THINGS TO DO IN ISTANBUL, TURKEY: MY 10-HOURS EXPRESS VISIT

From Istanbul Sabiha Gokcen International airport to the Blue Mosque

Before my express trip to Istanbul I asked in Couchsurfing for some advice on things to do in Istanbul and how to get from the airport to the Blue Mosque area. Lots of people answered and even though I specified that I was only going to be in the city for about 10 hours I was invited to stay with over 30 people and some others wanted to get a chance to be part of a cultural experience, which I thought was pretty cool. I was even invited to stay in Georgia and Jordan! I am really thankful for those who took the time to explain the way transportation worked and gave me some ideas of places to visit. Once in Istanbul the process was so much easier. This is how to get from the Istanbul Sabiha Gokcen International airport to the Blue Mosque:

  • The Istanbul Sabiha Gokcen International airport is on the Asian side, which many advised was more convenient for me to visit in such a short amount of time, but I didn’t listen, however, I wish I did! You will see why.
  • In order to go to the European side you should get on a bus company called HAVATAS in direction to Taksim. This trip takes about an hour and a half with no traffic at 5:30 in the morning.
  • Once in Taksim, a cab or ‘taksi’ should be able to take you to the Blue Mosque area for around €10 or less if you know how to negotiate.
  • You should allow at least 4 hours to go back to the airport because traffic is pretty bad. This was probably the most common advice I got.

Following these directions it was pretty easy to get from the airport to Taksim. We had a fun time asking for food, and eating something we didn’t have a clue what is was. Things got interesting once we wanted to go to the Blue Mosque where the tour guide was waiting. I asked a cab driver about the fare and he told me that because of a marathon it would be kind of hard to get where we wanted to, which increased the price. We agreed and at the end he had to manoeuvre around and left us as close as he could from the Mosque. With a combination of English and universal sign language (pointing, nodding, making faces) we made our way to the final destination. Everything was closed because of the sports event but we managed to find the travel agency. We started our tour in the Hippodrome of Constantinople, which served as an sporting center in Constantinopla. Then we visited the Blue Mosque, which takes its name after the decoration inside of it made of blue tiles. These tiles were used after a few walls were painted and the paint faded with the sunlight and natural wear and tear. Finally, our visit ended in the Hagia Sophia: this church burned once and it was rebuilt in only 5 years; a very impressive time considering the technology of the time. The Hagia Sophia was initially a church, converted into a Mosque, and finally a museum. Cool fact: Mosques are built facing the Kaaba in Mecca, but churches don’t have this, so when Hagia Sophia was turned into a Mosque the mihrab had to be placed so it would face the correct direction. Therefore, the interior gives the impression of being “out of place”. Once the tour was finished we went to adventure around the city and ended up cheering for some athletes running the marathon, eating Testi Kebap and off course, getting lost because of the marathon. All the streets where closed and the traffic was more difficult than usual. After my trip I found out how important this marathon was: this is the only marathon that takes place in two continents (Asia and Europe) and it was its 36th year.

Hippodrome in the back. The finish line of the marathon in the front.
Hippodrome in the back. The finish line of the marathon in the front.
DCIM100GOPRO
Blue Mosque
Inside the Blue Mosque
Inside the Blue Mosque
The entrance of Hagia Sophia
The entrance of Hagia Sophia
Chicken and lamb in a ceramic dish.
Chicken and lamb in a ceramic dish.

The time I got lost in Istanbul because of a marathon…

“Excuse me, English?” and they said, “no, no understand” over and over again. We were walking around asking for directions while carrying our backpacks and functioning with only 4 hours of sleep in the last 30 hours. I already knew that not all the police officers or the transit staff spoke English but I gave it a try. “Excuse me, do you know how I can get to Taksim?” and he answered, “yes, left, right, ticket and train there” and he turned away and joined the crowd in this busy day in Istanbul. All these questions popped in my head: “I saw that train going both ways, which way is it? What ticket do I need? Can I use the same ticket for the metro?” I turned to ask him and he was gone. However, I must have looked so lost that a guy approached me and asked me where I was going. I told him we needed to go to Taksim to get a HAVATA to go the Sabiha Gokcen International Airport (my pronunciation of these Turkish words seem to amuse him). He said, “Yes, yes take metro down that direction (he pointed) and take _______________________ (insert fast and confusing Turkish words in here).” I probably looked more confused than before, so he gave up and asked us to follow him. When he initially gave us the directions, the place he described sounded really close, but we ended up walking, well, more like power walking, for a good 15 minutes. We chatted and he told me his name was Seyhmus “like the Irish name”, he said. When we got to the train station he asked me for my Istanbul card, which I assumed is the equivalent of the Oyster in London, and since I didn’t use the metro throughout the day I didn’t have one. I gave him some Liras and he toped up his and paid for our fares. He went with us to the next two stops we needed to make and finally gave us directions for the following ones. He even wrote them down in Turkish for me to show them to the staff in case they didn’t speak English. We said bye and thanked him for saving us in the chaos the marathon created. He probably didn’t know how much he helped us. After Seyhmus left, we managed to asked for more directions to the airport and took the bus E-11 in front of a shopping centre. It took us about 5 hours to get from the Blue Mosque to the Sabiha Gokcen International Airport, but thanks to the kindness and generosity of many people we managed to have an unforgettable experience in Istanbul.

Cheering on athletes in front of the Bosphorus
Cheering on athletes in front of the Bosphorus

I wish I knew…

  • Take Turkish liras or you will be ripped off.

  • Cab fares are negotiable! Don’t let anyone tell you differently.

  • Set the cab fare beforehand to make sure you don’t get a surprise at the end.

 

Thanks for stopping by 🙂

Caro

 


2 thoughts on “THINGS TO DO IN ISTANBUL, TURKEY: MY 10-HOURS EXPRESS VISIT

  1. Do Reply

    So happy to see you living life by the minute. Reminds me of my euro trip. There is nothing like being a free soul in the world and meeting amazing people along the way.
    Congratulations amigaaaaa. Keep rocking like you do. Cuídate 😉

    1. caritozro Reply

      Gracias!! This means a lot coming from you! Me muero por conocer a Samuel <3

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *