We arrived in Istanbul, not really knowing what exactly we had in-store for us. We were meeting our mates Mark, Quentin & Jason the next day, we knew that much, and the name of the hotel where we were staying. Istanbul immediately exceeded our expectations, with great roads lined with manicured gardens and beautiful bright flower beds.
We grabbed a map and headed straight to the pub for some drinks and some traditional Turkish food, before exploring the area of Sultanahmet in the Old Town of Istanbul. We discovered that we were only 10 mins from the Grand Bazaar and The Blue Mosque, but we'd save those places for when the guys arrived.
When the guys arrived in the morning, they were surprisingly spritely so we all had a welcome drink and then headed out for some sight seeing. First stop was Topkapi Castle which was the primary residence of the Ottoman Sultans for approximately 400 years (1465-1856) of their 624-year reign. There is heaps of awesome holy relics of the Muslim world, including the Prophet Muhammed's cloak and sword. Also an 86 carot diamond! Yes, eiiiggghhhtttyyy sssiiixxxxx!
We visited an underground Ancient Roman ruin called the Basilica Cistern. This provided filtered water to parts of the city in various forms since it was first built in the 6th century and is now one of the coolest (literally) places to visit.
Then to The Blue Mosque. It's actual name is 'The Sultan Ahmed Mosque', but is known as The Blue Mosque because of the blue tiles adorning the interior. It was built from 1609 to 1616, during the rule of Ahmed I. Like many other mosques, it also comprises a tomb of the founder, a madrasah and a hospice. It is still used as a mosque today and it certainly didn't disappoint. The interior was really beautiful. Its such a surreal sight to see when we were cruising around Sultanahmet. I was expecting to see Rapunzel peering out of one of the big towers. Haha
Mark arranged for us to go on the Gallipoli tour for the following day. We were picked up from our hotel and driven to a little town for lunch and to pick up our tour guide, Kanon. Turns out that we got the crème de la crème of tour guides. Kanon has been the guide for Queen Elizabeth! So we scored big time!! The tour went over two half days and was very in depth. We started at the new interactive Gallipoli War Museum. The museum includes 11 room's where they have spent millions immersing you into different stages of the attack on Turkey. After the interactive experience, we browsed through the museum of relics from the war including artillery, clothing, crockery, and also letters from soldiers to their families. This was a great way to kick off the tour because it gave us an overview of the battle before visiting the sites.
The first site was Anzac Cove where the Anzacs landed. Then drove up the hill to stand in the advantageous positions of the Turks, walked through the bunkers, peeped into the opening a few of the many underground tunnels which stretch for miles! It was clear to see how the Anzacs never had a chance to defeat the Turks because of the tough terrain and high vantage points that the Turks occupied. We visited all the memorial sites for the fallen soldiers, not just the Anzacs, but also the British, French, and of course Turkish.
It was a very moving tour and we were so lucky to not just get a hop on, hop off bus tour, but instead the full history and recount of the events that went on there, jam packed into 2 days. The most amazing statue stands at one of the memorial sites which is a Turkish soldier carrying an injured Anzac to safety.
Somewhere all Aussies should visit.