The last stop on my Bar Trip (see Egypt post), Turkey! We spent a week in Istanbul in a former Ottoman palace, the Ciragan Palace Hotel, right on the Bosphorus shore overlooking the water. Istanbul is a special city because it connects two continents, Europe and Asia, separated only by the Bosphorus strait. Wasting no time to enjoy this cool fact, we ate lunch at the Yakamoz Restaurant that has a clear view of Asia. Other great places to eat are at the outdoor Hookah cafes if you want to stop for a falafel sandwich or kebab snack.
On to the most well-known place in Istanbul, the Blue Mosque. This stunning Mosque is just as beautiful inside as it is out, and they don’t mind tourists coming and going in between the five daily prayers when the Mosque is closed to non-worshippers. As an architecture nerd, I appreciated the vast details in the design of the Mosque that brings together both Byzantine elements and traditional Islamic design in tiles. This multi-religious mixing of artwork is all over the city on almost every historical building, and it’s one of my favorite aspects of Istanbul.
My second favorite site is the Basilica Cistern, a subterranean Byzantine building built in 532! Inside the lighting is very low and you can wander among the awesome marble columns sitting in the water. There’s also a creepy, upside-down Medusa head that watches over the waterways (photo credit from the Smithsonian Mag). We were brave enough to stay down there and eat at the candle-lit café among the eerie Medusa (making sure not to look at her). Since it was also a hot day outside, the coolness of underground cistern was a welcome relief.
Finally, we made it to the Grand Bazaar to bargain for Turkish ceramics, artwork and lights. We pretty much ate our way through the world’s largest market that covers 61 streets and over 4,000 shops. I have never so much delicious baklava and sesame sweets in my life! It was too large to see everything in one day, so I’ll have to go back soon.