Thursday, June 25, 2009

First day in Istanbul

I must say, this is the most scary holiday trip that I have taken so far.

No, Turkey is not a scary country, far from it. It is scary because of the timing of the tour, during this A(H1N1) flu pandemic. I was so scared that one of the passengers in our flight will develop a fever and get spotted at the Istanbul airport during the arrival and the whole plane load of passengers may be quarantined. What if I myself develop a fever before landing in Istanbul, even if it is not because of A(H1N1)? That will be the end of my holidays.

Thus it was with a troubled heart when I landed in Ataturk International Airport, Istanbul in the morning since one of my fellow travellers in this tour, a boy with a US citizenship was coughing with a running nose during the flight. Could it be the dreaded A(H1N1) flu? And what better place for it to spread that on a 12 hour flight in the confined space of an airplane? So it was with a big relief when all of us got through the thermal scan and none of us was hauled up with a temperature. Phew.

We met our local guide, Ali, when we left the immigration area. He was young, friendly and good humour. (Also good-looking too.) Since we arrived in the morning, our first stop was for breakfast at a restaurant near the Blue Mosque. It was good that we did not start our tour immediately as it gave us some time to relax and adjust after the long flight from home. And it also gave us our first taste of Turkish food.

After our refreshing breakfast, we made our way to the Hippodrome. There were already plenty of tour buses and even more tourists making their rounds here as this is the most congested tourist area in Istanbul.

Kaiser Wilhelm Fountain

The Egyptian Obelisk

Close-up of the Obelisk
Our next stop the Blue Mosque just next to the Hippodrome.

Entrance to the Courtyard of the Blue Mosque

Interior of the Blue Mosque

Exterior view of the Blue Mosque

Just across the road, the Haghia Sophia awaits us.

Exterior view

Inside view

Another inside view

After the tour or Haghia Sophia, we walked to our lunch at a restaurant nearby. The restaurant was full of tourist as it seems to be a popular spot for the tour operators.

It was another walk after lunch. This time it was to the Grand Bazaar and it was a good thing we made the visit today, a Saturday as it would be closed on Sundays.

Gate No.1 to the Grand Bazaar

Inside the Grand Bazaar

Most of us were already tired when the coach picked us up and dropped us at our hotel. It was the 5-star Crowne Plaza in the old town.

After a rest and a welcome shower, we were all ready to venture out again. It was for our seafood dinner at Kumkapi, an area popular with many seafood restaurants. The setting was great but the seafood was not so good. Not sure it's because I am not used to the Turkish style of cooking seafood or I'm spoiled by the cooking back home.

Kumkapi, home of seafood restaurants.

From there we made our way back to the hotel for a well-deserved rest.
Ronald Kwok

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