Day 2 – Thursday 1st August – Istambul (0 km)
The journey to Istambul was one of the most relaxed affairs I have experienced in years of travelling – the flight was smooth, passport control was a breeze and when we got to the baggage carroussel our bags were already there. The new airport is amazing, clearly designed at a scale for the future in a context where air travel does not seem to show any signs of slowing down. The only negative is that it is much further away from the city than the old one, but fortunately, we had arranged a transfer and a really plush Mercedes van was waiting for us at the exit – so far, this was definitely not adventure travel!The following morning we got up early to make the best of our day in Istambul – we did not have a lot of time, so we decided to see the essentials. We left our hotel on foot, crossed the Galata bridge and walked up to Galata tower, overlooking the Golden Horn, the biggest of the inlets in the strait of the Bosphorus. From its top we had a perfect view of the inlet, the strait and, on the other side, Asia. There are many things I could tell you about the tower, like the fact that the old tower used to house the mechanism to raise a giant chain that, when raised, blocked access to ships to the inlet (now we know where Mr. Martin got the idea for the battle of Blackwater Bay), or that when it was built it was the higest structure in the city, but what impressed me most as I stood there was the thought that a whole other continent lay there, just across the water, and that was where we were going to be heading soon.After the visit to the tower we had an early lunch and went to visit the Blue Mosque. Dissapintingly, part of the interior was under renovation, so that the dome was not visible, and only a section was open to visits, the rest was reserved for prayers, but I did not mind that much, as I had recently visited the Alabaster Mosque in Cairo, which is an exact copy of this one, built by the same architect.Next we headed for my personal highlight, the Sofia mosque/church. I took History of Art in highschool and it has fascinated me ever since, so I was really excited to finally get to see it after more than 20 years.Do not meet your heroes, they say, but in this case I’m glad I did – it absolutely lived up to the expectations. I know I have said this before, but in this case it rings particularly true – it is hard to describe it in words that do justice to its grandeur. Sudddenly, I did not care in the slightest that Turkish Airlines had stolen a day from our trip – that was a small price to pay to have the chance walk through the doors of such a building. Go and see it for yourselves if you have the chance.Our day visit ended with a visit to the Cistern Basilica, an amazing feat of engineering built underground and capable of holding of water, and a meal consisting of a traditional Turkish kebab.Istambul is an amazing city and I felt sorry to leave when we had barely scratched its surface, but it was time to catch the flight to Bishkek and face our first challenge – we had tried to do the online check-in during lunch only to find that the app indicated that we could not choose our seats because the flight was already full. We were afraid that, since the previous flight had been moved or cancelled, this one was overbooked, and as beautiful as Istambul was, we did not want to be any further delayed from our objective. We got to the airport and ran to the counters to try and secure two early seats, as it is usually first come first served in these cases. The woman in the counter did not look happy when we handed her our passports, and spent some time speaking on the phone, which is never a good sign, but in the end we got two seats on the plane. Some other people were not so fortunate, though – while we were waiting to board Marc saw at least three people who, according to their passes, were on standby for a seat.