Even though the present situation in the region may detract people from visiting Turkey. It still stands as a virtual best of East meets West or in it’s case Europe meets Asia in a single secular existence with history interwoven in it to the degree that reality is almost like a page out of a fairy tale.
Where to go?
Sultanahmet District – Istanbul
Sultanahmet or the old part of the city formerly known as Constantinople is a cobble stoned pedestrian area with not only 5 famous attractions within walking distance but many a restaurant as well as markets. So one should stay in this region of the city as it’s much much easier to get around when everything is within walking distance plus it is the most charming part of Istanbul overlooking the sea of Marmara promenade with views straight out of postcards. Things to do in this area range from smoking sheesha at the roadside to having piping hot food and tea whilst watching the world go by. Cruises on the Marmara, as well as access to road and rail links are also within a ten-minute walk. This area is also generally very safe till late night provided basic common sense is observed.
What to visit?
Built in 537 AD this orthodox cathedral was one of Christianity’s greatest monuments and was only replaced after 1453 in it’s stature with the St. Peters Basilica in Vatican city after the Ottomans captured Constantinople (Istanbul) and first turned it into a mosque and then later on into a museum as it stands today. These days it is going through restoration and is perhaps the greatest example of interfaith harmony present in the world today as artists and restorers scrape away early century paint to reveal awe inspiring 1500 year plus old religious frescos and symbols. It also has in it legendry elements from the Greek and Roman empires brought to it from all corners of the world including 5000 year old pillars from the temple of Balbek in Lebonan. Entrance fees are 40 Turkish Lira for adults and children go free under the age of 12.
Started out as a vanity project to have an Islamic monument of note opposite Hagia Sophia, the Blue mosque was constructed in the 1600’s and incorporates truly stunning architecture and grandeur in it. It is possible to pray in this grand structure adorned with over 20,000 ceramic tiles from Iznik and is a sight to see both from the inside and the outside. The decorations of this mosque include verses from the Quran many of them made by SeyyidKasimGubari who was regarded as the greatest calligrapher of his time.
6000 shops in a 500 year old plus subterranean market and with over 30 odd streets to explore, the grandest of bazaars in the world is straight out of the Arabian nights books and contains every trinket, bauble or priceless purchase a traveler can dream of. Bargaining reigns supreme here and the best time to go is in the morning around 11 am when the shops are opening to enable them to make their first sale for which they would provide a little extra discount. This is a must visit site in Istanbul and is also flanked by the cities whole sale and spice markets should you be of that disposition. Keep your eyes open for the best deal and your wallets in your front pockets and stride away through this amazing place!
Interested in the history of the Sultans and the rich heritage of Muslim artifacts? The Topkapi Palace is open from morning till night to serve your pleasure. It contains awe-inspiring courtyards and calligraphy from the Ottomans as well as views sweeping over Istanbul and the Marmara sea. Of special interest is the Museum of Muslim antiquities filled with wonders like the actual staff of Moses as well as swords and clothing of the Prophet, along with the famous sword of Ali and priceless pieces of Muslim history purchased by the Sultans when the Arabic brethren were disposing off of them. The entire Palace has an aura of magnificence, which has to be seen to be believed. Entrance is 30 Turkish Lira for adults for both the calligraphy and the Muslim antiquities museum and the entry of children under 12 is free.
One of the oldest surviving cisterns in existence, this cavern filled with beautiful columns is basically a giant underground water tank that used to be fed from the Black Sea and would supply old age Constantinople(Istanbul) with water via various aqueducts. Also famous are the twin pillars of Medusa, which adorn this underground space. It is a welcome escape from the Turkish sun but slightly creepy, the auraspeaks of thousands of years of planning and architecture. Entrance is 20 Turkish Lira for adults and entry for children under 12 is free.
A 2-hour cruise to the Princess Islands can be bought from many a place in Istanbul and leaves at the jetty opposite the Armada Hotel in Sultanahmet. It takes you on a modern, fully equipped yatch from this point to the golden horn to the bospherus strait and gives you a complete tour of first the European side and then the Asian side of Istanbul. Suffice to say, the views and sunset on this tour are perhaps some of the best you will ever get a chance to see in this world. At 40 Turkish Lira per adult and children under 12 being free this is also a must-not-miss thing to do while in Istanbul. Do take a light jacket though as the rippling sea breezes can sweep in cold under your collar.
MANTI – Dumplings often called Turkish Ravioli
MENEMEN – Traditional Turkish style scrambled omelette.