Posts Tagged ‘Istanbul’

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.

The Blue Mosque at Night

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 :)

Inside the Blue Mosque

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.

One of the many Iznik tile designs in the Rüstem Pasha Mosque

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.

Leander's Tower in the middle of the Bosporus

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.

The outside of the Church of St. Savior in Chora

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.


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We left Avery with a couple friends last weekend and Ivan, Evelyn and I went to Istanbul for a few days. It’s crazy, but Istanbul is only a 2 hour flight from Budapest. It was only a little longer than flying from Salt Lake to L.A.  and shorter than my flight from Dallas to L.A. last spring. Anyway it was a whirlwind trip and way too much fun.

We got to Istanbul at about 3:30 and took public transportation to our hotel. We got to our hotel just at the first call to evening prayer at about 5:30. I really liked the calls to prayer and they were one of the things I was saddest about leaving when we left. I don’t know how to describe them. All the mosques call at roughly the same time. One will start and within a couple minutes you can hear probably four or five of them all singing in Arabic. There are mosques EVERYWHERE. Our hotel was right next to one. It’s like Mormon church houses in Provo. You can’t escape them, and they all have megaphones on their minarets. Anyway, I loved the calls to prayer.


Aya Sofya at night

That night we ventured out and took pictures of the Aya Sofya and the Blue Mosque at night as it was already dark by the time we were settled in enough to leave again. We walked down the street leading to the sites and were quickly made aware that Turks LOVE babies. Over the course of our trip we got free turkish delight, postcards, and I don’t think I ate a single meal with Evelyn on my lap. Everyone wanted to hold her.

Inside the Aya Sofya

On Friday we started at the Aya Sofya. The place is huge. It was built by the Romans in the fifth and sixth centuries (I think) and was the largest enclosed space for a thousand years. It’s now a museum, but it’s a neat place because it was originally a Christian church and was converted into a mosque under Ottoman rule, so it has artwork and signs of both religions. It was really an impressive place and has some nice mosaics upstairs. Apparently the mosaics were made to be seen by candle light and the pieces were placed at slightly different angles which created a neat effect in flickering candle light. Unfortunately they’re only seen in natural or electrical light now.

Center Ceiling Dome in the Aya Sofya

After the Aya Sofya we went down underground to the basilica sistern where water was stored for a nearby palace. It’s a huge underground room with lines and lines of columns holding up the ceiling. It was a really neat place and one of my favorite places we went I think. For any architecture nerds out there, the  columns were kind of interesting. Most were standard doric or ionic (mixed with no apparent pattern. I kind of want to know why…) but there were a couple special columns. One had peacock eyes shaped like tears both to protect against the evil eye and to commemorate all the slaves that died building the sistern, and two others had heads of medusa (don’t worry she was upside down and sideways so she wouldn’t turn you to stone) that were apparently a kind of protection for underground structures.

Medusa in the Basilica Sistern


After the sistern we went to Topkapi Palace where the Ottoman rulers lived during their rule. If you like big jewels or fancy thrones this is the place to go. It’s really a huge palace and the treasury is impressive. Unfortunately we didn’t have time for the harem section, but we did see the relics of the prophets, including a hair of Mohamed and the staff of Abraham. There were also some very nice examples of the famous Iznik tiles there and some very nice views of the rest of the city and the Golden Horn.

Topkapi Palace from the Gate

After that we were a little late to go see the Blue Mosque so we headed down South of our hotel to see the small Aya Sofya, which was pretty from the outside, but we didn’t go in. We found a nice little place to eat on the way back (if you ever go, do not eat on the main tourist streets. You can find little Turkish places a few streets back that will charge you a third or a fourth the price for the same food.) and called it a night.

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