Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Art + Intrigue in Istanbul

The view from the roof deck at Hotel Amira, where we stayed in the old part of Istanbul's city centre. Fabulous and friendly customer service and a room upgrade - not bad!
Checking out the buildings on our Bosphorus river cruise. You see everything from embassies to houses to posh clubs. The cool thing about the cruise is that on one side of the river, you're in Asia and on the other, you're in Europe!
Enjoying the beautiful views from the cruise on our anniversary.
Delicious canapes during our one year anniversary dinner at a wonderful rooftop restaurant called Terrace at Hotel Armada. We could see the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sofia and we heard the call to prayer echo through the city during our meal...so cool.
Inside the Hagia Sofia, a beautiful structure which was formerly a church and a mosque. It's now a museum open to all in the city centre.  
Outside the famous Blue Mosque - such an impressive, historical structure. The little tower on the right is called a 'minaret' which a typical architectural feature of  most mosques.
Inside the Blue Mosque...I had to cover up my legs and head  and take off my shoes out of respect. Is this a good look for me?!
Topkapi Palace, an expansive estate that was the primary residence of the Ottoman sultans for hundreds of years. And below is some tasty passionfruit tea from the Spice Market.

Istanbul surpassed all of my expectations...it is a gorgeous, culturally rich place with lovely people and incredible sites to see. You can find the coolest art and architecture at literally every turn, both in the European and Asian parts of the city. There's also a really interesting mix of  cultures, as some people very much adhere to the Islamic religion while others seem quite Westernised. Here's how we spent our two days...

We arrived on a Sunday evening and took the train and then tube to our hotel. If we had to do it again, I'd take a cab...only €30 and so much less hassle. When we arrived at Hotel Amira, we were greeted by the most lovely staff who took us up to the hotel's roofdeck which had amazing views of the Bosphorus river. We lounged on the plush furniture and enjoyed a glass of cold beer to cool off from the hot journey, plus a quick intro to the city. Since it was late in the day, we decided to visit the Blue Mosque in Sultanahmet (the old city). It is so large and intricately decorated inside and out. You've got to cover up to get in and take your shoes off, but it's well worth looking a little weird. Fun fact: when we were outside the mosque walls, I spotted some locals washing their feet in little sinks before entering...so funny! After regrouping for a few hours we took the train to Taksim (the modern part of the city) for a chicken shish kabob dinner on the main shopping street. While it was cool, I much prefer Sultanahmet.

On Monday, we went to the grand Topkapi Palace, where we spent about three hours learning about the history of the sultans (and their multiple wives). The palace architecture is so vibrant and beautiful and there are amazing views of the Bosphorus from the many balconies. This was definitely on of my favourite places in the city. In the afternoon, we took a boat cruise along the Bosphorus river which included a little detour to the famous spice market. The spice market has the most intense smells when you walk in...a mix of Turkish Delight (the famous Turkish candy), teas and every kind of spice you can imagine. They also sell random things like electronics and clothes the further back in the stalls you go. After the market, we had the chance to peek our heads in the Rustem Pasha Mosque, which has the most beautiful blue tiles lining the walls...our tour guide also gave us a good overview of Islamic prayer traditions. Next we took a boat cruise along the Bosphorus and it was well worth it...we loved relaxing and taking in the views (highly recommend this!). After our tour ended, we headed back to the hotel and Jim surprised me with an amazing anniversary dinner on a rooftop terrace restaurant. It was so spectacular, the food was delicious, and he'd arranged for a bottle of bubbly! Very romantic :)

The next day we went to the Hagia Sofia, as it was closed on Monday (make sure you plan ahead if you go in the beginning of the week since certain sites are closed on different days). We easily spent a few hours exploring the church turned mosque which has all kinds of interesting art and artifacts from both religions. We spent the last part of the day at the famous Grand Bazaar, where there are literally hundreds of shops selling everything from pottery and jewellery to clothes and rugs. Lots of window shopping, but I didn't actually find anything to buy. After that it was off to catch our flight to Greece (more on that trip soon)!

I would love to go back and explore other areas of the country like Cappadocia and the Turkish islands...I'll just have to add that to the bucket list!


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