Flying into Istanbul was great–you see the entire city coming in and fly above it to get to the airport (coming from the east). The city was much bigger than I expected as the expanse of the city was quite incredible. The cityscape was really stunning with the land being encapsulated by beautiful waters of the Bosphorus. After landing, I got a bus into the city to Taksim Square where the place I booked was supposedly near. Nearly 30 minutes later hoofing around the streets with all my stuff, I finally found the apartment style hotel. I got checked into my little room and met my flatmates, an Iranian family of 3 visiting with their sun who is currently living in England. They were really interesting to speak to about the current way life is like in Iran–sounds pretty incredible!
That night I headed out to explore Istiklal street, a main shopping street near Taksim square. It’s such a lively street that’s pedestrian only, but such great people watching and shopping of course. Great food, great desserts, and great browsing stores, shops, and everything. It was great fun.
The next day, I made my way down the hill. The streets were cobblestone laid, winding in all sorts of directions, which made for an easy walk downhill to the river. Bakeries, cafes, patisseries all lined these streets that it was so hard not to stop at each one and choose a new goodie to try.
Once I reached the bottom of the hill, I started across the bridge to the other side with most of the sight seeing places. The first mosque I saw, I went ahead inside. I always am amazed at how grand and huge religious places are. How important religion was to so many societies that pushed people to erect the most impressive expressions of honor through architecture, art, and ideas.
I then made my way to the Spice Market and enjoyed taking pictures of all the beautiful spices and colors, and then made my way to the Grand Bazaar. Talk about a shopping experience. This place was rows and rows of small streets that created a maze of Turkish delights :) The colors, fabrics, metals, slivers, golds, silks all took my eyes, and I spent the rest of the day going through looking and curating my own purchases of really great items. I found a beautiful ceiling chandelier with globes that I picked out to match. The colors were so entrancing that I spent probably a good hour trying to determine the best use of colors and shapes for my own chandelier. The Macedonian guys running the place were very courteous and patient with my OCD to make just the right combination of lamps for me. What really sold me, is how they showed me (along with so many other lamp shop owners) that you could stand on the glass to prove its strength. However, the other shop owners said beware of Chinese ones, because the glass is thinner. So I asked would they stand on the lamp on its side, and no one would, except for these guys as they vowed their glass was pure Turkish double laden glass that had the incredible strength. Once he tilted it on the side, and the glass didn’t break, I was sold :) I made my way back with all my lamps and started packing up a box to ship back home.
The next day I headed back the same way by stopping by the post office to get an idea of shipping costs and size limitations. I was gathering quite a big amount of new clothes both from Turkey and Jordan and now the lamps, along with my artwork from Cambodia that I was really happy to let go of. Hopefully there will be no issues with the shipping. (UPDATE: It has already arrived stateside just a week later despite being told it would be at least 3 weeks for shipping arrival!)
I then made my way down the same path down the hill towards Sultanahmet and started my tour of sights again. After seeing the New Mosque and Blue Mosque, I had some lunch and went for Topkapi palace where I found huge lines waiting to get in. I opted to skip and just do the next day, as I was tired from all the walking, so I went to the beautiful botanical gardens and took a nap. I don’t believe I’ve ever been able to fall asleep in a public place before like that, and it was incredible to be lying upon the grass feeling the temperate breeze, and resting with all the other people who gather in the park for doing just that. (Excluding the homeless).
After a refreshing nap, I walked along the road next to the river all the way back to the bridge, and headed back home for more amazing food and rest. Each night I loved walking over to Istiklal street and do the walk towards Taksim people watching and café hopping. It’s so funny/strange what ideas you have about the layout of a city before arriving, the direction of how it would work, and then compare it to what the actuality is. For some reason, Istanbul has been completely different than I imagined in way of layout and topography near these sites.
The next day I headed down again this hill taking different streets exploring different corners of the city. I made my way to the grand Galata Tower lookout, and went to the top to get sweeping views of the entire city. It was really beautiful to see the hills and buildings all merging into waves of colors throughout the landscape. Istanbul has 18 million people, and it shows. The expanse of the city is quite incredible when seeing it from above. The odd thing is the buildings are not really so tall, so it is just a densely populated city with houses like San Francisco–each street, very Victorian looking houses peer down creating walls of colors and architectural shapes with breathtaking views of the bosphorus strait below.
I then got down to Sultanahmet again, and made it inside the Hagia Sophia mosque which was breathtaking. I love Arabic calligraphy, and they had so many amazing pieces being shown here that I really wanted to learn how to write in Arabic. The lines created beautiful designs and looked so impressive, that I looked at each work, studying the curves and lines trying to see details of words hidden within. Of course, since I cannot read anything in Arabic except the letters B-E-N, I didn’t see much :)
After Hagia Sophia, I went back to Topkapi Palace and viewed the rooms of the Sultans that lived here, entertained here, and ruled here. It was the main center of the regime, and the beautiful rooms and architecture stated as such. While everyone raves of Topkapi Palace, I’m not sure if it was the crowds that took away from the experience, or just being a bit museumed out, but after I saw Moses’ supposed cane, a few more works of calligraphy and some Sultan outfits, I kind of lost interest of the rooms. It was a lot to take in, and without having a guide map or anything (which is a major problem here in Turkey–you buy a ticket to enter a place, but then there’s no informational guidemap or brochure to help you get started to what you’re looking at.)
I feel like I got a good look at Istanbul and tomorrow, I’m meeting up with Robert from Texas, and there we will begin to explore the rest of Turkey!