Maybe, Istanbul

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December 22nd 2015
Published: December 22nd 2015
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Maybe it will happen when you are standing on the Galata Bridge. The bridge crosses the Golden Horn from Karakoy to Eminonu where the Ottoman Sultans ruled for more than 500 years. The bridge will be busy, as always. Throngs of pedestrians mingle with fisherman and vendors for space on the wide sidewalks. Boat traffic of every size and variety vies for the narrow space below as they have since time was recorded. Occasionally a fisherman will have luck and pull a sardine sized fish from the gray waters below. Vendors sell steamed mussels and small bait fish to all who pass.

Rising up from the bridge on either side, the hills climb sharply from the water. At the base of the hill on the “old” side of town several gaudily decorated and heavily rocking boats are loosely tied to the pier. They sell fried fish sandwiches, probably mackerel, to crowds of devoted fans. The cooks work at unbelievable speed to turn out the sandwiches for the never ending line of hungry patrons. Cement stairs serve as benches to enjoy the simple and simply delicious snack. At the base of the “new” side of town, a busy fish market sells the latest catch to the bargaining masses gathered to find the best choices. Vendors constantly sprinkle sea water on the shiny silver fish to keep them fresh and delicious. The famous Istanbul cats wander everywhere looking for sneakily gained snacks.

It is best to be here when the sunset call to prayer begins. Like a massive, medieval battle of the bands, the call beckons the faithful from amplified speakers on every mosque in the area. The sound is exotic, chaotic, alluring and even a little frightening as it echoes for several minutes off the hills and through the narrow streets of the area. For the perfect end to the show, the sky glows a burning orange behind the giant Suleymaniye Mosque atop the tallest hill to the west as the sun retires after another glorious day.

Maybe it will happen to you when you are in the Egyptian (Spice) Market not far from the New Mosque. If it is a Saturday, the crowd will reach a critical mass where movement is barely possible. The excited voices of the crowd mix with the shopkeeper’s calls to enter their shops and sample all that
The Blue MosqueThe Blue MosqueThe Blue Mosque

The Sea of Marmara beyond
they have on offer. Taste, Smell and Sight are all pleased here. Towers of colorful spices of every variety, piled high to perfect peaks are beautifully displayed. Every color of the rainbow from blue to purple and yellow to bright red are all here. A feast for the nose as much as the eyes, the aromas are as various as the colors. Magical blends, pre-mixed for the visitor make easy work of creating delicious treats at home.

Teas of every variety are the specialty of another shop. Black, White, Green, Herbal, Hibiscus, Rose, Mint, Ginger and Chamomile are only a sampling. Exotic blends with names drawn from the faraway places of your travel imagination. Teas to help you stay awake, sleep better and live longer are all advertised under the glaring lights.

As you slowly make your way, stay within the vendors reach. They will provide samples of delicious treats as you go. They pass trays of dried fruit, exotic nuts and all sorts of honey covered goodness. The best of all are the many varieties of everyone’s favorite, Turkish Delight. This legendary sweet made from a gel of sugar and starch is flavored with everything from rosewater to lemon or orange. Filled with dates, pistachios or hazelnuts and sprinkled with powdery sugar they make a delicious treat to remember your visit to this exotic wonderland.

Maybe it will happen as you walk down famous Istiklal Avenue. High atop a hill in the Beyoglu area of the city, Istaklal is a people watchers paradise. Three million people walk this mile long pedestrian avenue from Taksim Square to the Funicular near Galata Tower every day. They pass boutiques, art galleries, cafes, bookstores, patisseries and restaurants, all housed in gorgeous multi-storied buildings from the late 19th and early 20th century. When Istanbul is called the Paris of the East, this is the boulevard they are speaking of. Roasted chestnut carts are positioned well and a restored historic tram rings its bell to warn walkers of its proximity as it makes its way through the middle of the crowd. Guitar, horn, violin and even bagpipe players entertain along the way. Musicians dressed as Native Americans, a gypsy woman selling an armful of roses and even a man walking a group of geese are included in the group.

The side streets nearby
Basilica CisternBasilica CisternBasilica Cistern

Underground Well built by the Byzantine Empire in 537.
can offer quiet respite if needed. Lined with seafood restaurants, galleries, Turkish baths called hamams or simple tea shops where you could even partake in smoking a nargile or Turkish water pipe. The smell of apple scented smoke is prevalent in the early evenings as students from nearby schools mix with tourists to enjoy a warm drink and a scented smoke. Wonderfully restored hotels offer rooftop terraces where commanding views can be had all the way to the Bosphorus.

Maybe it will happen as you take the ferry from the busy harbor along the Golden Horn. The 20 minute ferry ride across the Bosphorus to Asia costs less than 1 dollar and provides unparalleled views of this massive city of 14 million.

Passing the Topkapi Palace where Ottoman Sultans kept court at the tip of the peninsula, it becomes clear why this city was the perfect spot to center an empire. Istanbul rises on seven hills above the Golden Horn, a narrow body of water that provides a natural harbor and perfect protection from invaders on three sides. Istanbul straddles both sides the Bosphorus Strait which provides the only path between the Black Sea and the Sea of Marmara (and the Mediterranean Sea beyond). Controlling Istanbul meant controlling the riches of trade between Eastern and Western civilizations. Roman, Latin, Byzantine, Ottoman and finally Turkish rulers have held this as the center of power for their empires for more than 2500 years. The capital has moved on to Ankara, but the spiritual and financial heart of Turkey still resides here.

Children laughingly feed seabirds that fly along with the ferry as it crosses calm seas on the short journey. While most use the ferries as transportation to their homes in distant parts of the city, it seems that many are, just like us, enjoying a sunny afternoon on the water in mid-December. The return trip provides stunning views of another beautiful sunset and opportunity to view the city as the lights turn on like millions of stars on a crystal night.

It happened to us as we entered a seemingly ancient ruin of an old building called Buyuk Valide Han (Great Mother Inn) not far from the Grand Bazaar. We passed through the cavernous arched doorway hidden by a green tinged ancient metal door. The doorway led to an inner courtyard filled with tiny shops not meant for the tourist trade. An ancient stairway, its steps well worn by millions of users over hundreds of years, drew us to a dimly lit second floor where dark and dusty stone passageways lead to tiny shops where craftsmen labored over open fires creating glass and metal creations of great beauty. It was as if we had entered a time hundreds of years before present day.

A grizzled old man stood in the shadows of a corner. He showed us an ancient set of rusted keys and conveyed that he wanted to show us something. His smile and excitement were contagious enough that we followed him to a tiny, nearly hidden door nearby. He unlocked and opened the door and motioned for us to enter.

We climbed the twisting stairs that had no rails and were curved from centuries of wear. We nervously moved toward the light coming from above, reassured only by the sounds of faint laughter drifting from somewhere near, and finally arrived on the roof of the ancient building. As we passed on to the roof the most glorious view imaginable awaited us.
The New MosqueThe New MosqueThe New Mosque

From Galata Bridge
The entire city seemed laid out below. The Golden Horn, Galata Bridge and Tower, Bosphorus and multiple immense mosques with towering minarets seemed to fill the horizon. Well-dressed teenagers who knew of this enchanted place were busy taking “selfies” with the incredible backdrop behind them. A couple of backpackers arrived soon. We spent nearly an hour enjoying this spectacle as the clouds seemed to magically part and what had been an overcast day became sunny with just the perfect white clouds to provide contrast. We had found our corner of Istanbul.

Istanbul is often described with the clichéd phrase, “City where East meets West”, but it is much more. It is a city where opposites not only attract, but also collide to create a truly special and unique destination that everyone should see. Young meets old, modern meets ancient, quiet meets boisterous, intellectual meets physical and artistic meets practical. It is a city filled with friendly people who have hosted visitors for centuries. Maybe you will find what you are looking for in one of the places that we have seen or maybe you will find your own special place in another corner of this fascinating city.
Ortakoy MosqueOrtakoy MosqueOrtakoy Mosque

On the Bosphorus
Istanbul is now and always has been a place of discoveries and adventures and it won’t disappoint if, maybe, you decide to visit this incredible destination.

Additional photos below
Photos: 26, Displayed: 26


Sunset over the Golden HornSunset over the Golden Horn
Sunset over the Golden Horn

With Ferries and Suleymaniye Mosque
Ferries to AsiaFerries to Asia
Ferries to Asia

On the Bosphorus
"Balik and Ekmek""Balik and Ekmek"
"Balik and Ekmek"

"Fish and Bread" on the Golden Horn at Sunset
Galata TowerGalata Tower
Galata Tower

The "New" side of town
Tarlibasi MarketTarlibasi Market
Tarlibasi Market

Our Street!
Ortakoy MosqueOrtakoy Mosque
Ortakoy Mosque

Sunset on the Bosphorus

22nd December 2015
Blue Mosque at Sunset

Stunning, stunning, stunning!
Your photography will win you awards!
22nd December 2015
Blue Mosque at Sunset

Thank you, that's very nice to say. We find that trying to capture cool pictures is really leading us to see some nice things. It's kind of strange but it sometimes seem like we used to take pictures while we travelled, but now we travel while we take pictures. Istanbul is gorgeous and easy to get nice shots. Hope all is well and thanks for the compliment.
22nd December 2015
The Blue Mosque

Colors and shadows, wow.
22nd December 2015

You guys write my favorite blogs.
I love everything about your travel blogs, I seem to always be transported to the places you are visiting and lose track of time. And as always, you have the best photos ever. Loving your current adventures!
22nd December 2015

Very nice words....
Thank you , Jennifer. That is very nice of you to say. Writing blogs helps us to take a few minutes out to remember all the things we have seen and done. It seems we are often so busy that we don't have enough time to reflect. We appreciate your nice compliments and are glad so many people think to say something positive about our travels. Thanks for reading and best wishes in the new year!
22nd December 2015

"Maybe it will happen when you are..."
For me it happened pretty much in my first minute in Istanbul. And again and again in most of the places you mentioned, and when eating pomegranate and pistachio Turkish Delight for the first time! Thanks for the Buyuk Valide Han tip, I will have to note that for the next time we are in Istanbul. Gorgeous photos :)
23rd December 2015

There really is so much to see here. There seems to be intrigue and exoticness behind every wall and down every alley. Our feet are crying out for a day without hills though. Good thing we have a month! Thank you for commenting and thanks for the nice compliment!
26th December 2015
Basilica Cistern

Maybe it will happen when...I'm reading your blog!
What fantastic pictures you paint with words and photos--I was transported back to Istanbul and could smell the spices and teas in the Egyptian market! My epiphanies there were in the Basilica Cistern, the Topkapi Palace and lying on the marble tables in hamams. Love your magical, secret journey to the top of the world at the Buyuk Valide Han--you brave adventurers!
26th December 2015
Basilica Cistern

Thanks, Tara....
as always, for the really nice compliments. I think we are always more naïve than brave. For instance, we are yet to be brave enough to try a hamam (although the idea sounds like fun). We have been going out to some of the newer parts of town the last couple of days. Beautiful malls and modern tall buildings. Quite a difference from old town Istanbul. We really like it here, so much to see and do. Thanks again for following along and we hope you have nice holidays and beginning of the new year!
27th December 2015

Gorgeous in every way
I, too, love Istanbul and have had the privilege of visiting 3 times. Most people can't understand my passion for it as they think of it as a scary and frightening place. You have summed up in your beautiful words and pictures all that is what attracts me and keeps me going back. I love the food, the views, the history and the warmth of the people. Keep on writing... Carolyn (I write as 'gunga')
27th December 2015

Frightening and Scary....
We, too, were met with frowns by friends and relatives when we said this was our next destination. So much so that we actually got a little spooked ourselves. Especially when we found out that we had booked our apartment in the Tarlabasi neighborhood, a "no go" place for foreigners a few years ago. We have found that the number of people that speak English and the general friendliness of the people quickly overcame our fears. I suppose that Istanbul could be like Bangkok for some people, you either love it or hate it. I can't imagine there is anywhere that has more history, exoticness, excitement and intrigue than Istanbul. It has been one of our favorite places we have visited and I would recommend it to anyone. Thanks for your comment, Carolyn and we hope you have a good holiday season!
29th December 2015

Your description of the city is wonderful and definitely tempts me to put Istanbul on my list of places to visit. And the photos are awesome.... What an experience to find your corner of the city as you did. Thanks .
30th December 2015

Thank you, Lynee...
Thank you for reading and commenting. I would think to put Istanbul on the "must see" places of any travel list. We have enjoyed it and would definitely recommend visiting!
10th January 2016
Basilica Cistern

Delicious hamams!
I'm an old hippie, so nude beaches, saunas and hamams are right up my alley. In some hamams, people are modest and wear a towel around their waist or more if you'd even want to put it higher (everyone is incredibly friendly and understanding). Once in Paris and once in Turkey, I let them massage me--don't. They use an incredibly stiff cloth to take the (old) skin off you. Many find this refreshing (afterwards) and enjoy the exfoliation. I've very sensitive skin and was almost crying. Other than that, lying around on marble stabs in exquisite, ancient buildings is safe and luxurious. I do hope you try one before you leave. Also try my veggie fave, Patlican Iman--incredibly rich and decadent eggplant. Loving your travels as always!
11th January 2016
Basilica Cistern

The one we missed...
The weather turned quite cold here and in fact it snowed for about a week of our month long visit. Many times we passed the local hamam and thought what a nice treat it would be to thaw ourselves out for a couple of hours, but alas, we never indulged. One of the things we'll probably look back and regret, I'm sure. We did however learn to make yummy use of the eggplants that seemed to be in every store. We cooked them in a variety of ways, all yummy. Too late to try your recommendation as we are leaving today, but it sounds delicious. Thanks for the recommendations and for reading!

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