May 26 Istanbul To Izmir (Day 242)

Our last morning in Goreme, Cappadocia and the conditions are right for hot air balloons, and they took advantage! We were up before dawn and climbed the stairs to the rooftop terrace to watch the balloons float over us!

They came so close we could hear the swoosh of the burners lighting up!

We didn’t have time to stay for breakfast, we had to get to the airport an hour away to catch our flight to Istanbul, so we packed up the car and headed out of town. Driving down the wide, rose bordered  boulevard out of town we came upon the landing area for the balloons.

It is amazing, they can land the big basket right onto a trailer for easy transport!

We got to the airport, parked our rental car in the appropriate spot and headed for our flight. A short hour and twenty minutes later we landed in Istanbul, or rather the outskirts of the city.

The airport is fairly new, modern and decorated with great tile work!

We located the metro train that would take us to the center of the city. A lovely young French couple stopped us and explained that they were leaving Istanbul (on bicycles, riding all the way back to France!) and no longer needed the metro card for the trains and offered it to us! Maybe they saw us with our backpacks and karma ensued! We rode the metro trains to Sirkeci Station, walking distance to the famous Topkapi Palace, the Hagia Sofia Mosque and the Blue Mosque.

The train was mostly subway into the city and the ramps back up to street level were decorated with more beautiful tile work. This wall displays the epicenter of the Ottoman empire of the 1400-1800’s.

We found luggage lockers at the station and stowed our backpacks and began our stroll among the throngs of mostly locals enjoying the balmy weather and the breeze off the Bosporus. We were heading to the greenspace around Topkapi Palace when a local began walking with us and steered us to his carpet shop. We were then handed off to his cousin and led down into the showroom, brought tiny cups of thick strong Turkish coffee and given the sales pitch! It was a disappointment to them I’m sure, when we explained that we live in a caravan and a Turkish rug, as beautiful as they are, would be way too opulent for us! Needless to say, they did not waste time in saying goodbye, but very politely! We found our way to the gated entrance to Gülhâne Park, grateful for the shade under the many huge trees! This is the first of the 4 successive courtyards of the walled Topkapi Palace, the residence of the Ottoman Sultans, each one more restricted to entry back in the day until the innermost Sultan’s residence and Harem. After the fall of the Ottoman Empire and WW1 the complex became a museum.

Views in the park. We got some glimpses of the next courtyard but we did not have time to visit the Palace/Museum unfortunately. I think it would take more than a day to visit!

We had lunch at an outdoor cafe in the park in a brisk breeze off the Bosporus Strait. The Strait divides Istanbul into two sections, divides Turkey into two parts and is a division between Europe on the west and Asia on the east! We are on the Europe side, on a small peninsula that was the heart of Ancient Constantinople/Istanbul!

The pink arrow points to the small peninsula between the Golden Horn (the tributaries on the Europe side that flow into the Bosporus) and the Bosporus Strait.

Looking across the Golden Horn to the nearer European section of Istanbul.

Looking further across the Bosporus towards Asia and the larger section of Istanbul. In the upper picture the bright white Mosque on the upper left with 6 minarets is a newer of the over 3,000 mosques in Istanbul! In the lower picture the green trees are part of the park around Topkapi Palace, still on the Europe side of the Strait!

We headed over the bridge across the Golden Horn, watching fishermen casting lines off the bridge, amazingly missing the many ferries zooming under the bridge, and avoiding the hordes of people crossing and the cars and motorbikes zipping by.

A closer view of one of the many mosques, through a fence at the end of the bridge.

Of the over 3,000 Mosques in Istanbul, 4 of the most famous are in this district, this is the 4th most famous; Yemi Camii or New Mosque, built in 1597! Check this site 12 Most Famous Mosques in Istanbul for pictures and information about these beautiful buildings.

The sun was hot, the wind was blowing and we still had a train to catch so we returned to retrieve our luggage and take the metro trains to the Söğütlüçeşme station, a nondescript station apparently undergoing constant renovation. We boarded our high speed train to Eskesehir station where we caught our midnight train to Izmir. We had a sleeper car and we gratefully climbed into our bunks and slept through the night!

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