Dad and I have been talking about going to Istanbul for a couple of years. We finally decided to take the plunge this summer and headed to the most populous and popular city in Turkey. From Pune in India, it is a Jet Airways flight to Abu Dhabi and then an Etihad connection straight to this very stunning city, largest in Europe, and spread across the continents of Europe and Asia.
We got to our hotel in Haliç across the lovely Bosphorus Strait (which separates the European part from the Asian part of Istanbul), in the afternoon. Post a shower, we set out to Taksim and the Pedestrian Street to experience life at the leisure district of modern Istanbul, first hand. Taksim is famous for its restaurants, shopping and cafes – serving Turkish Delight (confectionary based on a gel of starch and sugar) and Baklava. Baklava is a rich, sweet layered pastry filled with chopped nuts and sweetened and held together with syrup or honey. We enjoyed some Turkish Tea, ‘Patate’ Salad (a massive sized potato, boiled and filled with salad), and also relished some Baklava. We bought bracelets and keychains from the little stores with the ‘nazar boncugu’ sign on it which the Turks believe keep negativity away from one’s home or business.
We, then, went to the very tall Galatta Tower for a panoramic view of the city. The medieval tower’s cone capped cylinder dominates its skyline. The evening culminated with a nice dinner on the roof top of our hotel, Grand Halic, ruminating on the amazing Bosphorous.
Day-2: After breakfast, we decided to take the Metro (from Sishane) to a mall at Sisli. We soon realized that a mall in Istanbul cannot be much different from a mall in New York City. We headed back to our hotel to meet with our Tour Guide who would take us to Dolmabahçe Palace. The Palace is located on the European coastline of the Bosphorus strait and served as the main administrative centre of the Ottoman Empire in the 19th Century. The palace is extensively decorated with gold and crystal and fourteen tonnes of gold was used to decorate the ceilings of this mesmerizing castle. Most eye catching, was the world's largest Bohemian crystal chandelier is in the Ceremonial Hall. It has 750 lamps and weighs 4.5 tonnes. After an extravagant promenade through eloquent halls, marvelling at the luxurious carpets, a Crystal Staircase, and the finest paintings, we took some pictures at the Coastline Entrance and then hopped onto the Coach.
Our Guide, then, took us to a hill top café by the name of ‘Mavera’ for another mind boggling view of the waterways. In the evening, we chose to go to Ortokoy. We saw some very lively cafes facing the sea. A lovely lentil soup for me and kebabs for Dad made for a happy end of the day.
The next morning, we were taken to Sultanahmet Sqaure, the most famous tourist area in Istanbul on the Historical peninsula. The Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, variety of Museums, the 4th century hippodrome, the Egyptian Obelisk, the Serpentine Column, the Colossus or Column of Costantine Porphyrgenitus and the rather kitsch German Fountain are the popular sights. We first visited Hagia Sophia, a former Greek Orthodox Christian church, later an imperial mosque, and now a museum. We walked through the large hall and admired ancient architecture the art on the walls. Across the Hagia Sophia, we saw the Egyptian Obelisk, the Serpentine Column and the Column of Costantine Porphyrgenitus. We had an opportunity to visit the Blue Mosque – with absolutely beautiful blue tiles, stained glass windows and an air of complete peace. The women – all nationalities – were requested to wear a headgear covering their heads and shoulders before they entered the mosque.
We, then, took a walk to the Grand Bazaar – over 6000 shops, in 60 alleyways – full of souvenirs, jewellery, spices and Turkish delight. We bought some Turkish Teas, dried fruits and Turkish delight. Every store was so hospitable – offering tea and sweet meats to their customers before they were convinced to spend their Turkish Lira.
After shopping, we went to lunch at a Turkish restaurant, Shehir. The afternoon tour took us to the Topkapi palace from the 15th Century, a large palace in Istanbul that was one of the major residences of the Ottoman sultans for almost 400 years. As well as a royal residence, the palace was a setting for state occasions and royal entertainments. Better still known, the Topkapi Palace has been the backdrop for a few James Bond movies, as well, and in no small measure backdrop of our own Bollywood movie, ‘Dil Dharakne Do’. We ended our day with dinner on the first floor of a restaurant with a view of the Golden Horn, a major waterway and the primary inlet of the Bosphorus. A local band at the restaurant playing the Harp, Banjo and Violin stole our hearts.
Day-4 – was a nice cruise to Büyükada, the largest of the nine so-called Princes' Islands in the Sea of Marmara, near Istanbul, which was a pier and a place where the Sultans went to spend their holidays. After a short walk to the clock tower, we were greeted by a horse carriage driver who took us for a long ride across the steep streets of the village town adorned by beautiful villas, flora and fauna. Back in Taksim, that evening we went for a walk followed by pizza dinner. I enjoyed eating roasted chestnuts and listening to the Peruvans play lovely tunes on their traditional Inca wind instrument called Antaras.
The last day for sight-seeing tempted us to go see the 3 million Tulips at the Emirgan Korusu. Well guess what we found? – Tulips, of course, but not many in bloom. We did see some white and yellow tulips – enough to get a few click with. In the afternoon, we took another Bhosphorous cruise with a live commentary on heritage buildings and the suspended bridges in Istanbul. The last picturesque sight was the Pierre Loti on the Asian side of Istanbul where we caught a magnificent view of the Golden Horn followed by a short ride in a Cable car.
We couldn’t end our trip without some Turkish tea, hazelnuts and Arabic Baklava at Taksim and dinner at a Turkish café at Beyoğlu. Thus, ended a lovely 5-day tour of splendid Istanbul (Constantinople) which I know will call me back yet again! I cannot end without thanking Ashish, my husband, who looked after the kids on his own every night and also Aashish Laghate from Journey Tours who helped plan our trip. My Gratitude!