Are you looking for a city that will definitely take your thoughts away from your normal life? Are you ready to experience something that will leave you content but confused in a way? Are you willing to jump in a roller coaster that will give you serenity and peace of mind, then grab it out of your reach, and then return it, spinning you around over and over again? If the answer is yes, you are ready for Istanbul, Turkey.
The amount of people all around you is astonishing. Locals, tourists, people from all over the world. The hustle and bustle of the old bazaar deafens your ears, but not annoyingly. Even if you didn’t need any, the symphony of fragrances coming from spices that merchants offer makes you want to buy a little bit of everything. The visually dazzling architecture of the mosques and old churches makes you speechless. The warm weather caresses your senses while you gaze over the glistening blue strait below you, sun almost blinding your eyes. The almost-overbearing overload of stimuli welcomes you to Istanbul.
Istanbul is an amazing city that has a lot to offer but I still don’t know how to feel about it. There are parts that I absolutely love and parts that I can definitely do without – however, no point in focusing on the latter in this post, right? The city may not necessarily be the coolest place to visit due to the current political unrest, but when the opportunity presented itself, I had to take it and go see the city that stretches itself on two continents. The fact that a part of it is in Asia and a part in Europe was very fascinating to me as I had always wanted to visit a city that offers such an experience. Here is my take on the things that I love in the city.
The Blue Mosque (Sultanahmet Camii)
This place is hard to miss. The cascading domes and six slender minarets of the Blue Mosque dominate the skyline of Istanbul. The Blue Mosque is an absolute must for a tourist, but to get in, avoid the prayer times (unless you are a Muslim and go there to pray, of course). The architecture of this place is fantastic, and the way the small blue mosaic tiles have been used to decorate the mosque is so very skilled that it is almost a surreal experience to be there.
It is a quiet place, lots of light, beautiful arches high above you. If you have time to stop and take in the beauty of this place, you will notice the serenity that surrounds you. The calm atmosphere of the mosque creates a great contrast to the fuss of everyday life on the streets that will reach you immediately once you exit the mosque.
Hagia Sophia, The Church of the Holy Wisdom, is located near the Blue Mosque. The former Byzantine church and an Ottoman mosque is now a museum.
It is a very interesting place, not peaceful in the same way as the Blue Mosque, but very impressive regarding the age and the history of the building. The size of it is astonishing, so getting a good grasp of it requires some time.
However, currently some parts of it are under renovation, so it is not as breathtaking as it could be.
The palace is practically in front of Hagia Sophia and near the Blue Mosque. The place gives a great insight into how Sultans of the Ottoman Empire viewed the world. The beautiful collection of the jewelry is a must see if you visit the palace.
When I was there, the place was quite crowded, and as my search for peace of mind doesn’t mix that well with loud crowds, the thing I enjoyed the most about the Topkapi Palace was its garden. I sat there for quite a long time reading about the history of the place and enjoying the sunshine and warmth.
As you can guess, now we are getting to the parts (in addition to the Blue Mosque) that I loved the most in Istanbul. The boat trip along the Bosphorus is in itself an experience. The beautiful mansions are surrounded by lush gardens, and just like anywhere else in Istanbul, history of East and West surrounds you.
I was lucky enough to take the boat ride on a sunny, warm day, so the trip was a very relaxing one. It was possible to buy some Turkish yogurt onboard, so I enjoyed a nice snack along the way as I listened a tour guide (of some other group) talk about the buildings that we passed.
Anadoly Kavagi itself is a quiet, small village. The souvenir shops there are worth a visit if you want to bring something traditional to your loved ones (I did and everybody loved them!). If you plan to take a hike up to the Yoros Castle, like I did, make sure you are wearing shoes that are suitable for a hike and take a water bottle with you as the climb up is quite steep. No matter how long it takes for you to get on top of the hill, the views from there make up for the time and effort.
The Bosphorus Strait is absolutely stunning. The castle itself isn’t much to see, but the views, oh yeah. You won’t regret the climb. I could have stayed up there for hours, just admiring the blue water below me, but I had reserved a table from a nearby restaurant, so my appetite had an appointment with local fish dishes. The meal itself would have been alright at its best but the views from the corner table in their terrace made it excellent. Loved the view. Found my Zen.
Restaurant Juno in Nisantasi
This little place is the place to go to if you want a delicious meal in a friendly place that is affordable and cozy. I can’t compliment it enough, even the music they played there matched the place so well that even if I wouldn’t listen to it elsewhere, I definitely loved it there. I didn’t go there for dinner just once but twice during my three night stay, because I loved it so much. Their appetizer platter is something to try. It has plenty of small appetizers and the white wine the waiter suggest matched it perfectly. The music was fun to listen to, and the way to waiters took time to talk about the area and their restaurant was adorable. They seemed to be genuinely interested in their customers, so whether it was true or not, it left a nice impression. My appetite found its Zen.