My well-planned 16-day trip in Europe was supposed to commence when I touch down at Budapest Ferenc Liszt International Airport at 8:30 AM on the 23rd of December. From Singapore, I have a short layover in Istanbul but that was no issue. As luck would have been ill, my flight departed Singapore an hour late due to some air traffic issues and I was not able to catch my connecting flight from Istanbul to Budapest. Turkish Airlines, of course, put me in another flight but departure is only at 7pm. It was only 8 in the morning and I have 11 hours of free time. What’s a girl to do? Impromptu Istanbul trip!
I decided I cannot just stay inside the airport waiting for 11 hours. It was the first day of my trip and I cannot let it go to waste. The first thing I needed to know was if I need a visa to enter Turkey. Sure enough, I do (as in most countries for people like me holding a Philippine passport). Next, can I get a visa immediately? Luckily, Istanbul Ataturk Airport has a visa processing office and I only needed to get an electronic visa since I already have a valid Schengen visa. There are machines for visa processing and I got the visa easily, I just had to shed around 20 US dollars to pay for visa fee. Lastly, where should I go and what should I do there? I had to use my roaming data for this, which again, cost me extra money since the sim card I bought has free data only valid in the UK (12GB) and selected countries in Europe (9GB).
So, I left my carry-on luggage in a baggage counter and went out of the airport into the city. I decided to go to Sultanahmet District. This is where you can find the top sights in Istanbul such as the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia. From the airport I took the M1A towards Yenikapi and alighted at Zeytinburnu (6 stops), then I transferred to T1 towards Kabatas. Sultanahmet is 15 stops away.
It was raining, and I was feeling very unfortunate and cold and hungry. I was somewhat scared and excited at the same time. I totally did not plan on going to Istanbul, so I did not do any prior research, but it also felt good that I was doing something spontaneous.
My first stop was Sultan Ahmet Camii which is better known as the Blue Mosque. There was a long queue going so I decided not to go inside. I did not feel very comfortable that it was cold and raining and I did not have enough sleep. More so, shoes need to be removed and I was lazy to remove my boots (meh!). I was wondering why it was called the Blue Mosque when it was not blue at all. The name was apparently due to the thousands of blue tiles in the INTERIOR of the mosque! This I obviously did not see since I did not go inside.
Outside the Blue Mosque is the Obelisk of Theodosius, standing proudly in the middle of the Sultan Ahmet Square (Sultanahmet Meydani). This obelisk was originally erected by Pharaoh Thutmose III in Egypt.
Opposite the Blue Mosque is another grand architecture, the Hagia Sophia, a previous cathedral turned museum. Again, I did not go inside for the same reasons. Looking back, I think this was really a great missed opportunity on my side. Instead of enjoying what was before me, I am thinking of what I could have been doing in Budapest.
From the Blue Mosque, I decided to walk back towards the direction of the airport and I ended up at a gem called the Kapali Carsi. It is basically a covered market and since this is Turkey, everything is bursting with colors.
My few hours in the district was not enough to even see the tip of the iceberg that is Istanbul. I feel there are a lot of missed opportunities in my short time of exploring the city in this impromptu Istanbul trip. This is definitely in the list of places I would go back to in my next travels.