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“I won’t be seeing you tomorrow. Will you be okay?”

I’ve not met anyone who has any space left to worry about the rest of the world during her wedding week and that’s what makes Ai Rene kinda special. I assured her I’ll be with her family and that I’m just a phone call away, before she disappeared for the next few days to prep for her big day.

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3rd June was officially my first day in Turkey, Istanbul. I had my Top 10 List to do stored safely in my iPhone and it’s hard not to feel greedy when each item given was written so passionately by the bride-to-be. Together with her family, we decided on conquering Sultanahmet; where Topkapi Palace, Ayasofya, Blue Mosque and Basilica Sistern unite.

That was actually an overly ambitious itinerary. Based on experience, as a start, we shall cover 2 of the mentioned above, plus a magnificent park where I went for runs throughout my 2 week stay in Turkey.

1. Topkapi Palace 

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Topkapi palace was full of serpentine queues. With heavy hearts we decided to only do an ‘outline tour’ around the perimeter. The more I walk, the more I couldn’t live with the decision, so I detached myself from the family tour.

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{Topkapi’s entrance}

A friendly-looking Turkish man dressed in his smart uniform sitting in a hut-like ticketing booth introduced me to the Museum Pass.

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{friendly-looking Turkish man}

#TurkeyTravelTip 1

For 85 TL, you get to visit a crazy amount of places (including Ayasofia!) with this pass. It is super worthy judging in terms of both money and time, especially when the cost to visit the palace alone is 45 TL. To avoid queues and buy the museum pass, look out for this church:

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“Hey!”, someone called out. I turned and saw the same ticketing guy, his figure illuminated by the backlight of the church’s entrance door. “Can I show you around?”, he said.

We walked around the church; which wasn’t impressive so I decided to make my way to the main palace. My new friend told me there is a shortcut exit at the right side of the church.

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{the most minimalist church I’ve ever visited}

“But this is a dead end.”

“No, I mean yes, it is. Look”, he took my right hand and placed it on his left chest. “Can you feel it?”

I felt his heart thumping at the speed of 10 beats per second, each one at 50 kilojoules.

“Can I get a kiss from you? It’s real. You see my heart”, convinced my over-friendly acquaintance.

I told him he was being ridiculous, laughed it off and sped up towards the exit door until his sonata slowly dissipates behind me.

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A charming distance across the garden I turned to give him a huge wave goodbye with a big smile on my face. He bowed with a returned smile and went back to his little brown hut.

I got a biscuit:

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Alone in Topkapi, surrounded by hundreds of tourists in their colorful vacation T-shirts, I picked the Islamic Relic queue. There are two and I couldn’t do both after all the time that had passed. All you can do in a queue, is queue. So I trained myself to admire the fat blooming roses instead of checking my Facebook news feed.

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After about half an hour I entered the U-shaped mosaic tiled block and saw Nabi’s beard hair. It was so protected I wondered what I would do with it if I had it in my hands. No one would believe me if I said it was His, would they?

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P.S. As reminded by Ai Rene countless times, if you love architecture, you probably need a day in Topkapi. I don’t necessarily love architecture, but I admire art to bits. Hence from this point onwards till about 200 meters in ‘desktop view’ measure, you will see about 20 pictures related to mosaic, tiles, and space. If that bores you, no one will judge. Just skip to the part where you see the Bosporus sea! 

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{Hammam bath, anyone?}

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{underground story}

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{going back outdoors}

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{the wall is my dress, my dress is the wall}

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Had a pricey lunch at the palace itself overlooking the Bosphorus sea. My meal was served under a golden tomb and a series of male waiters in line to serve me. It was indeed a meal fit for a queen.

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{en route to the restaurant}

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{my atas kebab}

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After a late #foreveralone lunch, the clock showed 4 p.m.. Not wanting to admit defeat that I had only managed to do Topkapi, I dashed to:

2. Ayasofya

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Ayasofia, a beauty that was once a church, converted into a mosque, is now a museum. Upon stepping my first foot in, I was reminded of La Sagrada Familia.

Turkey Travel Tip 2

You can’t re-enter the museum once you use the 85 TL pass once. The next day I wanted to go back and learned that I would have to pay for a fresh new ticket!

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{Ayasofya outfit details here}

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{a cat in the museum}

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“It’s beautiful, isn’t it?”

To my right is a young, plump Eurasian lad in his mid 20s wearing a smart navy blue shirt and matching brown leather loafers. His brown hair curled to his ears and his eyes shone bright as honey.

“Yes, it is indeed – really beautiful.”
And so I made another new friend.

I couldn’t remember his name, but the lad is an architecture student. Together we went upstairs where the view was twice as amazing, the marble door stood gracefully, and the mural of Christ restored after being painted over by the Muslims before it turned into a mosque. As my second new acquaintance had been here 4 times, the tour was short but sweet, with a swirl of mystery.

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Then we walked from Anasofya to:

3. Gülhane Parki

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Here we lay on wet green grass to hear happy birds chirp, all in silence. The only time we talked was when I asked him questions about his religion and country.

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{Gül = rose, hane = house. Gül + hane = Rose house!}

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According to my ‘tour guide’, this park used to be part of the palace as a rose garden. Today it is a public park for all.

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