We left the tranquility and slow-pace of Croatia and arrived in the hustle, bustle of Istanbul. With up to 6 cruise ships in port at any one time (think of that, nearly 15,000 people descending on a city), it was quite the culture shock. We stayed at the Four Seasons Hotel on the Bosphorous, with its beautiful setting overlooking the water. Meals on the terrace were a nice respite from the hectic pace of the city and the horrific traffic.
We had a wonderful, knowledgeable, english-speaking guide (and driver) with us at all times. I highly recommend this for anyone traveling to Turkey. English is not widely spoken and I felt more comfortable having a Turk navigate our way through the city.
We started our first day at the Spice Bazaar. The bazaar was (and still is) the center for spice trade in Istanbul. It is an “L”-shaped building, consisting of 88 vaulted rooms offering spices, dry fruits, caviar, genuine fake hand bags (don’t you love that saying) and many other unique, Turkish products. Thousands of people descend on the Bazaar each day.
We then took a private boat tour along the Bosphorus Strait which splits Istanbul between Europe and Asia. This is the only city in the world that is on two continents. The water way is lined with opulent palaces and mosques on the Europe side and vacation homes of the rich on the Asia side. At the narrowest, there is only 1 km that separates the 2 sides of the city. Would you believe that the richest man in Turkey is responsible for 13% of the country’s GNP!
The Topikapi Palace Museum was our next stop which was the primary residence of the Ottoman Sultans for 400 years from 1465 to 1856. For centuries this was the place from which the Sultans ruled over an empire that stretched from Eastern Europe to the Atlantic Ocean. The Palace is enormous so it is impossible to get a good photo unless you can take an aerial shot.
Nearby is the magnificent Hagia Sophia, which was built by the Emperor Justinian in 537 AD. For over 900 years it was the centre of the Eastern Orthodox Church and it remains the world’s 4th largest church. It is unbelievable in size and scope. (I couldn’t get a good picture so this is the one from their website)
The next day we visited the Roman Hippodrome, which was the scene of chariot races and great public events throughout the long history of the Byzantine Empire.
The Blue Mosque (of which there is nothing Blue about it) is known in Turkey as Sultanahmet Mosque. It was constructed between the years 1609-1617. It is still used as a Mosque today so visitors can only gain access between prayers which are held 5 times a day.
The Underground Cistern is the largest of the several hundred ancient cisterns that lie beneath the city of Istanbul with a capacity of 100,000 tons of water. Built in the 6th century, the roof of this cathedral sized cistern is supported by over 336 marble columns.
We also made stops at the Turkish & Islamic Arts Museum, the Istanbul Archaeology Museum and the Grand Bazaar.Istanbul is a vibrant city requiring 3-5 days to truly experience. Our 2 days were very rushed and I would have liked extra time to see other historical sites and just to walk the streets. It is a secular city and I was told, relatively safe, as violent crime is very low in Turkey.