WHAT an incredible city! In many ways Istanbul is a mix of New York (hustle and bustle), San Francisco (steep roads and many stairs!), Paris (romantic outdoor parks with out-of-this–world views), Rome (Roman ruins and aqueducts around so many corners), Athens (Greek ruins and similar cuisines) and Mecca (Mosques every three blocks in most places). It has so much to offer and so much personality. Culture is streaming down every street and passion for life is everywhere.
I live in Cihangir, the artist and actor district that attracts the most “foreign” residents. I've learned quickly that every neighborhood had a distinct personality…like siblings…..but all share the Turkish ideals and culture…..as in a very connected and close family. In Turkey, family ties are of most importance. You can see this everywhere you go in some way. Personal connection is extremely meaningful.
In order to start getting to know the sibling districts I decided to start with the oldest of them all: Sultanahmet.
View of Sultanahmet from a ferry
This district is the most known, most recognized and most visited by visitors. If you think of Istanbul and see massive Mosques towering above you, underground ruins, large avenues, museums, the Grand Bazaar, a Sultan’s palace, carpet shopping, etc….THIS is the place!
The "Main Square" looking to the Hagia Sofia, what was once a cathedral, then a mosque, now a museum. A must see for sure!
The dome of a public drinking fountain between the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sofia
"Tourism Police" written in English.... If you need help, find these guys.
Most municipal police are more helpful in Turkish :)
Helen and I walked through side and back streets to explore beyond the main sights and aren’t we glad we did! We noticed a very small sign on a window of a restaurant with the History Channel logo on it. We were very excited to recognize a sign and read further. It directed us into the restaurant (where people were eating on low chairs and tables and sipping traditional Turkish tea) and under the kitchen….down stairs into an old Roman ruin that is believed to be a portion of Constantine’s palace and thrown room during his time in Constantinople! UNDER THE RESTAURANT! Completely hidden from public sight. We were the only two in there. They were in the midst of excavation so there was no charge…but a portion of the proceeds from your bill at the restaurant is donated to the project. If you are in Istanbul some day and are interested in seeing this and eating at the restaurant to contribute to their work…ask me for more info :)
The ruins below the restaurant!
We walked by the Grand Bazaar and News FLASH! It’s closed on Sundays! But no worries, there will be an entire post dedicated to the Bazaar once I make it there.
The main door the Grand Bazaar
A small bazaar on a side street
A few more observations and experiences:
Ladies: We walked all around and ran into a few learning experiences as well. For any young ladies traveling to Turkey, it is good to remember that (generally speaking) men will be extremely friendly if you are alone or with other women. It is important to simply keep walking. It’s not rude, it’s normal. They can be very persistent so just be aware!
Visitors: Also for everyone who looks foreign... Carpet sellers are ruthless! They will coax you in every way to their store, offer you tea, and have a “no pressure” conversation. I have already experienced one of these scenarios and they literally make it impossible to say no once you stop walking. So if you aren’t interested at the time, don’t stop walking. Pretend you can’t hear or you don’t understand. Go to a carpet shop when you have the time or inclination, on your own terms.
Fashion: The fashion here is incredible! Ladies and men are constantly dressed to the nines whether they are going to work or the grocery store. Heels and cobble stones are a fact of life here. The Muslim women are by far the most fashionable with gorgeous long dresses and skirts and exquisite silk scarfs perfectly complimenting the ensemble. I recommend you take a picnic to the large park by Topkapi Palace and gaze in aw at the outfits that pass on the pedestrian boulevard below.
A family picnicking at the park
Animals: There are cats and dogs everywhere... And as you walk down the street you may see little bowls of food and water sitting out. This is because they are the “neighborhood’s pets” and everyone takes care of them collectively. Here is another example of family and community bonds.