Istanbul is as colorful and diverse as the spices and brilliantly colored fabrics at the Grand Bazaar. People are from all over the world and of every religion. The city and the people are examples of extremes. I had never seen such beautiful fabrics, colorful desserts, or diversity of spices.
The great thing about Istanbul is the diversity. Old World and New World thrive in uniquely expressive ways. Our day was filled with history and antiques followed by evenings of creative cuisine and stylish nightlife.
The Hagia Sophia was as special to see as the Grand Bazaar. A friend of ours told us to be sure to look in the ceiling mounted mirror at the exit. What we saw was a painting of the virgin Mary holding baby Jesus. At her right side was a priest offering the Hagia Sophia to Christ and on her left was Constantine offering all of Constantinople to Him. It seemed to speak to the heart of humility and reverence that the peoples of the time felt as they built the city. What a special place.
The Sultan Tughra Hotel in Sultanahmet which was a 120 year old home that had been restored into a beautiful boutique hotel was a perfect place to stay. The guest hospitality was wonderful, the accommodations comfortable, and the location central.
7 things to know when traveling there:
· You must have a visa before you travel.
· Do not arrive on a Sunday – it is so crowded.
· Turkish airport passport control on exit was chaos. There are no enforced lines and the people cut in front of you, push and shove, and even seem to find a sense of victory in getting in front of you. The Golden rule does not apply.
· Check the costs of transportation to your hotel before you get there. There are some free shuttles, some hotels that charge for shuttles, taxis that post prices and others that do not. You can easily pay more than you should.
· When entering a mosque a head cover is required. Women should bring a scarf to cover your head.
· Take the Hop on Off Bus on your first full day. You can see the entire city in a day, learn the history, and identify the spots you are most interested in revisiting. We do this in every new city and in most it is the best way to get a thorough feel for the city quickly.
· Check out www.timeoutistanbul.com for food, drink, style, and night life. In particular look for writer Rene Ames.