Where the East meets West: Magnificent Istanbul

Trip Start Jun 19, 2011
Trip End Jul 12, 2011

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Friday, June 24, 2011

I am absolutely excited to be in Istanbul - old Constantinople! This city definitely was on my Top Ten list of "must sees", so I'm so thrilled to be here! Aysen, our Turkish friend, met us at the train station. We checked into our hotel (Historia Hotel), which is located conveniently in the Sultanhamet area (area with the many of the most famous landmarks). It is a very charming character hotel, built in Ottoman mansion style (sounds fancier than it is, but it's clean and cute all the same). Then, we immediately set foot across the city to take it all in with Aysen and get familiarized. Istanbul (as you will see by the pictures) is a very crowded city with approx. 15 million people. One of the things that is so unique and special about Istanbul is that it is both Mediterranean (i.e., small and winding cobble stone streets along steep hillsides overlooking the turquoise waters with a glimpse of Roman ruins here and there) and Orient (i.e., Turkish people smoking water pipes, drinking cay, selling carpets and gorgeous mosaic glass lamps/lanterns of all colors, etc. amidst centuries-old mosques rising above in the distance). Every where you look - truly an East and West fusion! I already love it here.

Aysen led us to the Beyoglu area of Istanbul, which has lots of shops, restaurants, etc. We stopped at Algeria Street (which you'll notice from the pictures that this is more like a steep hillside alley of restaurants) where we stopped for a Turkish coffee (described in the caption of one of the photos). Our next stop was at Galata Tower (originally built during the Roman period but then reconstructed in the late 1300s). Dennis and I went to the top and took some awesome views of the city. What a spectacular view of the waterways (Golden Horn, Bosphorus, Marmara Sea) and the churches, mosques, and mausoleums! From here, you can see Europe and Asia.

We ended the day by taking a leisure dinner with Aysen "under the bridge"at sunset. In an email from Aysen prior to our arrival, she had told Dennis that she wanted to take us to drink raki under the bridge, as this is what the locals do. (Raki is a similar liquor to that that we had in Sofia - derived from grapes - although the Turkish form tastes like anise that is quite similar to the Greek's ouzo). It turns out that "drinking under the bridge" was a much more formal and mannered event than we had originally envisioned! "Under the bridge", there are a strand of fish restaurants and bars with excellent, fresh food...and of course, ice cold raki! Our table had a beautiful view of the Golden Horn. The Golden Horn gets its name because it is shaped like a horn and it turns gold at sunset. Both food and drink were excellent! I tried many foods/dishes that I had never had before. Like the Spanish with their tapas, the Turks enjoy small plates that they call "mezes". Indeed, one of my favorite things about traveling to new places is that it is one of the rare chances that we as adults have to experience things as a child again - new tastes, new smells, new sounds, new sights.
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