Istanbul (Feb. 2023)

This is my third trip to Istanbul. Some people have asked me why I would travel to the same city when there are so many other places to explore. The reason is simple: the city has changed since my previous visits and, maybe more importantly, I have also changed.

My first visit to Istanbul was in March 2008. I had some vague idea that the city was once called Constantinople, the seat of the Eastern Roman Empire. Although it is part of NATO, it is not part of EU. I was awestruck by the majestic Blue Mosque, the spectacular Hagia Sophia, and the fashionable Istiklal Caddesi (Independent Avenue). More importantly, I fell in love with the city because of the generosity of the people I met. A stranger walked us a few hundred meters to the Tunel Tram Station because the signage was not obvious. A clerk at an optical store replaced a little screw on my glasses insisting on not charging me. Friends of friends from Canada invited us to the home for a meal. Another contact met us for dinner and became invaluable in helping us to navigate the city.

Like many cities I have visited over the years, my curiosity was piqued by books. First, it was the fictional character Henry Pulling’s first encounter of Istanbul in Graham Greene’s Travels With my Aunt. Then I was captivated by Elif Shafak’s portray of the Grand Bazaar in her 2006 novel The Bastard of Istanbul. And after I read The Museum of Innocence by the Novel-laureate Orhan Pamuk several years ago, I know I need to return. During this trip, I made a pilgrimage to an actual Museum of Innocence based on the novel. It was one of the highlights of this trip.

in 2013, I made my second visit to Istanbul. Like my first trip, it was over the week of March Break. I usually judge how well I know a city by my ability to navigate without a map. Despite the language barrier, The public transportation system in Istanbul was inexpensive and easy to use. In additional to revisit some old sites, I wandered further afield and check out some lesser sites. I had hope to make a long day trip to Gallipoli, an important WWI battlefield that I learned from Peter Weir’s movie starring Mel Gilson. I don’t remember the exact reason but I didn’t take the day trip.

It was during this trip, on March the 8th, the International Women Day, I found myself near Taksim Square in Beyoğlu, the European part of Istanbul. To my surprise, I spotted two armor vehicles and a group of police officers with riot gears on a side street. It appeared the officers were in high alert. About the same time, I could hear the rhythmic chanting of a crowd carrying unmistakable symbols of women liberation marching towards where I stood. I didn’t linger long enough to find out what happened but I learnt afterward that the clash between police and protestors on International Women Day is an annual occurrence. The Turkish Government, like most governments, do not look upon protestors kindly.

It took me another ten years before my return to this beloved city. This time, I came with a friend who has Istanbul on his bucket list. I was acting as an unofficial tour guide by giving him suggestions on what to see and where to eat. For me, it was like seeing an old friend: somethings that were surprisingly familiar and somethings have become distant. I definitely didn’t need a map to navigate the city. I wandered even further afield and was pleased to have done that.

When I woke up on the second day on this trip, I learned a Mw 7.8 earthquake struck the southern and central Turkey and northern and western Syria. Although the quake was more than 1,000 km away from Istanbul, the city went into a somber and depressive mood. The word ‘earthquake’ would come up to almost every conversation I had with a local. In fact, when I was leaving Istanbul, while checking-in at the Turkish Airline counter, after seeing my Canadian passport, the agent asked if there are earthquakes in Canada. I replied yes but nothing serious like the ones in Turkey. He then proceeded to tell me that he has lost his brother in the quake. Like many of his fellow citizens, I think he was suffering from PTSD. Yet, as the agent said, life has to move on. I ache for the Turkish people. And for the Syrians, even though the number of victims is not as high, the lack of infrastructure and the effects of the civil wars made that situation even worse.

When I travel, I usually have some idea about places I would like to visit. However, I am pretty flexible and happy to change my plan. For this trip, I had wanted to visit Gallipoli since I didn’t make it last time. Alas, because of the poor weather and the earthquake, the plan fell apart and, once again, I didn’t make it there. Well, this will give me a good reason to return to Istanbul for a fourth trip.



The following are albums I created with the photos I took during this trip. Click on the link should start the video on a new tab. I use Google Photos to create these albums and I am not too happy with the way it crops many of my photos. To get the best results, make certain you view the albums in full screen on mode your device. If this doesn’t work on your device, please send me a message. (You can use the form on the bottom of this page.)

The Topaki Palace is a massive compound consisting of four major courtyards, a treasury, a harem, a library, a mosque, numerous gates, fountains, halls, pavilions, and hundreds of rooms.

Its construction was ordered by Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror in 1459, six years after the conquest of Constantinople. For about 400 years, until the completion of more European Dolmabahce Palace in 1856, the Topaki was the royal residence for the administrative center of the Ottoman Empire.

In 1924, the Turkish government transformed Topaki into a museum. It remains so until today and it’s an UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The Galata Tower has a rich history: from the Byzantines, to the Genoeses, and the Ottomans. It has been used as a watch tower, prison, and fire tower. Because of its height and location, it is a great landmark for orientating the city.

Currently, it’s a museum and it offers a fantastic panoramic view of Istanbul. Wikipedia has an excellent page about the Tower:

Hagia Sophia

The Hagia Sophia, the former name is the Church of Holy Wisdom. This massive structure was the world’s biggest indoor space when it was constructed in the 530s by the Byzantine emperor Justinian I. It was also the biggest cathedral in the world for about 1,000 years until the Seville Cathedral was built. Architecturally, the dome structure was an important milestone for very large buildings.

After the fall of Constantinople, the Ottoman Empire converted it into a mosque by adding four mirinarts, a minbar and a mihrab. The Christian icons and mosaics were removed or covered up. It was Istanbul’s principal mosque until the 1615 construction of the Sultan Ahmed Mosque, commonly known as the Blue Mosque.

Under the Republic of Türkiye, the mosque was converted into a museum in 1935 and some of the mosaics were restored. In 2020, it was reverted back to a mosque.

The mosque is open to public and in comparison to my last visit when it was a museum, these are the differences I noticed:

  • It is free to enter now.
  • A new carpet has been laid since no shoes are allowed in the mosque.
  • There is a very relaxed atmosphere as several children were running around and friends were chatting among themselves.
  • Although there were people praying in a roped area, when I was there about 9 pm in the evening, most of the people were tourists.
  • The upper floor has been closed. I remember there were several massive mosaics upstairs and I’m not sure if the closure is permanent. The ramp going up is truly impressive because it was constructed to allow a horse to gallop up to the second floor. The ramp is also closed.

I found some photos I took inside Hagia Sophia when it was a museum. The first one is the ramp going up to the second floor and the others are mosaics. Restoring the tiles for the mosaics is an extremely time-consuming job.

The Egyptian Spice Bazaar got its name because it was built with the taxes collected by the Ottomans in Egypt in the 1660s. It’s geographically near the more famous Grand Bazaar. It remains a major market for spices. I personally preferred visiting the Egyptian Bazaar because it is less hectic and more locals shop here.

Uskudar — Türkiye is one of the five countries that spans over Europe and Asia. The others are Russia, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, and Georgia. The vast majority of Türkiye s in Asia in the region known as Anatolia, or Asia Minor. Only about 3% of Turkey, the region Thrace, is located in Europe. Uskudar is on the Asian side.

Istanbul is a photogenic city. I try to group my photos by different themes and this batch is just random photos that didn’t make into the other albums.

The Porters of Istanbul — Old Istanbul is a hilly city with lots of narrow lanes. Too often, we don’t ”see” the labourers who do the necessary hard work for a society to function

A panoramic view from the Galata Tower. It was a windy day when I took this video.

The following are some of the favourite photos I took during this visit. Click on the photo to view it in full screen mode.

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