What better way to start the new year than by going to a place to which you have never been before? That’s exactly what I thought when I planned to spend my new year in Istanbul this December. My mum was equally delighted by the idea, so she decided to come along. We took off as soon as Christmas was over.
Istanbul is an outstanding city in so many ways. Already on the way from the airport to our cozy little hotel in the old town, I was struck by its peculiar mix between old and new, ancient and modern. It invites you right away to delve into its rich culture and history. The way we did this was to a great part influenced by the weather. While I expected it to be mildly cold (the weather forecast had talked about 10°C), I did not expect snow. Two days into the trip, the world went white. It provided us with many beautiful views of the city’s landmarks covered in snow. It also caused frozen feet, snail-paced walks on slippery sidewalks, and frequent visits in Istanbul’s cafes to warm up with a glass of hot Turkish tea. My mum and I developed a profound fondness of any tourist activity that took place indoors. We put our museum pass to full use by going to the Archaeological Museum, the tiny but interesting Mosaic Museum, and the impressive Basilica Cistern. We spent a lot of time a the Grand Bazaar, not only because it’s an interesting place with loads of things to look at, but also because it was inside a building and thus warm and dry.
One day, when the weather was particularly nasty because it couldn’t quite make up its mind whether it wanted to be snow or rain, we visited Topkapi palace. Had I studied my guidebook more thoroughly I might have known that Topkapi is not one vast building, like a lot of European palaces, but rather a lot of smaller, separate buildings divided by gardens. You spent a lot of time outside, walking to the next part of the palace, and sometimes you have to wait in a line before you can enter the more prestigious rooms such as the treasure chamber. I’m sure the lines in winter are nothing compared to how long you have to wait in the main season, but standing in the cold rain for almost an hour did nothing to improve my impression that the palace, on the whole, was rather disappointing. There are beautiful corners, but some parts simply don’t measure up to the expectations raised by the long wait.
Much more impressive were Hagia Sofia and the Blue Mosque. The latter provided its very own adventure, because the marble stairs leading up to it were covered in ice and there were no handrails to hold on to. Tourists were desperately trying to find some grip on the slippery stairs. We made it without injuries to the entrance though, where we needed to take our winter boots off, on a carpet that was already soaked from many wet feet having entered before us. Once inside, however, the beauty of the building makes up for all the inconveniences.
The weather did not manage to stop us completely from doing any outside activities. We took a ferry over to the Asian side of town, a trip to the Princes’ Islands, and a cruise down the Bosphorus. On the Bosphorus tour the last stop is the little town Anadolu Kavagi, close to the Black sea. If you climb up a hill you get a beautiful view over the river. Unfortunately, a few minutes before we arrived it had started snowing again, and all we could see was white. Which didn’t stop us from climbing the hill to the viewing point, because while we’re there we might as well do the full programme. After all the walking we rewarded ourselves with warming up in a restaurant with hot tea and good food.
On New Year’s Eve itself we took another Bosphorus cruise, this time with dinner and entertainment provided. After some rather touristy dance and folklore shows everyone went up on the snow-covered deck to watch the fireworks over the city.
The snow had one more unlucky consequence. On the day we were scheduled to fly back home, it turned out that our plane was overbooked. Many flights had been cancelled the previous days due to the snow, and now there was a great number of people waiting to get home. The next available flight to Hamburg wasn’t until the next day – the day both my mother and I were supposed to be back at work. Luckily the airline was generous enough to pay a night in a hotel for us, including all meals. So we did the best we could: enjoyed the fancy hotel with its delicious buffet until we got picked up the next morning back to the airport. This time we made it onto the plane and back to Hamburg. I guess that’s travel for you. Unpredictable, but at least never boring. Still, the next time I come to Istanbul, I’ll make it summer.Follow me in Social Media: