Istanbul truly is one of the world's greatest cities. Sat on the bridge between Europe and Asia, even on a drizzly, windy December day it's still an utterly fantastic city to explore.
I set out after a free breakfast of turkish cheese on bread with a cherry tomato and splash of olives, negotiating a 'path' by the side of a motorway...
I was making my way around the Sultanhamet peninsula, the epicentre of Ottoman and Byzantine power when both those great empires had Istanbul as their capital. The first sight I came across was the Blue Mosque. This is touted as one of Istanbul's most impressive sights - and is very much deserving of that accolade. However, it was slightly disappointing that so much of it was getting a facelift. And even now in what is surely the lowest season, there were still the Chinese hoards.
From the Blue Mosque is a grand, pedestrianised wide alleyway - lined with umbrella and sweetcorn sellers (seperately - would be quite a strange business model to specialise in selling only umbrellas and sweetcorns...). This leads to the Aya Sofya - a Byzantine basilica that has stood in Sultanhamet since the 6th Century.
Although like the Blue Mosque it was undergoing rennovations, the Aya Sofya was still phenomenally impressive and photogenic. I decided to have my fill of grand Turkish tourist attractions by finishing up at the Topkapi palace. This was the palace Ottoman sultans resided in for most of their era.
It's a grand, if slightly soggy palace, where today it seemed Malay was the most common language rather than Ottoman Turkish. By this point, I was hungry and bit damp and cold and although all these grand tourist attractions are very impressive, the process of not tripping over shuffling elderly Chinese ladies, going through secrutiy and getting you're pass etc. can all get repetitive. Don't get me wrong, these 3 palaces and mosques are incredible but as ever with 'must-sees' probably not the highlight on their own.
After having a turkish pizza (called a pide) I headed down to the piers that lie on the mouth of the Golden Horn. Istanbul sits on the Bosphorous strait that links the Black Sea and the Mediterranean and the Golden Horn is an estuary that splits the European half of the city. It's a fascinating place to linger (even if unintenionally and running up and down between the different piers trying to find the right boat). There's an amazing view of the towering mosques dotted across Sultanhamet, the Galata Tower in Beyoglu on the otherside of the Golden Horn and the skyscrapers, mosques, military barracks and palaces dotted on the Asian and European shores.
Ferries are part of the lifeblood of Istanbul, vital for connecting the various parts of the city and the best way of getting from Europe to Asia. It was a great ride, only half an hour tops, navigating the shippíng lanes as we got a spectacular view of the very sights I had seen that morning.
Specifically, I went to Kadikoy, Istanbul's hippest Asian suburb. It seems very familiar somehow, once poor rundown now a cheap hovel for hipster coffee shops and Irish pubs as well as some great graffiti. It was fascinating just walking round, but little to actually see.
I then made my way back on the ferry this time bound for Karikoy, on the opposite side of the Golden Horn estuary. I made my way to the Galata Tower but decided I couldn't be dealing with another long queue in the cold...
So I wended my way back over the Halic bridge and up through some sketchier looking necks of the wood, making my way to yet another mosque. To be brutally honest, mosques, they started jumping out at me from all sides and I feel a bit mosqued out.
Toe pads now very hard, my final stop on my extremely long walking tour of Istanbul was the Grand Bazaar. I was surprised to find even here there's high security with airport style bag checks to get in. They clearly take security extremely seriously here in Istanbul. The bazaar was interesting, very modern and organised. Different trades concentrated in different areas, whole sections devoted to tatty fridge magnets next to turkish delight and then lavish sultan-worthy jewellery opposite.
From the bazaar it was a rapid descent through what appeared to be a literal 'cardboard town' where even the kids were wheeling out shiploads of cardboard to be packaged and processed in the open, back to my hostel.
I think I've walked all of 10km today. Istanbul is a fascinating, huge city. It's also quite ugly (mostly intimating grey mosques and apartment blocks that would make Krushchev gulp). It really is where Europe meets Asia, I underestimated quite how diverse Istanbul really is, with large African and Central Asian immigrant communities and the Turks themselve are a diverse bunch. It's also very split economically, it became an increasingly common sight to see Central Asian migrants scrapping rubbish and wheeling huge bagloads around the streets, with stray dogs biting their heels.
Istanbul should brighten up in the next couple days, and I hope to get more off the beaten track and may perhaps break out of the city to make the most of the little time I've got here.
ps. I also visited a place called the Basilica Cistern. Easy to forget, another famous historical site with lots of tourists. Except this one was underground. Where the Byzantines had their sewage. Oh, and a random statue of Medusa. Cos why not?