In 2014, Jess and I had the pleasure of visiting the beautiful magical city of Istanbul. Although our trip wasn’t very recent, I reckon it is totally worth filling a blogpost. I often look back to the time we spent there and it always puts a smile on my face. Literally everything was perfect about this holiday: The food, the accommodation, the sights, the city, the vibes and of course JESS. I have never been so surprised and humbled by a city and if the political situation wasn’t so tense I would not hesitate to fly back – but first things first – here a throwback and a brief historical summary needed in order to convey a comprehensive picture of the magical city of ISTANBUL.
Istanbul, historically known as Constantinople and Byzantium, is an ancient city situated at the Bosphorus (which separates Europe and Asia) and host to around 14.7 million residents. This city, which served as an imperial capital, managed to outlast many eras, such as the Roman, Byzantine, Latin and Ottoman empires. The latter were responsible for imbuing it with the Islamic creed. Known for its strategic position on the silk road and for its sea route, Istanbul was an important hub for trade. Istanbul represents an important muslim “umma” within the “western” world, although recently making headlines with a rather anti-western orientation.
Named the European Capital of Culture in 2015, I maintain that Istanbul has done full justice to this title. There is so much to see and even 2 continents to visit! Thus, I tried to summarise our top 10 most magical, happy and interesting moments & places for you!
- The sound of the morning prayers (04:25 ; 06:08 AM) that pervaded the air is simply humbling. Once you get used to it you would not want to miss it. To see all people go to the afternoon prayer together was a very touching experience.
- The Grand Bazaar is one of the largest and oldest markets in the world. The people were very friendly and accommodating and we had the pleasure of enjoying a Turkish Tea with some of the vendors, which is basically a local token of hospitality. Also, I managed to haggle a bit and thus purchase a fine little genie-lamp. I rubbed it but no genie appeared to offer me my wishes. Guess that’s because I am happy without any wishes 😉
- The Basilica Cistern lies beneath the city of Istanbul and hosts two blocks carved with the visage of Medusa. I boldly stared into her hideous face and luckily managed not to turn to stone.
- Of course visiting the many breathtaking mosques such as Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque or the Süleymaniye Mosque. Make sure to buy a nice scarf at a shop around the corner and if you can, let them add a small Hamsa pin to it which defends you from the evil eye. Thereby you pay your respect and cover your hair. You will be handed more coverage at most mosques.
- We had the most amazing accommodation! A nice little hotel, called hotel Buhara, where the hosts makes & serves fresh breakfast every morning. They had a roof terrace and when we arrived late in the evening we climbed the stairs to find that we are situated right next to the Hagia Sophia and thus had an astonishing view over Istanbul. We could see the ships roll in, and witness a beautiful interplay of millions of lights dancing between the continents.
- The food was so delicious it was almost ridiculous. Istanbul is a melting pot of cultures and thus benefits from the many flavours that meet on their plate. Typical dishes in Istanbul are Mantı, also called Turkish ravioli or dumplings served with yogurt and garlic, usually filled with grounded beef. As a vegetarian opt for the ones filled with spinach. Moreover, there is a vast variety of Kebabs and Dürüms. Also, try İmam Bayıldı, which is stuffed eggplant. If you are a sweet tooth choose Künefe (an arab cheese pastry soaked in syrup and topped with pistachio), Baklava (phyllo dough, nuts and syrup) or simply the famous Turkish delights (nom!). Menemen is perfectly suited for people who enjoy a hearty breakfast and maybe match it with a Turkish coffee. You should really be open to just indulge in anything they have on offer as you certainly won’t be disappointed!
- At night, Istanbul undoubtedly starts to fully shows off its beauty. With the many lights at night that put all the mosques into limelight one certainly has to climb higher to enjoy the view. Luckily the Galata Tower a famous stone tower in the Galata/Karaköy quarter of Istanbul, offers a panoramic vista of Istanbul’s historic peninsula and is the perfect romantic spot for couples.
- After visting the İstanbul Archaeology Museums where a nice old couple gave us a very interesting tour, we took a stroll through the Gülhane Park (meaning “house of flowers”) and walked up the stairs at the end of the park to have a tea at Setüstü Çay Bahçesi. Trust us, you’ll have a wonderful view from there.
- If you like doing tours with a boat, Istanbul is definitely the right city to do that. For us, it is almost tradition because it just gives you a different perspective of the city. Shipping between continents and seeing all the beautiful monuments is a great way to explore this city. If you don’t like boats try a different angle by doing a rooftop walk! There is definitely no shortage of epic opportunities in this city.
- Visit an authentic Sufi monastery and experience a Whirling Dervishes ceremony first-hand!!! It is a great tradition and show to watch.
You see there are many things to do in Istanbul and you will never fall short of experiencing and meeting great people there. I hope that this country will find its balance again, as it has done for so many centuries. Now that it is deeply divided, people need to remind themselves of their unique fusion of orient and occident history. I fear that only if they embrace that, they will remain a member of the western community. Here our pictures and lots of love, S.