Jetlag, schmetlag! My BF and I are only in Istanbul for about 48 hours, which means time is of the essence. This city is packed with ancient history and modern (Turkish!) delights. So if we want to see it all, we’ve got to get a move on. Which is what we did, despite a somewhat sluggish start in the morning on my part. Our first day in Istanbul started at 9:30am, with a tour guide par excellence. Askin Aydin with New Faces Travel (+90-212-227-4660) was exactly the kind of tour guide we’d hoped for. After determining up front what we wanted to do and see, Askin proceeded to tailor our day-long tour to suit our interests.
We began by seeing the historic sites of the city. We visited the Blue Mosque (natch), which rises most impressively over the city, grand in both its commanding presence and its architecture. Its English nickname comes from the cobalt tiles that adorn the interior’s soaring domes though the mosque’s true name is The Sultan Ahmed Mosque. Built between 1609 and 1616, it is a sacred place of worship and is the starting point for many pilgrims who make the journey to Mecca. There’s a back entrance for visitors, so as not to disturb those in prayer and it is essential for everyone to cover up shoulders, arms and legs before entering. You will be handed a piece of fabric for a makeshift skirt if your legs are bare and a shawl to wrap around your shoulders if necessary. The rules apply to both men and women, though I saw a man inside the mosque in a tank top. Hmmm.
Next up: Hagia Sofia. This beautiful place is a basilica turned mosque, turned museum. Mostly recognized for its enormous domed ceiling, this structure is said to epitomize Byzantine architecture. It’s dark inside but beautiful, adorned with Islamic calligraphic roundels, marble floors and imposing archways. There are Christian mosaics on the domes, the largest and most beautiful, one of the virgin and child. Hagia Sofia is an interesting meeting place of the Muslim and Christian faiths and is a must-see stop on a tour of Istanbul.
There’s lots more to see: The Topkapi Palace and the Roman Hippodrome, to name just two. After a full morning of sightseeing, we took a break and enjoyed some local food for lunch. This is another one of the advantages of having a great local tour guide. Askin knew exactly where to take us for good food. We lunched at Onur et Lokantasi (Nuru Osmaniye Cd. Alibaba, Turbe Sk, No: 21/7 Cagaloglu, Istanbul, 0212-527-12-29) starting with a fresh green salad, followed by a traditional Turkish meal of grilled beef and chicken, rice, tomatoes and French fries. It was all topped off with a traditional Turkish coffee. I’m no coffee drinker (tea for me, please!) and this coffee is S-T-R-O-N-G. Like a double espresso, Askin said. But a shot of this stuff is not only part of the local experience, it sends enough caffeine coursing through your veins to see you through the rest of an action-packed afternoon of sightseeing. I’ll tell you about what we did in the afternoon later! I’m off to take in my last view of the beautiful Bosphorus.