Haghia Sophia means The Church of Holy Wisdom in Turkish. The first church that was on this site, burned down in 404 and the one that exists today is the 3rd one, built in 537. It is really amazing to see something still standing despite the countless natural disasters such as earthquakes and the many wars in the area.The exterior of the building is not exactly as it was constructed because buttresses were added to secure the structure. (see the photo of a photo above) This distracts a little from the original shape. Inside the structure, the galleries are where the women prayed and there are some wonderful mosaics inside left from the church days.Many of the columns inside were scavenged from the pagan temples and reused in this structure. In 1453, the church was turned into a mosque.The mosaics were plastered over and the mihrab and minbar were added along with the calligraphic roundels. The mosaics were not discovered until 1930 and since 1934, the structure has been a museum. The history of the structure and being inside it was amazing.
The Basilica Cistern is incredibly beautiful. Yerebatan Sarnici, which is the name in Turkish, actually means “sunken palace”. It was as exotic and mysterious as it sounds. It was built as an underground water storage tank by Constantine and expanded by Justinian in 532. It is huge, covering about 11,720 square yards and once held about 18 million gallons of water.The roof is supported by 336 pillars. There are 2 Medusa heads that were once used on ancient Greek buildings and reused here. This place is a popular film location and sometimes they have concerts here. I first heard about it in Dan Brown’s new book, Inferno.
One of the best and most relaxing and enjoyable things to do in Istanbul is a Bosphorus Cruise. The skyline of Istanbul is incredibly beautiful and one of the most famous in the world. Seeing it from the deck of a boat, it is magnificent!After a few days of sightseeing, it is a wonderful way to see even more, from a different perspective, and relax at the same time! The long cruise, which takes about 6 hours (1/1/2 hours down the strait and back and a 3 hour stopover at the small town of your choice) costs about 25 Turkish lira, or 7.50 euro. It departs at 10:35 and 1:35 every day from Eminonu Pier.We had many people approach us in Sultanahmet Square wanting to sell cruises for a variety of prices. Not knowing anything about those, we took the advice of the guidebook and took the public ferry directly from the Eminonu terminal.There is an audio guide available, which is helpful in explaining some of the history and buildings that you are seeing along the way. If you are with someone, just get one. One of you can listen on the way down, and the other on the way back. The ferry has several levels, both inside and out to choose from. There is also a bar and tea service.At the end of the first leg of the cruise, just before you enter the mouth of the Black Sea, the ferry stops at a number of small ports. We chose to get off on the Asian side at Anadolu Kavagi. It was the last stop and we wanted to have lunch there. The small seaside restaurants had the waiters waving flags to beckon us in as we pulled ashore.We sat by the sea and had a wonderful meal and wine, and then shopped in the small shops and took a walk up the hill toward the castle built by Mehmet the Conquerer.One of the ports is called Kanlica and this small town is famous for their yogurt which is said to be the best in Turkey. At the port, men board the ferry and sell containers of the yogurt which is served with powdered sugar to sweeten it. It was yummy!We were here in early November and the weather was cool, but sunny and spectacular! We enjoyed the outside deck going out and returned inside for the trip back. It was definitely a highlight of the trip and shouldn’t be missed!
Trying new foods is always one of my favorite parts of traveling! I have never been a picky eater, although my decision not to eat four legged animals 20 years ago does present some restrictions. In Turkey, they eat all types of grilled meats and fish and lots of fresh fruits and vegetables. Lamb seems to be one of their favorite meats.They serve small plates and dishes called “mezzes” which allow you to sample many different types of foods. Most of the mezzes are spreads made of eggplant, beans, or cheese and yogurt. The grilled meats are prepared on shish kebabs or served in pieces. Turkey is actually where the “Kebab” was invented.On the street and in the markets, you can find lots of fresh fruit stands. This time of year, the pomegranate was everywhere!We enjoyed the buffet style of eating a few times where you could actually see the food and just point to what you wanted.We drank lots of black tea, Turkish coffee, and an after dinner drink, much like ouzo called raki.
The fish was so fresh, they rolled it out on carts for you to pick your choice and then they cooked it up the way you wanted.There were lots of hot casseroles, and one night we had a dinner cooked in a terracotta vase. It was quite the show at the table when he opened it up to serve it.Sweets and desserts are every where. They have lots of dried fruit, ice cream, baklava, and pudding like concoctions that are delicious.
I had planned a trip to Egypt, but with the current travel advisories, decided against it. I was so disappointed, that I was afraid my second choice, Istanbul wouldn’t live up to my expectations. I couldn’t have been more wrong! Istanbul is the largest European city with 20 million inhabitants. The city is located on both the European and the Asian continent with the Bosphorus running in the center.The seaports are busy with boats coming and going and the shoreline and skylines along the water are dramatic and beautiful. There are mosques and minarets everywhere you look and because of that, when the call to prayer happens, it resonates loudly and hauntingly throughout the city and is quite beautiful and exotic. You can listen to it here inside the Blue Mosque!We were there for 6 days, but I feel like I could take 6 weeks, or maybe 6 months to learn about this city. During that time, we stayed pretty close to the historic center Sultanahmet. We had a fantastically located hotel which was recommended by a friend, and was cheap, clean and had a nice breakfast included. It was called the Side Hotel and Pension. We stayed in the pension side. It is about a 3 minute walk to the square located between the Blue Mosque and Haghia Sophia and Topkapi Palace.We used the Eyewitness Top 10 guidebook and managed to see/do 7 of the 10 things that they recommended and we thoroughly enjoyed every one of them.We visited the Blue Mosque. The first Islamic mosque I have ever entered and it was magnificent. We had to remove our shoes and cover our heads, and of course, during prayers, there is no visiting.Hagia Sophia was a church for 1000 years and then a mosque for 500. It is now a museum and it is incredible. The Topkapi Palace was the home of the Ottoman Dynasty.The Grand Bazaar is huge and contains everything your heart desires. It was so large, that I much preferred some of the smaller markets around. We had a rug buying education, and visited the Basilica Cistern, which is underground and beautiful.One of my favorite things was the Turkish bath! We chose Cemberlitas which is historic, although a little touristy. For about $75, I had a bath (scrubbing bubble bath) Jacuzzi, hot oil massage, manicure and pedicure, and relaxed for 3 hours. Inside this ancient structure, it is easy to let yourself get lost in time and your imagination runs wild with the history and beauty of the rituals there. I don’t have any photos of that event though!We cruised the Bosphorus for a day and stopped on the Asian side for a seafood meal. We also used the hop on/hop off buses when we first arrived to see other parts of the city and get acclimated. We saw “whirling dervishes dance and we smoked nargile! It was all fantastic!We ate like queens for not much money! We drank a boat load of tea, Turkish wine and raki, an after dinner drink, like ouzo.Stay tuned this week to learn more about certain important sites!