Before I get started, can I just say that we loved our hotel? It might have been because it was off season, but it was relatively inexpensive and was really wonderful. The staff were fabulous and the rooms were pretty and clean. The breakfast was really good too, and was served on the roof where you could see the sea of Marmara. The name was Hotel Niles if anyone is thinking of going, we’d recommend it highly.
Anyway, after our lovely breakfast, complete with olives and apple tea, we headed for the Blue Mosque on Saturday morning. The Blue Mosque is very pretty and very big. It’s called the Blue Mosque because of the blue Iznik tiles on the walls inside. They’re a famous part of the history of that area and can be found in a lot of the historical buildings. I think the designs on the walls were my favorite part of the Blue Mosque. That and the fact that it was free :)
After the Blue Mosque we hit the Grand Bazaar, which is this huge indoor market where you can buy all sorts of Turkish things. There were tea sets (they’re a little distinctive in Turkey), clothes, shoes, silver, rugs, and scarves. We found a map of Turkey for my Dad and a pretty blue scarf for me with the Sultan’s seal design in the middle. It’s super soft. The one rule at the Grand Bazaar is that you haggle for everything. We had to practice a little, but it was kind of fun. Ivan picked up some cuff links at a silver shop.
In the afternoon we took a guided tour that included a boat ride on the Bosporus. We started at the Rüstem Paşa Mosque, which has more of the blue Iznik tiles and was built by the famous architect Sinan for the wife of the Grand Vizier at the time who also happened to be the Sultan’s daughter. It was a brightly lit and pretty, if smaller mosque. I even wore my new head scarf over my head.
After the mosque we went on the cruise on the Bosporus, which was also really fun, if a little chilly. My only complaint is that it didn’t let us off on the Asian side of Istanbul, so we still can’t say we’ve been to Asia. We saw a lot of palaces, hotels and towers along the water. The islands are supposed to be very nice and we saw one of those as well.
After the cruise on the Bosporus we went to the spice market, which was really fun. We only had about a half an hour there, though, so we didn’t really take pictures. We bought some Linden tea, some Turkish delight and some dried apricots with nuts stuffed inside. We should have bought some saffron or something, but didn’t feel like it I guess.
We found another cheap little place in a back street to eat at and wondered at how cheap the little back places really are. Ivan wanted to find the Armenian Patriarchy, so we wandered around for a while until we found that as well, although we couldn’t really go in. There are a lot of patriarchies in Istanbul apparently. We didn’t make it to at least two others.
On Sunday we got ourselves lost trying to find the Church of St. Savior in Chora. We finally got there and it was worth it. The mosaics there are quite stunning and very beautiful. Unfortunately it’s nearly impossible to take pictures of them that actually turn out, so you have to make due with a picture of the outside of the building. If you like mosaics, this seems to be the place to go. I liked them better than the mosaics in the Aya Sofya by quite a bit.
So there it is. We made it back to the airport on public transportation and picked up Avery, who was pretty excited to see us, and headed home. All of the sites were really fun, but just being in Turkey was really half the fun I think. It reminded me a little of Mexico where it just seems like a totally different place and is a totally different experience. I really liked the Basilica Cistern and the Church in Chora and shopping was really fun. The baklava was delicious, although I confess to not being so crazy about the Turkish delight. Ivan really liked it. I wish we’d had a little more time to spend at the spice bazaar. It was really fun, though, and I think Ivan might get to go back for a conference this Summer. I’m pretty jealous.