In Terminal 5 of O'Hare International Airport, our party of eleven was checking in to the first of two Turkish Air flights to Uganda, when the faces of our two professors turned from excited to concerned. It turned out that the second leg of our journey, from Istanbul to Entebbe, Uganda, was cancelled for 24 hours. We had only planned a three hour stopover at Ataturk Airport in Istanbul, so TA had to put us up for the night at the Clarion Hotel, Mahmutbey Mah, Peyami Safa Cad, No:44, Bağcıla, Istanbul, Turkey. Our 3 hour stop became a 27 hour adventure in the streets of Istanbul!
Ataturk International Airport is located on the European side of Turkey, making this my first trip to Europe. We landed at about 4:45 pm, changed some US$ into Turkish Lira, and headed out to our hotel and a steak dinner before turning in for the night. The rooms at the Clarion were fantastic, and the breakfast buffet the next morning was worth documenting! What a feast of pastry, cheeses, fruit, jams and honeys -- along with delicious Turkish coffee!
What to do with 27 hours in Istanbul? Our professors hired a bus to take us to the Hagia Sophia, now a museum but originally built in 532 as an Eastern Orthodox Church. It was converted into a mosque in 1532 after Ottomans toppled the empire of Constantinople. We hired a guide named Metin who walked us through the museum, filled with amazing granite tile, bronze doors, archways and ceilings covered with stunning art. Not to mention the amazing architecture of the building shell itself, with dramatic domes and minarets.
When we finished at the Hagia Sophia, Metin brought us to the store of a Turkish Rug manufacturer, where a master weaver demonstrated the double knot tying technique by hand, and where this blogger could not resist this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to purchase a genuine Turkish carpet. I have a feeling that Metin may have received a commission from my purchase!
We dashed back to the hotel to make our Istanbul to Entebbe flight at 7:45 that evening, having survived this unexpected bonus trip to Europe!