Our first Turkish city was Edirne just a few km across the border from Greece but completely different from any city in Greece. The skyline was dotted with mosques and the roads were busy and the streets full of people. Most were in standard western dress but there were quite a few women wearing headscarves. It was also a lot cheaper. The speciality in Edirne was cigeri fried calf ‘s liver, a meal for two worked out at less than 30 turkish lira approx 10 euros. Although we did have a rest from the meat menu after discovering a wonderful vegetarian restaurant.
We explored Edirne over a few days visiting the Selimiye Mosque which is held to be the best mosque in Turkey, designed by the famous architect Sinan in 1570, topped by the largest dome of any mosque measuring 31.25 meteres in diameter. We also visited the Beyazit complex http://www.3dmekanlar.com/en/health-museum.html which consisted of a mosque hospital and medical school built in 1480. The hospital had a progressive approach to treating patients using music in the treatment of patients with mental health problems. The western approach at the time was iron shackles. The accompanying medical school was set around a courtyard and had rooms for students to live in and rooms for teaching. It must have been a great place to learn.
We had been told that the best road to Istanbul for cyclists was from the north. On the map it looked flat and easy but we had discounted the many rivers crossing the route. It was a series of valleys and we spent the next 3 days on a rollercoaster ride against a headwind. It then turned into a 6 lane highway full of lorries moving earth for a huge new motorway heading south. We finally managed to turn off the highway and came into Istanbul from the north riding along the side of the Bosphorus. Past castles, palaces, bridges and huge ships heading up and down the Bosphorus. The traffic got heavier as we came nearer to Istanbul and you had to keep your wits about you.
We had booked a flat through airbnb for a few days which was very quiet but located 4 floors up with no lift. Istanbul was hectic, it has a population of 15 million and like most big cities the car is king. Public transport is very good and cheap particularly the trams and the ferries. The bazaars are heaving with people.
Istanbul has an amazing skyline dominated by the Suleymaniye mosque also built by Sinan in 1550. We loved the exterior of this mosque with tranquil gardens and beautiful architecture. We were very impressed by the Hagia Sophia, now a museum built in 570 AD, it spent its first 900 years as a Greek Orthrodox cathedral before being converted into a mosque for the next 500 years and is now a museum. The scale of the building is impressive as is the construction of buttressing which has grown around it to prevent from falling back into the earth.
After 4 days of sightseeing mainly in warm weather we took the ferry south to Bandirma heading for the Aegean coast. Istanbul is amazing but we were looking forward to quieter roads and the countryside again.