Istanbul was very different than any other place I have ever been.
We were only there for four days, and so we certainly didn’t see everything we had wanted to. We stayed in a lovely little b-and-b style hotel in the old district of Sultanahmet, with a view of the amazing Blue Mosque out our window. (It’s not all that blue, by the way.) We heard the exotic and eerie call to worship at around 4:30 every morning and at around 10 pm (there are three other calls in between, but we weren’t always in the vicinity to hear them).
It’s such a beautiful building inside, with thick red and blue carpets and intricate tile work on the walls, arches, columns, and dome. They’ve got quite the assembly line at the tourist entrance too: here’s where you remove your shoes, here’s a plastic bag to carry them, here’s a person giving you the quick once-over to see if you’re showing too much leg and efficiently wrapping you in a long blue velcro-ed skirt if you are (I was), here’s another person glancing at you to see if you’re showing your shoulders and tossing you a blue scarf to cover yourself if you are (again, I was), here’s the door, now enter! And oh yes, be quiet and respectful and stay on the non-Muslim side, please.
The Hagia Sophia quite literally took my breath away. It’s the biggest, most beautiful and airy cathedral/ mosque/ museum I have ever had the pleasure to enter. It is just so wonderful, I can’t even express how I felt when I walked in! This building was DD’s chief reason for wanting to visit Istanbul, and she was not disappointed by what she saw, either. As I had come to expect, she was able to tell me (in as much detail as I could take in) all about the architecture and the mosaic art there.
Another highlight was the Topkapi Palace, the residence of sultans and the administrative centre of the Ottoman empire for 400 years, up to 1855. The grounds are huge, with so many gorgeous buildings to visit and views out over the Golden Horn and the Bosphorus Strait. My favourite place was definitely the harem, with apartments and reception rooms all opulent with porcelain tiles, stained glass, marble, gold leaf, mother-of-pearl and the like on the walls, archways, columns and domes.
Among other activities, we took a ratty-looking ferry boat up the Bosphorus and got off on the Asian side, just so DD and I can now say that we have set foot in Asia. We had the world’s best yogurt there (and I’m not the only person to make that claim, just so you know), in a small town called Kanlica. This yogurt is soooooo creamy, with a very thin (not gross or anything) skin, and they sweeten it with a dollop of icing sugar. Big yum!
And of course I bought a Turkish carpet! Why else would I go to Turkey???