Thursday, April 18, 2013

Istanbul in Pictures

You may have picked this up from my last post and/or my Facebook wall, but Istanbul has secured the top spot on my "Places I Must Return" list. In a word, it's incredible. The perfect blend of centuries-old culture and vibrant, modern city. The people are kind; the views, breathtaking.

And the food...Oh the food! It is some of the best I've tasted in Europe. I'm talking roll your eyes and groan delicious.

Rather than give you the play-by-play from my visit here, I thought I'd show you some of the highlights.

Let's start at the Hagia Sophia:


The Hagia Sophia is a reflection of Istanbul's position as the gateway between East and West. Throughout its history, it has been a church, mosque, and now a museum.

One of the things that surprised me most about Istanbul was the tulips. Yes, the tulips. I just missed the Istanbul Tulip Festival, but the humble flowers were still out in full force during my visit. They are everywhere; adding a splash of color to the city's squares and sites.

Another of my favorite stops was the Spice Market (Egyptian Bazaar). Stall upon stall of pungent spices, teas, dried fruits, and Turkish specialty Lokum (aka Turkish Delight) piled high, just as its been done for the past 350 years.

One last stop: the bustling, sprawling Grand Bazaar.

The Grand Bazaar is a maze of tiny shops selling rugs, scarves, lamps, instruments, and bath supplies alongside your traditional tourist nicknacks. Expect to be greeted, over and over again, by pushy salesmen who insist you come in and take a look at their merchandise. A little tip: Smile, shake your head no, and keep walking. I know it seems a little rude, but you can lose entire days in this place if you stop to talk to every 'helpful' shop owner.

To be honest, the Grand Bazaar was a bit of a disappointment for me. It reminded me of a giant tourist souvenir shop instead of the market stocked with hand-crafted goods I had pictured. I was actually much more intrigued by something happening just outside...

The Call to Prayer sounded while I was inside the Bazaar and the shopkeepers began closing up their shops and making their way to the Mosque next door. Each brought a small carpet and lined up in neat rows outside the Mosque. A group of women waited patiently nearby.

The worshippers covered every available space, kneeling on stairs and along the sidewalk leading up to the Mosque. Calls to Prayer echoed back and forth through the city as they assembled.

It was one of those moments I'll never forget.

Next up? A Savvy Nomad guide to the Turkish Bath (Hamam)

{images via Elizabeth Farrar for Bella Vita}