Monday, May 27, 2013

Istanbul, Turkey

We were happy that this cruise included Istanbul on its itinerary because it's a city that we have been wanting to go to. Istanbul is Turkey's largest city with a population of 14-15 million. It is the only city in the world that is part of two continents, Europe and Asia, with the Bosphorus strait separating the two continents. Since we were entering Turkey from the mouth of the Bosphorus strait we had the unique privilege of viewing both the European and Asian shores.

European Turkey 
Asian Turkey
Istanbul is full of exquisite mosques (there are around 3,000) and throughout the day you can hear praying from minarets that echo through the city. We learned that Istanbul is a very tolerant city in regards to religion. Most of the population practices Islam, but it's a personal choice as to how religious one wants to be. So you will see women dressed from full burkhas to traditional headscarves and conservative attire, to tight jeans, tank tops and pony tails. Christians and Sephardic Jews make up the other religious populations.

We first went to the Blue Mosque (called Sultanahmet Camii in Turkish) which is so named because of the blue tiles surrounding the interior walls. It was built between 1609 and 1616 and is still an active mosque. Before entering everyone is required to take off their shoes and women need to wear a head scarf.

My attempt at a headscarf 

After visiting the Blue Mosque we walked to Topkapi Palace. The palace was the primary residence of the Ottoman Sultans for around 400 years. The palace was also a setting for state occasions and royal entertainments. It consists of four main courtyards and many smaller buildings including a treasury holding precious objects like Muhammed's cloak and sword, and Noah's staff.  Unfortunately, it was forbidden to take pictures inside.

The Imperial Gate

Gate of Salutation: Entrance to the 2nd courtyard

View from the palace
After spending a good amount of time here we then had a delicious Turkish lunch, consisting of tzatziki, hummus, stuffed grape leaves, and kebabs.

Our yummy appetizer. 

After lunch we walked to Hagia Sophia. Hagia Sophia is an important monument for the Byzantine and Ottoman empires. It was first a church, then a mosque, and now a museum and has many sights to see of both Christian and Muslim importance. It is a stunning building with a lot of history.

No trip to Istanbul would be complete without heading to their two famous markets: The Grand Bazaar and the Spice Market (also known as the Egyptian Bazaar). The Grand Bazaar is one of the oldest markets in the world and is home to over 3,000 shops covering around 60 indoor streets. The Bazaar has everything a shopper in Istanbul would want, from a colorful array of rugs, scarves, and fabrics, to teas, lamps, hookahs. We enjoyed wandering through this large maze of shops, making left and right turns on a whim in order to head towards the quieter back lanes away from the hoards of people. One Turkish specialty that we bought here was Lokum, also known as "Turkish Delight". It's a sweet snack that can contain a variety of nuts, and comes in various flavors such as fig, rose, strawberry, orange, and lemon.

One of 21 entrances 

One of the streets
One of the many Lokum displays
The next day Jon and I took a stroll across the Galata Bridge. The bridge connects the old city with an area known as Beyogu and is alive with men fishing, locals connecting from one part of the city to the other, and restaurants serving fresh fish.

The top part is covered with fisherman and the bottom part is restaurants.
We headed to the Spice Market, which is located right near the bridge. This market is smaller than the Grand Bazaar and we found it to be less crowded with better prices. They sell similar products here as the Grand Bazaar, but there was definitely more selections of spices and teas. It was fun looking at the different spices and teas out on display, and we ended up buying quite a few goodies to take home with us.

The Spice Market/Egyptian Bazaar

On our way back across the bridge and back to the ship we stopped for some Turkish coffee. Turkish coffee is unique in that it is very thick and contains a heavy layer of sludgy grounds at the bottom that you aren't supposed to drink. It is typically served with water, but with Jon's they also served us some Lokum and a shot of Turkish almond liquor.

We really wish we had more time in this exquisite city! It is so different than any other city we've been to and we were just enchanted by what it had to offer. I guess this means we'll just have to come back in the future some time! Next up, Kusadasi!

1 comment:

  1. When Dad and I went on our Mediterranean cruise last November it did not include a stop in Istanbul. But now after reading your fantastic blog, I feel as if we had been to this amazing city on our trip! There is so much to say about Istanbul! A very interesting and fascinating city! First of all to be part of two continents is unbelievable! I think the one thing that really surprised me the most is when you talked about the tolerance of religion there. I don't know why, but I would have never guessed that the people would be like that there. I found that very interesting. The mosques are all so beautiful! (I love the blue head scarf that you were wearing!) Out of everything I read about this city, what do you think I liked the best?!! I'm sure you said the Grand Bazaar and the Spice Market!! I want to go there! If I could, I would probably be there all day, every day!! It looks like so much fun!!