|The Blue Mosque in Istanbul|
Istanbul. Once known as Constantinople, the city is the bridge between Europe and Asia. It straddles the Bosphorus Straits and has been at the crossroads of international trade (and travel) for millennia, including being the capital of the Ottoman Empire. It is one of the world’s most accessible Islamic countries.
Our first day in Istanbul would be orienting to the city and taking in the core historical sites – a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We had breakfast in the Executive Level of the Grand Hyatt Istanbul. It’s a modest spread, but free and quick.
We left the hotel and went up to Taksim Square. Our goal was to take the funicular down to the Bosphorus and then the tram over to the Hagia Sofia. Unfortunately, we ended up going through the wrong turnstiles and made for the metro, only realizing our mistake after having wasted one of our tokens (each token costs Lira 3). Once back on the right tack, we were able to take the funicular to the tram and get out to the Sultanhamet stop.
From Sultanhamet, we followed the Rick Steve’s “Historical Core of Istanbul Walk.” Our stop on the grand walking tour was the Hagia Sofia. Originally built as a Christian church by Emperor Justinian I in the Constantinople era, it was converted in 1453 by the invading Sultan Mehmet and the Ottomans. Hagia Sofia is one of the most classic stops on any tour of the city (Lira 20 admission) and there are often long lines to get in. The interior of the Hagia Sofia is dominated by the magnificent basilica and nave, accentuated by eight 24-foot wide medallions of Islamic calligraphy. It seems obligatory to take a photo of the medallions. But us, we were fascinated by the winged seraphims (angels in the archways), who’s faces were covered over in gold leaf when the Hagia Sofia became a mosque.
The Column of St. Gregory, also known as “perspiring column,” was a little strange. You stick your thumb in a hole and then turn your palm around. If you do this, your prayers are supposed to be answered. You also should have a large bottle of hand sanitizer, because this was just gross and a breeding ground of germs. Meanwhile, the mosaics upstairs were incredibly beautiful and perhaps the highlight of Hagia Sofia.
We had lunch on the square of the Golden Milestone. Over a thousand years ago, this marker was the center of the Byzantine Empire and noted distances to other parts of the Empire. We had lunch at one of the no-name places on the square and availed ourselves of the free Wi-Fi.
Nearby, the Basilica Cistern, was fascinating! Beneath the streets of Istanbul is an underground reservoir with a forest of over 300 columns that are bathed in red light. In the Cistern, visitors walk across raised wooden platforms above the water below. The depth of the water is only a couple of feet, but over the years, fish have populated the cistern, swimming into the red lights (video of the fish swimming in the Underground Cistern
Across the Sultanahmet Park is the famed Blue Mosque, named for the blue tiles that adorn the mosque, but is officially known as the Sultan Ahmet Mosque. The mosque was designed by the same architect who designed the Kaaba – the holy site in Mecca. We sat on the floor and admired the amazing blue tile work in the mosque.
On leaving the mosque, we walked past the Egyptian Obelisk, which had been brought here from the Temple of Karnak in Upper Egypt. As we walked past, we reminisced about ourtrip to Egypt.
In the afternoon, we went back to the Grand Hyatt for a quick dip in the pool before a fabulous dinner at the Istanbul CulinaryInstitute. This place opened in 2008 as a training ground for young chefs in Turkey. I opted for the six-course tasting menu. The menu featured a Saros Garden cold tomato soup, then the Caprese with Saros garden tomatos and followed by the Shrimp noodles with seasonable vegetables. It was followed by two mains – a grilled sea bass with white bean stew, tomatoes and herbs, which was followed by a duck trio (duck breast, leg confit and smoked duck). The whole gluttonous mess was followed by a dessert sampler. As if that wasn’t bad enough, every course had a wine pairing. This was ridiculously good. Our meal was Lira 166 and worth every bit of it.
From the Culinary Institute, we walked the Istikal Caddesi back to Taksim Square our hotel. On a weekend evening, this place was packed with people out partying for the night – people watching at its finest.
|The Hagia Sofia, Istanbul|
|Mosiac in Hagia Sofia|
|The Dome of Hagia Sofia|
|The Basilica Cistern|
|The Blue Mosque|
|The Egyptian Obelisk|
|The Grand Bazaar|
|Suleiman The Magnificent Mosque|
|View from Suleiman The Magnificant Mosque|
|Ablution Basins at the Suleiman The Magnificent Mosque|