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Istanbul, Our Best Adventure Yet

The Blue Mosque, Istanbul

The Blue Mosque, Istanbul

Discussing travel – past & future – with friends over the weekend made me realize I never blogged about our time in Istanbul last October. A terrible oversight if ever there was one. Istanbul is the full package – history, culture, gorgeous scenery, excellent food, and *drumroll, please* the friendliest people on the planet. I kid you not. I’ve never experienced anything similar in my 47 years. Anyone we encountered seemed to exist solely to make our trip more pleasant.

I could gush about our hotel (White House Hotel) for paragraphs, but that still wouldn’t be sufficient to convey the warmth of the people; the beauty of each and every rooftop breakfast; the lovely, immaculate rooms; or the over-the-top consideration of their arriving at the door on my husband’s 50th with the most beautiful, scrumptious chocolate cake we’ve ever laid eyes on. I assume that was a detail gleaned from our passports on check-in, because not a single word passed our lips. They very literally made us feel like we were among family.

Beyond the human aspect of our hotel, it was also ideally situated to visit all of the main sites. We were a 5 minute walk from the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, Basilica Cistern, Topkapi Palace, the Archaeology Museum & the Grand Bazaar. We visited each of these (4 visits to the Grand Bazaar!) as well as going on a Bosphorus Cruise and an open-top bus tour, which is not usually our thing, BUT in this case it crossed the Bosphorus Bridge and my son insisted on visiting the Asian side of Istanbul – what can you do?

Our first morning – actually, it might have been our first afternoon… after arriving at 1am, we were more than a little wiped – we set out for adventure & hot coffee. After starving in Paris for a week (not the easiest city to be a vegetarian in), Istanbul’s love of all things chickpea was much appreciated. I hear “Food, glorious food!” set to an annoying jingle in my head every time I think of that meal – sometimes I even hear angels… Next up was the Blue Mosque. I took a few snaps and will include those with the barest of thoughts… {Chloe and I always carry a large scarf or wrap in our purses when visiting churches in Europe (usually it’s our shoulders that our a little too risque), and, in this aspect, Istanbul was the same. We needed our wraps for our heads when entering the Blue Mosque. The difference being that no one was trying to make a buck off of it in Istanbul. Wraps and gowns were provided, freshly laundered, as well as covers for your shoes. In Rome, I’m sure there are people who make a decent living hawking scarves just outside the Vatican. If you’re not dressed appropriately, you’re not getting in. In Istanbul, however, they have already seen to that detail. Just another indication, albeit small, of the care and attention shown daily, and happily.}

The Blue Mosque, Istanbul, interior

The Blue Mosque, Istanbul, interior

The Blue Mosque, Istanbul

The Blue Mosque, Istanbul

Part of the deal of spending Glenn’s 50th in Istanbul was that on his actual birthday we’d cruise up the Bosphorus and so we did. Neither my language nor my photos will be able to convey to you the beauty of the water. It is a deep turquoise blue and only one of my handful of photos even comes close. Fortunately, it happens to feature the Dolmabahce Palace – a site we missed on this visit. 😉

Dolmabahce Palace, Istanbul

Dolmabahce Palace, Istanbul

The cruise was a lively adventure and would have made for beautiful photos, but it was incredibly choppy that day and there was a lot of sea spray. So, for the majority of the trip, we sat inside and just soaked up all the scenery, sans camera. I’d highly recommend it though.

I can tell by my photostream (not, to be clear, by use of my menopausal memory) that we headed to the Grand Bazaar next. And, again, I have perhaps one photo to share and that is of the main entrance. My apologies to the man in the foreground for his prominence in my photo. I took another shot above the crowd, but I wanted to capture the teeming feeling you get as you enter and a shot of the sign didn’t cut it. So, dear man, I dedicate this photo to you.

The Grand Bazaar, Istanbul

The Grand Bazaar, Istanbul

Like I mentioned earlier, we visited the bazaar three additional times so I’d say that already indicates how much we liked it. It was more than the sum of its parts shall we say. Historical site + shopping spree = Life experience. We browsed, we bartered, we purchased, we ate, we said “no, thank you” many times beyond reckoning, but mostly we just soaked it all in. It was a world within a world. There were locals coming and going with goods and silver trays of apple tea flying between shops, people chatting, laughing, eating, just living. It defies my ability to describe it. Let’s just say I breathed it all in and it left me feeling replete. (At times like this though, I tend to put my camera away and just live it. I am better photographing quiet areas and moments rather than lively ones. I don’t want to miss anything.)

I do, however, have perhaps a billion photos of the Hagia Sophia (or Aya Sofia). It was high on my list and it did not disappoint. Here are a few of my favourite shots…

Hagia Sophia, Istanbul

Hagia Sophia, Istanbul

Hagia Sophia, Istanbul

Hagia Sophia, Istanbul

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Hagia Sophia, Istanbul

Detail of the Deesis Mosaic, Hagia Sophia

Detail of the Deesis Mosaic, Hagia Sophia

As the Hagia Sophia dates from AD360 and has been both a church and a mosque and now is a museum, it is abundant in historical riches to satisfy even the most eager scholar. I, myself, just enjoyed the quiet majesty of the space. It was truly impressive.

Equally impressive, but fully underground, is the Basilica Cistern. Built in the 6th century as a water reservoir, we were told that knowledge of the cistern fell into legend and was only rediscovered when locals were fishing from their houses, lowering buckets through their floors. I can find no such reference in Wikipedia. I hope it’s true though. I love the story. And there are fish in the cistern even today, so it’s possible, right? Upon descending the stairs, there’s a moment where I thought I was in Tolkien’s dwarf city in Moria. Sorry, LoTR geek here. There are seemingly endless rows of columns stretching into the distance. There are also two Medusa heads of speculated origin. It’s pretty dark down there, so this is the best I could do…

Basilica Cistern, Istanbul

Basilica Cistern, Istanbul

Medusa's Head, Basilica Cistern, Istanbul

Medusa’s Head, Basilica Cistern, Istanbul

Topkapi Palace is impressive by any standard, but we were coming off a recent (like a week recent) trip to Versailles so let’s make it clear that it was following one tough act. If there’s one review-type note I’d make about Istanbul, it’s that, in my opinion, the Palace is noted as a must-see and I’d put it as a “if you have extra time, see it” kind of place. There is a lot of refurbishing still to be done to bring it up to the ticket price. There are vast areas undergoing a facelift – hell, let’s just call it reconstructive surgery- and this should make all the difference. Also, the grounds as such are barely in existence. Please, don’t hate. I enjoyed it and it was beautiful as you’ll see, but it needs a little love. I’d give it a 3.5/5 – not the 5/5 that everyone gives it online.

Topkapi Palace, Istanbul

Topkapi Palace, Istanbul

Topkapi Palace, Istanbul

Topkapi Palace, Istanbul

Ceiling detail, Topkapi Palace, Istanbul

Ceiling detail, Topkapi Palace, Istanbul

Courtyard, Topkapi Palace, Istanbul

Courtyard, Topkapi Palace, Istanbul

And last, but not least, is the Archaeology Museum. Even with four trips to the bazaar and countless rooftop meals, we ended the trip with extra time on our hands and only sought out this museum out of restlessness. We were pleasantly surprised.

Archaeology Museum, Istanbul

Archaeology Museum, Istanbul

Sarcophagus for Alexander the Great, Archaeology Museum, Istanbul

Sarcophagus for Alexander the Great, Archaeology Museum, Istanbul

Interior detail, Archaeology Museum, Istanbul

Interior detail, Archaeology Museum, Istanbul

Courtyard, Archaeology Museum, Istanbul

Courtyard, Archaeology Museum, Istanbul

Courtyard Museum, Archaeology Museum, Istanbul

Courtyard Museum, Archaeology Museum, Istanbul

As with all good vacations, they must come to an end, as does this seemingly never-ending blog post. I will say that Istanbul’s sites, weather, history, shopping, dining, etc. all pale by comparison to their people. They made the trip. And, from the geometrically perfect stacks of fresh pomegranates waiting to be juiced just for you to the regular calls to prayer, Istanbul is a feast for all the senses. A true delight. I will end now with one final photo. The real reason this trip was so fulfilling and worthwhile – who we shared it with….

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Nick & Chloe, Courtyard Cafe, Archaeology Museum, Istanbul

Thanks for sharing our journey!! s. xoxo

4 thoughts on “Istanbul, Our Best Adventure Yet

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