Did you know that Turkish Airlines are amazing? They are. They call you a guest and boy they mean it.
If you happen to have a layover in Istanbul that’s 6-24 hours, you can get a free city tour organized by Turkish Airlines. My, what a coincidence we booked just this flight! I have so not planned it this way :-)
So we went to the tour desk (after baggage claim go out to the arrivals hall, turn right, go all the way to Starbucks, the tour meeting point is right next to it) and gave our boarding passes for the connecting flight as a way of saying “yes, please, we’d love that free tour of yours, how nice of you, you shouldn’t have really”.
Disclaimer: the tours start at 9am and 12pm daily. Here’s all the information about the Istanbul free tour by Turkish Airlines.
To sum it up – we have absolutely loved it! This is what we saw on Tour 1 (9am to 3pm).
The Blue Mosque
Fact: The Blue Mosque (Sultanahmet Mosque) is not blue, at least not from the outside. It does have a lot of blue in the interior elements, which apparently is still not convincing to some.
A lady on our tour asked us at the very end:
– So are they showing us the Blue Mosque or what?
– Ehm, what do you think was the first thing we saw today?
– THAT was it? … But it was so grey…
I know, it is on the outside, but look:
Stunning, simply stunning!
Hippodrome, Sultanahmet Square
Hippodrome square has interesting history, Lonely Planet summed it up best:
“The Hippodrome was the centre of Byzantium’s life for 1000 years and of Ottoman life for another 400 years and has been the scene of countless political dramas. In Byzantine times, the rival chariot teams of ‘Greens’ and ‘Blues’ had separate sectarian connections. Support for a team was akin to membership of a political party and a team victory had important effects on policy. Occasionally, Greens and Blues joined forces against the emperor, as was the case in AD 532 when a chariot race was disturbed by protests against Justinian’s high tax regime – this escalated into the Nika riots (so called after the protesters’ cry of Nika!, or Victory!), which led to tens of thousands of protesters being massacred in the Hippodrome by imperial forces. Not unsurprisingly, chariot races were banned for some time afterwards.”
Olya’s summary of events: “They were having tournaments on the square, all good until that one time when one guy overtook the other guy on a chariot and the fight started, more people jumped in, then gazillion people were killed, then they stopped doing the races for good and put random things on the square instead – like the Egyptian obelisk, German fountain and a broken metal pillar of green”.
Yerebatan Cistern is hidden under the ground and is a real gem of Istanbul. The underground water storage looks very mysterious and captivating – there’s some true magic to the place.
The peaceful fish swimming by, casually looking up at people, the maze of the columns and dim light. I fell in love with the place!
Although it does look like the scene from Tomb Raider a bit..
It is so beautiful and … huge. Hagia Sophia is a former Greek Orthodox church, later an imperial mosque, and now a museum. It’s 55 meters high! 55! Just look at it:
That’s all we saw it 4 hours, we also were taken out to eat. Twice. And now for something completely different (c).
4 random observations of Istanbul
- Istanbul has a lot of white cars
- You can get freshly squeezed pomegranate juice on every corner.
- Girls will find it handy to have a travel scarf or a shawl. Bonus points for long skirts or dresses – you are ready to go into the mosque without putting on the robe 6,948,928 people wore before you.
- Istanbul has around 3,000 mosques (!), I wanted to count if it’s true but gave up on minute 4 after we left the airport, at 23.. or was it 25…
At the end of the tour, after it is all over and you are tired, excited and desperately in love with Istanbul, they take you back to the airport. They feed you breakfast and lunch, they give you all the entrance tickets so you don’t need to queue, they drive you around. They thank you for being their guest at the end. No, I don’t know what the catch is, did I mention Turkish Airlines have me as their most loyal customer now?