A bustling city resting on the banks of the Bosphorus, also known as the Straight of Istanbul. Forming the boundary between Europe and Asia or Asian Turkey side and the European Turkey side, this straight is the hub and center of the city. Tour boats, shipping docks, hundreds of men fishing off the bridges to catch fish, tourists taking pictures, families on the boardwalks selling chestnuts, mussels, and roasted corn, restaurants built underneath the bridges for visitors to enjoy the view. Its nothing but magical and exciting to see.
The various types of architecture throughout the city has something everyone will love, from the beautiful old buildings and mosques from the Byzantine Empire era to the more ornate, grandiose palaces which housed Sultans and royal families. Additionally, the Turkish people were so welcoming and hospitable, it made our stay that much better.
The weekend was filled with site-seeing, wandering around the new and old town in addition to tasting an absurd amount of Turkish delights and mixed kebab plates. On our first day, we took to the streets wandering from the new part of town, Taksim Square, through the winding and bustling streets across the Bosphorus to the Old Town. Stopping along the way to admire all of the handcrafted lights, tiling, handwoven scarves, Turkish towels, artwork and of course all the baklava and treats, I was overwhelmed with the beauty and energy Istanbul had to offer. We finally managed to make our way over the river on the Galata Bridge after stopping to watch a mid-day prayer at a local mosque while the somewhat eerie, but beautiful prayer call played throughout the city. We were finally off to explore the major attractions. The (Sultan...) Blue Mosque, Hagia Sofia and Topkapi Palace. Words can’t explain the overwhelming beauty and detail that each of these places exhibited. They all were so magical. Having visited countless amounts of ornate churches throughout Europe, it was incredible to finally experience first hand what a practicing mosque looked and felt like. Shoes off, cover your head, women in one area and men in another. Although we weren’t allowed to enter the Blue Mosque while prayer was taking place, we visited another, much smaller and less popular Mosque where we were able to enter while prayer was taking place. It was a memorable experience to say the least.
Lastly, we visited the both the Basilica Cistern, Ortakoy Mosque, The Grand Bizarre and the Dolmabahçe Palace. Used during the Ottoman Empire, this palace was nothing short of immaculate. Breathtaking is an understatement. Each room had its purpose. Prayer room, musical room, tea room, sitting room, you name it, there is a room dedicated for it. But the showstopper was the Grand Ballroom. Reaching 35 meters high, this room absolutely took my breath away. Crystal chandeliers in every corner and a hand painted dome with gold plated work as far as the eye could see. I could have stayed in this room for hours. Truly something build for a “king”…or Sultan.
A quick weekend in Istanbul can be done, but is definitely not enough time to fully experience all of the amazing things Turkey and it’s people have to offer. It’s energy during the day only is amplified into the evening. Make sure to visit the Taksim Square at night. Street vendors selling chestnuts, muscles, musicians playing on the streets, smells of shisha in the air, people shopping and buying Baklava at 1 am, it’s an incredible site to see. Venture down one one of the side streets and another world of restaurants and bars appear. Be prepared to stopped at every place and asked to eat at their restaurant. Every place we tried had the most incredible Turkish food. You definitely can’t go wrong eating a unknown local spot.