke up in the morning to a gazillion missed called between us. Both our parents and friends had tried to get in contact with us, sent us several messages asking if we were okay.
Completely confused and disgruntled, we called back and were ‘requested’ to turn the telly on! Only to find that the entire country was under a state of emergency and that there had been a failed coup attempt while the pair of us were snoring away. There were helicopters flying over our hotel and tanks were seen at around the bosphorus region.
Despite being advised to stay indoors, we didn’t want to waste time staying in the hotel so we mutually agreed we’d go out and figure whether we should explore further.
Oh and another perk was that during our visit to Istanbul, the metros were free and we did not have to pay anything for the public transport while we were there.
We went straight to the ‘Blue Mosque’ which, to be fair, was only round the corner. Blue mosque is an iconic place in Istanbul and you often hear people wanting to visit Istanbul to see ‘the blue mosque’. It is located within the central district and easily reachable via train. From what I’ve heard other people say, it is usually extremely busy and crowded, however , due to the coupe saga our experience was quite the opposite.
There were hardly any people in sight and we found ourselves to be the only crazy ones surrounded by the gorgeous, breathtaking Blue Mosque.
Just a stone throw away from the Blue Mosque, we wandered over to the stunning Hagia Sophia. Hagia Sophia is a huge museum. It was originally a church built in 537 AD, became a mosque in 1453 until 1931. Then later opened as a museum in 1935. It is a huge building with an impressive dome and beautiful chandeliers.
I found this to be a gorgeous site with rich history of both Islam and Christianity. The building itself is amazing, and the remaining mosaics are absolutely beautiful. Just the size of of the interior, the high arches and the will blow you away.
The Topkapi is an enormous palace which was the Imperial residence of Ottoman sultans for almost 400 years. Although much of the palace is not accessible, the daily tours of the Harem are definitely worth it!
I would say you can easily spend over two hours to visit the site. The best way to visit the palace is to purchase a museum pass. There are two entrances to the palace. One is near the archeological museum and the other is beside Hagia Sofia (opposite to Blue Mosque).
The Holy relics area was particularly interesting for both Ahmed and myself. There were relics from the Prophet Muhammed (SAW) including his beard, tooth and sword as well as those from other notable prophets including the sword of Hazrat Ali.
Nope, we are still not quite done! You can tell Ahmed planned the itinerary!
Despite being exhausted he said ‘we can’t miss the bazaars’, so off we went in search for the bazaars. Apparently there are two kinds of bazaars, the spice bazaar and the golden bazaar. Sadly all the bazaars were shut due to the coup. The streets were empty and silent with only a handful of locals being around. Perhaps one of the most peculiar experiences!
In hindsight I think this may have been a complete blessing as I was completely knackered and not sure how I would have dealt with the hustle and bustle of how the bazaars usually are.
It’s fair to say I woke up feeling extremely knackered and my legs were aching, but Ahmed had another day of lots of walking and exploring planned! So here we go!
We started our day by taking the metro down to the cruise tours of the Bosphorus. Bosphorus forms part of the continental boundary between Europe and Asia, and separates Asian Turkey from European Turkey. Fascinating, I know!
We didn’t really do much research before going on a cruise and hopped onto the first boat that was departing. I LOVED this tour and would highly recommend this to anyone… I mean maybe its because my legs ached and the cruise meant that I could sit for a couple of hours! The bosphorous cruise takes you from the European side to the Asian and back, via ferry. The entire trip takes about 1.5-2 hours and we were able to appreciate the beautiful houses, mosques and palaces that dot the shore line.
All cities do or at least should have a ‘view point’, right? Well Galata Tower is Istanbul’s view point! Built in 500 A.D., Galata Tower is one of the dominating landmarks of Istanbul and was used as a watchtower to help defend the city.
You pay a fee at the bottom of the tower, the wait and the queues can be quite annoying, but I think its worth the wait and sweat! If waiting isn’t really your thing or you’re afraid of heights, I wouldn’t recommend going up. However, I still think that the location is worth a visit. It’s surrounded by some gorgeous narrow streets and tasty turkish food!
This wasn’t really my cup of tea if I am honest. When I travel, I prefer not to be surrounded by shops and high street brands. However, people who love shopping and enjoy the ‘city feel’. This would be completely up your street because you can shop till you drop!
Ahmed and I thought we had covered most of the ‘must see’s’ in Istanbul. So a friend of mine who had visited earlier in the year told me to visit two places. So we decided to take her advice and go on another day of exploring.
Eyup Sultan Mosque
This mosque complex is built adjacent to the tomb of Abu Ayyub al-Ansari. A companion of Prophet Muhammad SAW that hosted him after his arrival in Madinah. He was buried outside the walls of Constantinople and was over 80 years old.
Cafe pierre loti
The area is located near Eyup Sultan Mosque and you can take a cable car ride to the top of the hill to a place called ‘Cafe Pierre Loti’. The cable ride itself it rather underwhelming and takes around 2 minutes or so to reach the top. Once you get to the top, the views are great to take pictures. However, the café is crowded and you may find it difficult to get table. The prices at the cafe are also above average, so we chose just to have some cold drinks before heading back to the centre of Istanbul and stuffing our faces with some delicious turkish food!
Walking around aimlessly around Istanbul’s streets & taking photos…
After coming back from the Eyüp district of Istanbul we headed back towards the Blue Mosque. We spent a couple of hours wandering around and absorbing the surroundings! There was something really quite special about Istanbul and the ambiance in the area despite the fact that the country had suffered from a coup during our visit.
On day 4 we took a flight to the ‘bucket list’ kinda place, Cappadocia. I am writing another blogpost with our Cappadocia itinerary for those that may be interested or planning a visit!
A sneak peak of our cave hotel in Cappadocia to make you come back for the blogpost 😉