With all the components of a spy novel; high adventure, exotic locales and thrilling escapes, it’s no surprise that Istanbul was the setting for the James Bond movie, “To Russia with Love”, and another spy movie, “Topkapi”, a story of the heist of a jewel from this sultan’s palace.
Istanbul , the European Cultural Capital City in 2010, is the only city in the world that is in both Europe and Asia. The touristy part of town is on the European continent, while the Asian side remains mostly residential. The 19 mile long Bosphorus, the major waterway through Istanbul, separates the two continents. Passing through the Bosphorus by boat, a must-do for any visitor, helps you get your bearings and understand the layout of the city. The first thing that you will notice is the number of minarets standing sentinel throughout the city.
A Muslim city, Istanbul, formerly known as Constantinople, lays claim to many mosques including the famous Blue Mosque. Open to the public, this grand mosque with its intricate mosaics welcomes visitors, including properly covered women, to explore its grandness; listen for the call from the muezzin summoning the faithful to prayer.
For 900 years the largest church in the world and the place where Bond meets Tatiana in the movie, Hagia Sophia is now another magnificent mosque and a fine example of a domed basilica in the center of Istanbul. A modern city, Istanbul, has one of the world’s oldest subways and offers an excellent public transportation system for exploring its attractions. The Archaeological Museum offers insight into the ancient past of this city, formerly known as Constantinople and Byzantium. Of particular interest is the outstanding collection of finely carved sarcophagi, including the Alexander and Crying Women models, which illustrate the history of the times. Lovers of gems and jewels should not miss Topkapi Palace, which has many displays of the jewels that sultans collected and received as extraordinary gifts from dignitaries from all over the world.
All of Istanbul’s attractions aren’t above ground. What appears to be an underground temple, the Basilica Cistern is actually a huge cistern system that provided water for centuries to the area. The light reflecting from the water and on the columns creates an ethereal effect . Make sure to find the Medusa posed upside down on one of these subterranean pillars.
Entering the Spice Market, your senses immediately become stimulated; the vibrant colors of the different spices and items offered, the mass of people moving through the area and the shopkeepers enticing you to buy from their stand might cause sensory overload. Get your bearings, explore the market and then decide on which stands to buy from.
Near the Spice Market, the Grand Bazaar offers over 3000 shops and many vendors eager to get you to purchase their wares. Don’t be surprised when the shopkeeper comes with a tray full of tea and offers you a drink; it’s customary and comes with no obligations.
If the sight of all those spices and treats elicited a hunger pang, you will find plenty of food to satisfy your appetite. There are street markets with food as well as restaurants selling such specialties as køfte and confection shops selling Turkish delight.
The beautifully woven carpets displayed on walls and floors and seemingly on every block, draw even the least interested into their seductive web. Just looking at these spectacular pieces of art alerts the shop personnel, who will quickly invite you to sit down and learn about the carpets. And, of course, they will offer you a cup of tea. However, if you aren’t interested in a purchase, hold your ground and don’t feel obligated to purchase anything even though the shopkeeper might hint that you wasted his time, although he was the one who enticed you into his shop in the first place. Be prepared to thank him for his time, exit and quickly pass by the other shops attempting to show you their wares. On the other hand, if like we did, you do want to buy a carpet, do some research in advance and learn about the different styles of carpets.
About Theresa Russell
Claiming her lust for travel began on her first journey through the birth canal, Theresa is genetically programmed to travel and to have fun doing it. She especially enjoys adventure and experiential travel and always finds something at a destination to write home about.