Monday, November 22, 2010


We just returned from four days in Istanbul. Despite it's brevity it was one of our more relaxing trips, in that we stayed in one hotel the whole time and had a pretty flexible itinerary. We found the city to be delightfully clean for its size and old age, easy to navigate on foot (aside from one boat ride, we walked everywhere), and filled with beauty, history, and an intriguing blend of western and eastern cultures. Between the warm, sunny days and cool evenings, we couldn't have asked for better weather - overall a successful vacation!

We took about 500 pictures, so here are the highlights (you must congratulate us for narrowing it to 30):

Our first stop, just yards from our hotel, the fascinating Aya Sofya, aka Hagia Sophia--

The main hall--

Dedicated in the year 360, it was once the cathedral of Constantinople until its conversion into a mosque in the 15th century. In 1935 it was made into a museum. Some of the original iconography still remains - you can see below how they tried to cover over the crosses with Muslim symbols.

The next major site was the Blue Mosque (Sultanahmet Camii)--

The inner courtyard--

It's called the Blue Mosque because blue is the most prominent color on the interior tiles--

The entrance to Topkopi Palace (Topkapı Sarayı), the main residence of the Sultans during the Ottoman Empire--

It's a massive complex, but we spent most of our time touring the Imperial Harem, which had the most stunning and varied mosaics and stained glass. Every room was unique and fabulous.

As the name implies, these were the rooms where the queen mother, wives and concubines of the sultan, and the eunuchs lived.

All things considered, not a bad place to live!

Close-up of a most unusual mosaic (appears to be a rendering of an encampment)--

On our second afternoon we ventured into the labyrinthine Grand Bazaar. We were so overwhelmed by what we experienced next that we forgot to take pictures, so this is it unfortunately--

On the edge of the bazaar we were greeted with the color and aromas of dozens of sidewalk vendors serving up traditional Turkish cuisine of all sorts. The culture of food in Istanbul warrants its own post, so you'll be reading more on this later...

We decided to gather strength for our shopping extravaganza by lunching with the locals at Aynen Dürüm, which has one item on the menu - meat wrapped in lavaş (flat bread). We chose kuzu dürüm, the lamb wrap, from the three meat options. The establishment's one table was lined with pickles, peppers and herbs to be eaten freely; and the rate at which people sat, ordered, stuffed their faces, and left, made us feel we were in some kind of eating contest!

The next morning, Shannon went to the Egyptian Spice Bazaar while Sam toured the 16th-century Rüstem Pasha mosque, which displayed more of the intricate Ottoman-style tiling and wood carvings--

We met up again in this Eminönü square, which holds an interesting juxtaposition of modern art and ancient architecture--

From there we crossed the Galata Bridge over to Beyoğlu district, the modern section of Istanbul, and strolled down the famous İstiklâl Caddesi between Tünel and Taksim Squares. This avenue is lined with countless shops, restaurants and quaint alleyways lined with more shops and restaurants, and as you can see is quite popular--

We also went to the top of Galata Tower (built in 1348), which provides an excellent 360° view of the city--

The origins of the word Galata are disputed, but a major theory is that the tribe known as the Galatians (as in the Apostle Paul's "letter to") once camped here before settling in Galatia. Here it is by night--

Walking back across the Galata Bridge, which comes alive at night with fishermen and vendors--

And here is Galata Bridge by morning (the banner rings true, as Istanbul was designated the 2010 European Capital of Culture by the European Union)--

On our last full day we booked a cruise up the Bosphorus which took us nearly to the Black Sea, criss-crossing from shore to shore so we could observe the various historic landmarks and quaint little seaside villages. It was interesting to experience the change in weather from a warm, sunny day in Istanbul city to a chilly, foggy afternoon in the village of Anadolu Kavağı where we stopped for a seafood lunch. (The cool air was due to the proximity of the Black Sea.)

We were fortunate to make friends with a native Turk and his Russian wife while on the ferry, and they invited us to join them for lunch. It was a great opportunity to learn more about his culture (and nice to have a Turkish speaker help us order!)

On our way back to Istanbul we were happily greeted by warmer air and a lovely sunset.

We were fortunate to be in Istanbul for the Grand reopening of the newly-restored Süleymaniye Mosque (built in 1550), which had been closed up until the previous evening. We caught it in between our cruise and a Whirling Dervish ceremony (of which we have no pictures - they weren't allowed).

The interior is stunning--

Below is what appears to be a group of young disciples learning at the feet of the Imam; not a sight you see everyday, but we happened to be there right before prayer time--

One of our favorite aspects of the trip was our daily, pre-breakfast walks to the local Starbucks (our hotel only served Nescafé, simply not an option for me). Between 7-8 am we essentially had the city to ourselves. So peaceful, and it set the pace of our entire visit.


  1. Great pics, Shan & Sam! Really enjoyed them.

  2. So glad you got to go to see the Whirling Dervish! What did you think? And what's up with no photography? It can't be a religious thing, they were on the Amazing Race a few years ago. Great pictures -- and by the way, I really liked the book!

  3. i am SO excited about all of these exciting adventures you two are getting to experience. it's fun reading and catching up with you as much as the blog world allows. :) miss seeing you around the Northeast. hope all is well!