Back of Hagia Sophia Museum
With only 72 hours in Istanbul to celebrate 22 years of marriage and visit this ancient city with a long history and beautiful culture, Peter and I decided that getting a private tour of the main attractions would be the way to go.
Friday morning we got picked up by our guide from Neon Tours at 9 am and off we went. We started with Topkapi Palace was one of the major residences of the Ottoman Sultans for almost 400 years (1465–1856). It also contains important holy relics of the Muslim world, including Muhammed’s cloak and sword. Overlooking the Bosphorus, this palace has four courtyards, hundreds of rooms and chambers. It is a must see.
Entrance to where you can see the many relics the Muslim world, including Muhammed’s cloak and sword.
After the palace we were off to Hagia Sophia Museum. Hagia Sophia is special because from the date of its construction in 537 until 1453, it served as a Greek Orthodox Cathedral. Then between 1204 and 1261 it was converted to a Roman Catholic cathedral under the Latin Empire. The building was a mosque from 29 May 1453 until 1931. It was then secularized opened as a museum on 1 February 1935. As a cathedral it was the 4th largest in the world after, St. Peter’s, St. Paul’s and the Duomo in Florence. Peter and I can say we have seen the 4 largest cathedrals in the world.
In 1453, Constantinople was conquered by the Ottoman Turks under Sultan Mehmed II, who ordered this main church of Orthodox Christianity converted into a mosque. By that point, the church had fallen into a state of disrepair. Nevertheless, the Christian cathedral made a strong impression on the new Ottoman rulers and they decided to convert it into a mosque. The bells, altar, iconostasis, and sacrificial vessels and other relics were removed and the mosaics depicting Jesus, his Mother Mary, Christian saints and angels were also removed or plastered over. Islamic features such as the mihrab, minbar and four minarets were added. Then after the revolution in 1923, the government closed it and reopened it four years later as a museum. They have been doing major restoration work and finding mosaics and paintings of Christian faith.
The dome in Hagia Sophia
This mosaic was revealed after removing the paint covering it.
Muslim symbols still hang everywhere.
After Hagia Sophia we walked over to one of the largest Cistern serving the Topkapi palace. This is also the cistern referred to in Dan Brown’s book “Inferno”. The one where they found large Medusa carvings in columns.
After visiting the cistern we had a wonderful lunch with our guide at a local restaurant by Hagia Sophia.
After lunch came the fun part, shopping for rugs. I must admit I did not intend to buy rugs, I just wanted to look at them. When our guide asked if we were looking for anything I said, scarves, rugs and something else that I will not mention here because it’s a present for Thing 2. Our guide took us out of the Grand Bazaar to see a real carpet/rug store. We were taken to a showroom on the second floor, offered tea and then they started to educate us about Turkish rugs. How they made them. The difference between silk, angora, wool, cotton and polyester mix. Difference between Tribal and Imperial rugs. Of course, all this education took place while having Turkish tea. I had never seen such beautiful rugs/carpets in my whole life. They kept on unrolling them one after the other. After seeing more than 40 of them in all shapes and sizes we soon narrowed it down to six. From there we decided to go tribal. We preferred the geometric symbols ones. These are the two we picked for our new Montreal condo. Consider this our wedding anniversary presents to ourselves. Thank goodness the Turkish government subsidizes the shipping and duty everywhere in the world. After the Mastercard went through and the shipping info is given, the deal is concluded by drinking Raki with the salesman. Raki is the Turkish national drink. Think sambuca at 45%. It’s better with water. Sarah, expect delivery in Montreal between 6 to 8 weeks.
For the master bedroom.
For the living room.
After this transaction we went on to the grand bazaar to continue our shopping. We were introduced to a fine scarf shop where Sarah Jessica Parker, Martha Stewart and Candice Bergen among others buy their scarves. We bought some scarves and then we went on to another shop to buy something for Thing 2. Now it’s official, my Christmas shopping is done!
After spending all that money it was time to head to the Blue Mosque to pray for Peter to keep on working…The Blue Mosque is an ABSOLUTE MUST. My pictures will not give it justice. After putting on my head scarf and removing our shoes we were mesmerized by this building.
Man washing his feet at the entrance of the Mosque.
The wires you see are the ones supporting the many chandeliers that hang over the prayer area.
The tiles are truly out of this world.
After that wonderful day we were driven back to our hotel in order to relax for an hour before dinner. Great day 1!
For our second day I had booked a “Culinary Backstreet Tour” of Istanbul. We met our group at the Sirkeci train station, this by the way is the train station where the Orient Express used to start at. Today it is closed and just used as a museum. Our guide took us to one of the rooms at the old train station and started the tour by showing us a traditional breakfast. We sat as a group and ate away delicious Turkish bread, with some cheese, honey etc….Afterwards we walked towards the outskirts of the bazaar and had pomegranate juice with a typical pastry and cheese. Our guide, Benoit, first arrived in Istanbul to work in the textile industry 20 years ago. He took us in the backstreets of Istanbul and made us drink tea, coffee while showing us workshops and the textile markets.
He also took us to eat a pide (kind of Turkish pizza) on a rooftop.
Rooftop view while eating pide.
He also took us on the rooftops to show us where they filmed the opening Grand Bazaar scene of “Skyfall”.
After one full day of eating we finally left Benoit and the group and returned to our hotel for a break.
Since we only half a day we decided to do a morning cruise on the Bosphorus followed by a little walk over to the spice bazaar. There we bought some authentic Turkish delights, teas and Iranian saffron. The spice market is a great place to try out nuts, teas and many other Turkish delicacies. I have never seen so many bold colors and smelled so many different and “strong” flavors.
Unfortunately, after this lovely morning we had to go back to our hotel, check out of our hotel and head over to the airport. All good things must come to an end and sadly this lovely wedding anniversary weekend was coming to end.