After waiting a little longer than I would’ve preferred, we were finally on our way to the boat for the Bosphorus Boat Tour. As a mob, we started walking. And walking. And kept walking. And walking so much that Najwa insisted on being carried. So I picked her up [somehow lost sight of Nduku in the mob], but kept walking. And walking.
Apparently Hagia Sophia isn’t quite right on the water.
Eventually we made it [and found Nduku]. And how thankful I was that most of it was downhill. Then it become a mosh pit on the little dock we were standing on waiting for the boat to pull up. Surely there were people eager for the tour, but it was getting later in the day, meaning the temperature was falling, so I’m sure many people just wanted to defrost. Nduku being one of them.
Fortunately, as the boat was pulling up, obviously not big enough for all of us, there was a call for English speakers since the boat was giving the tour in English.
Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque are both impressive structures, but seen from the water, they’re much more majestic. These pictures simply don’t do them justice.
And off we went. Staying on the tourist side of town, the part that’s older, historic and a throwback to how they used to live, Istanbul looks, well, older, historic and like a throwback. Cobblestone roads, small architecturally impressive buildings, little shops and a bunch of people.
But when you get on the boat and get a better feel for how big Istanbul is, and how modern the rest of it is, it’s worth the wait and the pushing to get on the small boat. Not only the skylines and hillsides covered with civilization, just being out on the water makes the day trip that much better.
As we floated up and down the strait, it became quite obvious that Istanbul has many other impressive mosques. Minarets were poking up over the city everywhere. As we approached the Galata Bridge on the Golden Horn, we were greeted by Yeni Cami, built in the mid-1600s.
The construction of Yeni Cami, meaning New Mosque, began in 1597. It was ordered by Sultana Safiye, who was the wife of Sultan Murad III and later Valide Sultan (Queen Mother) of Sultan Mehmed III. She ordered the mosque in her capacity as Valide Sultan, two years after Mehmed III’s ascension to the Ottoman throne in 1595, hence the original formal name “Valide Sultan Mosque”.
As we passed under the Galata Bridge, the length of it was crowded with people fishing. Seemed honest enough, but then it started to become obvious that some, if not all of them, were aiming for our boat!
Dolmabahçe is the largest palace in Turkey. It has an area of 45,000 m
2(11.1 acres), and contains 285 rooms, 46 halls, 6 baths (hamam) and 68 toilets. It is located in the Beşiktaş district of Istanbul, Turkey, on the European coastline of the Bosphorus strait, served as the main administrative center of the Ottoman Empire from 1856 to 1922, apart from a 22-year interval (1887–1909) in which Yıldız Palace was used.
Çırağan Palace, built by Sultan Abdülâziz, was designed by the palace architect Nigoğayos Balyan and constructed by his sons Sarkis and Hagop Balyan between 1863 and 1867, during a period in which all Ottoman sultans built their own palaces rather than using those of their ancestors; Çırağan Palace is the last example of this tradition. The inner walls and the roof were made of wood, the outer walls of colorful marble. A beautiful marble bridge connects the palace to the Yıldız Palace on the hill behind. A very high garden wall protects the palace from the outer world.
The construction and the interior decoration of the palace continued until 1872. Sultan Abdülâziz did not live long in his magnificent palace – he was found dead inside on May 30, 1876, shortly after he was dethroned. His successor, his nephew Sultan Murad V, moved into Çırağan Palace, but reigned for only 93 days. He was deposed by his brother Abdülhamid II due to alleged mental illness and lived there under house arrest until his death on August 29, 1904.
During the Second Constitutional Monarchy, Sultan Mehmet V Reşat allowed the parliament to hold their meetings in this building. Only two months after, on January 19, 1910, a great fire destroyed the palace, leaving only the outer walls intact. Called “Şeref Stadı”, for many years it served as a football stadium for the club Beşiktaş J.K.
In 1989, the ruined palace was bought by a Japanese corporation, which restored the palace and added a modern hotel complex next to it in its garden. Today, it serves as luxury suites for the five-star Kempinski hotel along with two restaurants that cater to guests.
The Palace was renovated again during the first quarter of 2007, now resembling the authentic palace with the baroque style and soft colors.
It was really getting cold atop the boat. The wind was whipping, the sun was disappearing and the temperature just kept dropping. What felt like a crowded boat started to feel deserted — on top of the boat at least. Below, it was becoming standing room only.
As we got closer to the Bosphorus Bridge, there was one mosque, right on the shores of the Bosphorus strait, that stood out. Smaller than most of the other ones, at least the massive ones that catch your eye, this mosque was different.
The mosque which decorates many postcards of the city is right on the Bosphorous, in Ortaköy. It is officially called Büyük Mecidiye Camii (Grand Imperial Mosque). It was ordered to be built by Sultan Abdülmecid on the grounds of an earlier mosque.
The mosque was built between 1854-1856, in neo-Baroque style. Nikoğos Balyan was the architect of the mosque, who was also the architect of the Dolmabahçe Palace. Within the mosque, there are several examples of Islamic calligraphy executed by Sultan Abdülmecid himself.
Kuleli Military High School is the oldest military high school in Turkey, located in Çengelköy, Istanbul, on the Asian shore of the Bosphorus strait. It was founded on September 21, 1845, by Ottoman Sultan Abdülmecid I.
Beylerbeyi Palace was commissioned by Sultan Abdülaziz (1830–1876) and built between 1861 and 1865 as a summer residence and a place to entertain visiting heads of state. Empress Eugénie of France visited Beylerbeyi on her way to the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 and had her face slapped by the sultan’s mother, Pertevniyal Sultan, for daring to enter the palace on the arm of Abdülaziz. (Despite her initial reception, Empress Eugénie of France was so delighted by the elegance of the palace that she had a copy of the window in the guest room made for her bedroom in Tuileries Palace, in Paris.)
When it was completed in 1973, the Bosphorus Bridge was the 4th longest suspension bridge span in the world, and the longest outside the United States. At present, it is the 22nd longest suspension bridge span in the world.
Kizkulesi is located off the coast of Salacak neighborhood in Üsküdar district, at the southern entrance of the Bosphorus. It literally means “Maiden’s Tower” in Turkish. The name comes from a legend: the Byzantine emperor heard a prophecy telling him that his beloved daughter would die at the age of 18 by a snake. So he decided to put her in this tower built on a rock on the Bosphorus isolated from the land thus no snake could kill her. But she couldn’t escape from her destiny after all, a snake hidden in a fruit basket brought from the city bit the princess and killed her.
I spent just about the entire tour on top of the boat — teeth chattering and bones shivering — because how many times do you get to take a tour on the Bosphorus strait? There were times I was the only one up there. Below, though, it was becoming standing room anyway, so no room anyway.
When we finally got back to the dock, I finally came down and didn’t even realize that Najwa was all the way knocked out. Dead asleep!
This time, carrying her was a little tougher since I was stiff, tired, freezing and it was dark. Not to mention Nduku and I both had to use the restroom so bad, there was no way we were going to make it to the hotel.
We found a Best Western just down the street. Normally you’d think, well, it’s a Best Western. In America, Best Western isn’t known to be top shelf. But this Best Western, apparently also known as Citadel Hotel, was posh! And the service was top shelf. Seeing how uncomfortable it was holding a sleeping child, he came up with a simple rearrangement of the chairs.
We took a cab back to the hotel. Didn’t want to wake Najwa after quite a day.