Europe,  Istanbul,  TDM,  Travel Journal,  Turkey

First Days in Istanbul (Turkey) #1: our Airbnb & Saint Sophia Basilica

This is the first time we visit Turkey and we heard so much good things that we decide to stay there for a month and a half. In Istanbul mainly, with a few weekends here and there

Part 1: Travel Diary
Part 2: Practical Tips

Part 1: Travel Diary

Our arrival in Istanbul

The journey Minsk => Istanbul is done by plane with Turkish Airline. For this 2h flight, I even had a screen + the time to watch a movie in the plane (there are movies that can only be watched in a plane it’s strange, maybe because we have nothing else to do we have all the patience in the world to watch a whole turnip: Hotel Artemis, rated 3.1/5 on Allociné)

Arrived at the airport, we hand our French passport, and the immigration just leave a small stamp in a small corner (not to take too much space on our almost filled passport, it’s super nice!). We withdraw money from ATMs, buy a SIM card and then take a cab just in front of the airport. The driver puts the meter on, 60TL to our place (50 minutes ride anyway). The Turkish currency loses a lot of value these last months so it comes back to us at only 8.6€

The owner of the Airbnb, hearing the noise of the cab, opens the door for us. Our apartment is at the very top of the building (on the 3rd floor), the staircase is a little high and small. We are very happy with the workspace, even if the upload speed isn’t great, we still manage to make calls

I will give you the explanation about the location of our apartment in another article because it might be very long already

I show you the inside of the loft in video

Taksim Square

I read that you can’t take a bus without having a prepaid card for Istanbulkart transportation so we walk (about 900m) to Taksim Square, the closest metro station, to buy a card. And since we are there, we might as well have lunch 😀

It’s a very lively corner, very local, there are a lot of kebab sellers concentrated in the same place, but we don’t feel like having a kebab (written döner in turkish, which means rotating). We rather spot restaurants serving ready meals, like this. Normally, it’s good and above all, not expensive

After much hesitation, we choose Tadim Restaurant (very well rated on Google) and point out what we want to eat. The owner, very nice and smiling, speaks only Turkish, but we understand each other very well thanks to the gestures. He asked me if I wanted to have çay (chai pronunciation like in India) = tea. In the end, he forgot to charge me for it and when I showed him the bill and asked him where the çay was in all this, he told me it was for the house. I don’t know if it’s like that in every restaurant, but his kindness made us feel warm. The whole meal (for 2 people), costs us only 52TL (7,4€). Which isn’t expensive, because an expatriate friend tells me that he pays on average 40TL/meal

Ah yes, I don’t know if you’ve noticed it but they don’t give us a knife here, just a spoon and a fork

JB spots a big pastry / coffee shop: Hafiz Mustafa. We can point out each delicacy, and the salesman will serve us either on the spot or in a nice metal box. We can also buy big rolls, they will cut them into slices and put them in the metal boxes. It is necessary to count approximately 1€ per mini-pastry

Saint Sophia Basilica

From Taksim Square, we buy the prepaid transportation card(Istanbulkart) which costs 6TL. As the machine does not give change, the rest of my 20TL ticket is added as credit on my card. That’s cool! This card is 30% cheaper than buying tickets one by one. I think each trip costs me about 1.4TL

After 35 minutes of transportation, we arrive in front of the Basilica of Saint Sophia. The weather isn’t nice so the sky looks strangely like the one in Paris

We buy a machine ticket (40TL/person, 5,72€). This price is suddenly very affordable for us since the devaluation of the Turkish Lira. 2 years ago, 40TL was worth 13€! We decide not to rent a radio-guide (30TL) nor to hire a guide (10$)

The view (below) isn’t the best. To have a better picture, you would have had to invest in a drone. I show you, for your information, what the building looks like as a whole. As you can see on the picture, we aren’t very far from the Blue Mosque

After reading the comments on this basilica the day before, I know that the interior is under construction, but I had no idea it was going to be this big

What I was hoping to see:

vs. what I saw :

JB jokes that if we come back in a week, the work might be finished. Except that I found the same pictures of work in 2016 😀

Well, in spite of the work, the interior remains splendid. We first explore the first floor, it is still super beautiful even if we don’t have access to half of the basilica

Have you seen him? There is a cat in the picture. He or she may be Gli, stroked by President Obama during his visit to Turkey. In any case, cats here know how to protect themselves. They settle quietly in the protected areas to avoid being over caressed by tourists, or to sleep peacefully

In this case, this cat is just in front of the mirhab (protected by the guards please). But wait, why is there a mirhab when you can see the angels on the ceiling?

In fact, we are here in an old Christian basilica of Constantinople (6th century) which became a mosque (15th century) and then converted into a museum (1934). We can see the magnificent golden mosaics right next to the panels with Arabic calligraphy (XIX century) transcribing the name of Allah, Mohammed and the first four caliphs. Of course, at the time when the building was a mosque, the mosaics were covered (prohibition to represent living beings in a place of worship)

Zooming in a little, you can see the angel Gabriel on the right

And the ceiling of the central dome is really beautiful! Look at this calligraphy ! Wow!

I wouldn’t have been able to show you these pictures without my new camera (an RX100 M3 advised by Mathieu, tour du mondiste et photographe, which I talked about here). Smartphones can’t take pictures inside anymore because everything is very dark. Of course, flash is forbidden, so as not to damage the frescoes

We admire the golden doors of the library and then go upstairs. It is here that we can closely admire the golden mosaics

While some admire the mosaics, others look out of the window (super high) which gives a nice view of the sultans’ tombs

Once again, it is hard to say that all these patterns and colors date back to the Byzantine period. Note the openwork columns

Before going out, I make a quick stop at the museum store. Total craze for these jewels and plates! I love this style that I didn’t know at all

Just coming out of the shop, we come face to face with this: a copy of the minutes (in stone please) of a spiritual assembly. Impressive!

And just before the exit, you have to turn around to see on the ceiling great patterns and sparkling mosaics. I let you read, if you are interested, the detailed descriptions of the mosaics and all the little details to observe at the Saint Sophia basilica on this blog

We go around the basilica again to see if we miss something, there is a beautiful fountain once used for ablutions

And pieces of ruins from another church

Thus ends our visit to Saint Sophia. At the exit, we see the tombs of the sultans but pressed by time (it is already 2 hours that we are on the spot), we are going to visit them another day (the access is free, it is necessary to make the turn of the basilica to reach it since the other side)

In the meantime, we prefer to test the streetfood. We were told to absolutely eat this round pastry (6TL) filled with Nutella; and succumb to the call of corn (3TL) at the stand next door

Walking towards the bus, we discover very nice corners, certainly touristic, but cute as everything, and carpet stores (magnificent!!)

We are waiting for our bus, quiet, with a view of the Asian part of Istanbul

Note: I hope you like the new format of the travel diaries. This is one of the first time I use large photos to illustrate, and JB has put everything in place to make the loading of the photos as fast and smooth as possible for you. Please let us know if it bothers you, if the new format makes it difficult to read etc. We welcome feedback.

If we now take pictures with a real (but small) camera, it’s to have real colors, to show you the real beauty of the places we visit. We retouch very little the pictures (just to crop or group vertical pictures), the idea isn’t to embellish the reality, but not to damage it either (like what our pictures taken with a smartphone did)

More of our adventure here

Part 2: Practical Tips


  • Airport Taxi => Şişli : 60TL, tip 5TL
  • SIM Card: 220TL, more details about our article
  • Our airbnb in the district of Şişli costs 46€/night but I really advise you to get closer to Taksim or to the old town (next to Sainte Sophie in bulk), even if you have to pay a little more because our district lacks famous restaurants
  • Access to the Sainte-Sophie Basilica: 40TL/person (+ 30TL for the radio guide, 10$ a private guide)
  • Lunch: 26TL/person in a restaurant with prepared dishes (no tip for this kind of restaurants)
  • Streetfood: between 3TL and 6TL
  • Istanbulkart: 6TL card purchase. 1,4TL/route approximately => Google Maps will help you for your journeys in Istanbul

I put here the site map (the paper map is only given when you take a radio guide)

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