Adventures in Turkey: Istanbul, Byzantium, Constantinople, and Stamboul

Istanbul, at the crossroads of civilizations, is a place that we (and many readers of the previous post) will not forget.  Our initial exposure was on the tram from the airport to the Sultanahmet area where our small B&B was tucked away on a back street.  We made our way across the main courtyard in front of the Aya Sofya.  As we passed the obelisk that once stood in front of the Luxor Temple,  memories of Egypt came rushing back.  We knew this would be a special trip.

The initial evening was spent marveling at the thousand-year old domes and minarets, eating local food, and playing checkers while enjoying Sheesha. The next morning, we left our hotel early to visit the ornate Topkapi Palace from where the entire Ottoman Empire once was ruled.  The architecture and jewels were beautiful and it overlooked the Bosphorus Strait.  After taking in the history and feeling overwhelmed at the opulence of the rulers’ home, we headed underground to the Basilica Cistern to explore water reserves the empire built to quench the palace and citizens’ thirst.  The structure is elaborate and very well lit with elevated walkways.  It covers a couple city blocks and it is a marvel of engineering.  The scene in the 1963 James Bond movie From Russia With Love where Bond is rowing in a small boat through a forest of marble columns was filmed here.

Coming back up to daylight we went to explore the markets which are nothing like we get to experience here in America.  The Grand Bazaar was stall after stall in all directions selling Turkish goods and souvenirs.  It’s a very loud, colorful, and bustling environment. If you plan to shop, enter with the intent to banter and barter with the shopkeepers.  Though we weren’t interested in purchasing from the touristy market, Emily was excited to visit the Egyptian Spice market and admired the mounds of meticulously kept mounds of spices and herbs.  While making small talk with one of the merchants – where all of them ask where you’re from to size you up – one jokingly asked if we were from Asia and asked if we spoke Chinese (We’re both light haired).  I quickly said, “no,” but then asked him, in Japanese, “Do you speak Japanese?”  It surprised both of us because he had lived in Japan for years and we determined we lived about 10 miles from each other in Tokyo years earlier.  That got us a special discount on the saffron for Emily’s mom.  The rest of the day we meandered the streets, took in some of the different districts, strolled down the lively Istiklal Avenue in Beyoğlu, and enjoyed spending time together.

Thus far, we had ignored the two most visible symbols of Istanbul – the Sultan Ahmed Mosque (Blue Mosque) and the Aya Sofya (Hagia Sophia).  We wanted to visit these early in morning and went to the Blue Mosque shortly after morning prayers concluded.  The architecture is indescribable.  There are geometric patterns, arching domes, ornate chandeliers, and sunlight that streams through a rainbow of stained glass.  The Hagia Sophia was a little busier, but no less ornate.  When we entered the sun was higher and the light streamed into the cavernous interior, as it does in this classic shot of Grand Central Station.  It’s incredible these two structures continue to stand and impress after so many generations and empires have passed.

The rest of the day, we went back to the markets for some spices for our friends Dermot and Angie (who just got engaged!) and onto the water to visit Asia to watch the sunset.  We walked out to a point overlooking the Maiden’s Tower.  In the background we watched the setting sun dance among the minarets and turn the sky ablaze while we enjoyed tea and salep (Emily’s new favorite drink).  It was great way to enjoy our final evening in this great city.  The next morning started early, and I walked out onto the Galata Bridge to take in the sunrise with the local fisherman.  They had been out all night filling their coolers for the markets.  With the smell of charcoal and freshly cooked fish wafting through the air, I watched the sun rise to light the minarets, starting another day for the people of Istanbul with the call to prayer as we headed out for another journey.

Photos: Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, Day 4

 

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~ by Rob Page III on June 13, 2011.

2 Responses to “Adventures in Turkey: Istanbul, Byzantium, Constantinople, and Stamboul”

  1. Hi, I came across your blog, while searching for information about travelling abroad, wow, such a lovely pictures, what kind of camera did you use, most pics are stunning, it was beautifully captured. Keep it up.

  2. […] below and some more on Smugmug. We hoped you liked our Adventures in Turkey: Post 1 (Turkey), Post 2 (Istanbul), Post 3 (Selcuk), Post 4 […]

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