Spending last night on the bus was a regrettable decision. I couldn’t find any position that was comfortable in my non-reclining seat. I was considering just lying down in the aisle for a little bit of rest. For every uncomfortable flight I think I’ve taken, this would certainly be worse. I’m sure there are many worse ways to travel, but I’m in no hurry to experience them.
There was no toilet on the bus, so we stopped semi-frequently at something that resembled a highway rest station. The toilets here (as well as the ones at the main bus stations here and later in Istanbul) all required a 1TL ($0.50) payment to use them.
In the very early hours of the morning, just before dawn, I realised that I’d fallen asleep, but I’d realised because I’d woken up to find that the bus was stopped. I was semi-delusional in a sleep-deprived stupor. I could feel movement near my legs, which I ignored for as long as I could as I was desperate to fall back asleep. I was eventually curious enough to lower my face mask enough to get a quick look at what was going on. I saw what looked like men in white lying down in the aisle, and I could only assume that we’d stopped for a prayer break. I remember thinking that it was the most bizarre thing I’d seen on a bus, then covering my eyes again, and putting in my headphones and trying to get back to sleep.
And then I heard the banging, so I had woke again and had another look. It turned out that they weren’t praying (at least not officially), instead they were trying to repair the motor, which is why we’d stopped. Not sure what was broken, but after about an hour of banging, and a few false starts, we were back on the motorway.
Sleep-deprivation had well and truly kicked in by this point, and I dropped back to sleep as soon as the bus started moving again. At least until the sun did its thing about 6AM. I actually expected to arrive in Istanbul around 6AM. I had no idea where we were, but I knew we weren’t in Istanbul. We kept dozing until about 8AM when the bus stopped again. This time I could see that we were in Istanbul, but on the Asian side opposite where we wanted to go in Sultan Ahmet. I could see that there were ferries travelling across, but by the time I’d decided to take a chance and jump out, the bus doors had closed and we were off again.
At the time I didn’t realise just how large of a mistake it was staying on that bus, it took us a further 75 minutes of slowly inching our way through traffic across the Bosporus Strait before we reached the bus terminal. That similar unpleasant feeling returned when we arrived at the bus terminal. It was equally depressing to the terminal in Ankara that we departed from. It’s always sad seeing people begging, but when it’s parents with young children, it’s exceptionally saddening to see.
It was now a 15 minutes journey on the metro, followed by a further 10 minutes on the tram, and finally a 20 minute walk to the hotel. We finally arrived after 14.5 hours after dropping our rental car off at the Ankara airport.
One advantage of returning to the same hotel we stayed at last time, Bereket Apart Hotel, was we knew where to go – which was the biggest challenge the first time. The owner, Ali (the man who never seems to get tired, and can make the phrase ‘bon apetit’ and ‘Welcome to Turkey’ fit in at any time in a conversation), was kind enough to store some of our baggage (with souvenirs and winter clothing) while we were travelling. He was also kind enough to let us check in before 10AM, so we had time to have a shower and a nap, which was incredible.
After the powernap, we went back out to finish seeing the sights we missed the first time, starting with the Hagia Sophia museum. We were put off while we were here last time because we left it to a weekend and the queues were enormous. On this random Wednesday however, it was much more manageable and it didn’t take long at all to be through the front gates and into the enormous entrance. I made the mistake last time of thinking that I had to wear long pants, but it is no longer an active mosque, so attire rules weren’t enforced.
As usual, my words and photos can’t do this place justice. The scale and the detail was like nothing I’d ever seen before. Enormous marble floors, marble walls, doors large enough for a double-decker bus, chandeliers, and more grandeur than even the Sultan Ahmed Mosque. It might not be as beautiful and elegant as the Sultan Ahmed Mosque from the outside, but inside was something else.
There were huge mosaics of seraphims and angels, as well all the usual tessellated patterns.
The light inside was also incredible, filling the cavernous chambers with delicate soft light.
We met one of the most famous cats in Turkey, too. His name is Gli (something to do with a Turkish word for eyes being close together). Gli has a facebook and tumblr page, as well as a Twitter account…
He has even met with President Obama!
They also had quite an extensive set of information boards talking about the progression of the building, from a church this behemoth of a mosque, through to the museum that it is today. It wasn’t cheap to enter, so it is nice to get something included in the entry fee.
Just off from the main area was a fantastic collection of Arabic calligraphy. There were so many amazing examples, and I just wish that I knew what they were all saying. Some were ultra modern, while others were incredibly intricate and much harder to understand the age.
Continuing upstairs, there were new angles, and also the ability to get up close to some of the frescos.
I thought it was amazing that the Christian frescos were viewable after being covered with plaster 500 years ago when it became a mosque. Apparently, not all of the frescos have been uncovered, with restorations balancing between uncovering Christian images at the cost of removing Islamic ones.
We had spent a good few hours inside, but eventually the museum was closing, and we were a few steps ahead of the guards.
It had been a long day, so it was a quick (and cheap) dinner, followed by an early night.
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