Istanbul | Constantinople | Byzantium

DSCN1286_4588 (2) (1024x768)1) a sea of people just outside the Grand Bazaar

Whatever you call it – Byzantium (which it was from its founding in 657BCE to 324AD) | Constantinople (which it was from 324 AD to 1453AD) | Istanbul (its modern day incarnation since then) – this city is steeped, much like its strong tea and coffee, in layer upon layer of history. Istanbul is an old place and yet is utterly, thoroughly and in some cases, glaringly, modern. It is one of the largest cities on earth with a population of some 14 million people. We spent near a week exploring it and just barely scratched its surface. One could spend a lifetime here I suspect and not discover a tenth of its wonders. I enjoyed Istanbul very much. In a trip with stops in two other arab countries, hands-down, Istanbul was the most blatantly islamic. I heard the call to prayer here everyday no matter where in the city I was. I could not say that of our visits to Jordan or Dubai.

G met me in Istanbul well rested after a one-stop flight from Vancouver via Frankfurt; quite unlike my adventures. We opted to split our stay between two hotels in two different sections of the city – the to-die-for-we-will-go-back Witt Istanbul in Cihangir district (a working/middle class area with narrow streets, shops and cafes within walking distance of Taksim Square) and W Istanbul in Muradiye district (a more privileged and upscale area I would argue). On the whole – for room, ambiance and location – the Witt won easily.

DSCF0012 (2) (1024x800)1a) G’s plane prepares for his arrival on board in Vancouver

DSCF0017 (2) (911x1024)2) naturally, there is champagne on route

DSCF0022 (2) (1024x768)3) the business class appetizer on route to Frankfurt

DSCF0026 (2) (1024x768)4) a very German main course

DSCF0033 (2) (1024x768)5) breaky time!

DSCF0036 (1024x768)6) a layover in Frankfurt

DSCF0037 (2) (1024x545)7) … includes a visit to the Lufthansa Business Class Lounge

DSCF0038 (2) (1024x768)8) and when in Frankfurt, of course, G opts to have a frankfurter

DSCF0040 (2) (1024x768)9) more food on route to Istanbul

DSCN1222_4524 (2) (1024x768)10) the view from our suite at Witt Hotel in Istanbul (sigh)

IMG_3728 (2) (1024x510)11) Witt, well worth it!

IMG_3713 (2) (1024x765)12) the lobby at the Witt

DSC_0094_4477 (2) (1024x685)13) our room at the Witt

DSC_0096_4479 (3) (1024x675)14) the other half of the room

DSC_0097_4480 (2) (1024x685)15) the bathroom complete with very modular sink

DSC_0103_4486 (2) (1024x685)16) … and very cool rainforest shower head

DSC_0098_4481 (2) (1024x685)17) management leaves wee treats for us each night

DSC_0101_4484 (2) (1024x640)18) our lovely balcony with a view where we spent a lot of time!

IMG_3729 (2) (1024x849)19) turn down service at night

DSCF0054_4657 (1024x768)20) breakfast at the Witt is served on our balcony each morning

DSCF0057_4660 (1024x768)21) … and on Thanksgiving day includes ‘turkey’ … cold cut style

DSCF0073_4676 (2) (1024x123)22) here’s the view from the roof of the Witt (if you double click this wee photo, it will open bigger) … you can see our shadows in bottom left hand corner

We spent our days in Istanbul exploring where our whim and fancy took us. One day we took a ferry that wandered up the Bosphorus Strait crisscrossing from the European to the Asian side, passing under the iconic Bosphorus Bridge and puttering all the way north to the Fatih Sultan Mehmet Bridge. We hit the iconic landmarks – the Spice Bazaar; the Istanbul Modern; the Grand Bazaar; the Bascilica Cistern (or the ‘sunken place’ in Turkish); Taksim Square (a great disappointment to be honest); Hagia Sophia; the Blue Mosque (with its breath-taking interior) and walked to and fro across the Galata Bridge and the Golden Horn several times. We ate whatever we could find that was different and unique, including a fabulous lunch on the terrace at Matbah Ottoman Palace right beside Hagia Sophie that served dishes dating back to the height of the Ottoman Empire; dishes that – in their time – would have only been served to the Sultan. Changing gears, we visited the Marmara Pera Hotel to dine on a superb tasting menu at Mikla, Istanbul’s acknowledged  “it” place for modernist cuisine where chef Mehmet Gürs takes inventive turns on Turkish dishes. We drank litres of exceptional (and cheap) Turkish wines – oh the roses! – and wondered why Canada cannot discover these gems, which have been produced for millennia. We found little holes in the wall near the Witt, cute, basic, quaint cafe-restaurants where the welcome was warm, the food brilliant and the price easy on the pocketbook. We, of course, got naked and took a hamam at Kılıç Ali Paşa Hamamı (sorry no pictures!), a hamam that has operated on its spot at the base of the road leading to the Witt since 1580 and was pricey, sure, but oh-so awesome. It was all magnificent and what I had expected of Istanbul after studying its history (mainly during Constantine’s time) whilst in university.

DSC_0105_4488 (2) (1024x685)23) the Galata Tower take from the Galata Bridge … built by the Genoese in … wait for it … 1348

DSCN1269_4571 (2) (1024x706)24) into the Spice Bazaar

DSCN1271_4573 (2) (1024x462)25) you can get teas galore

DSCN1273_4575 (2) (1024x755)26) and sponges galore

DSCN1274_4576 (2) (1024x768)27) and Turkish delights galore

DSCN1276_4578 (2) (1024x768)28) and even goat cheese still in the goat skin!

DSCN1279_4581 (2) (1024x768)29) more types of tea

DSCN1275_4577 (2) (1024x1017)30) the butcher will cut anything you like to order

DSCN1289_4591 (2) (1024x959)31) onward to the Grand Bazaar … really one of the world’s first BIG malls

DSCN1299_4601 (2) (1024x612)32) it’s very pretty inside and you can get ANYTHING you want

DSCN1280_4582 (2) (987x1024)33) including, yes, more tea and sponges

DSCF0074_4677 (2) (1024x768)34) here’s the million dollar Turkish delights we bought. It weighed a ton and we then carried it for a month throughout Asia and the Middle East; but you know these are fabulous

DSCN1268_4570 (2) (1024x608)35) shops are everywhere – here G explores the shops in the pedestrian walkway that goes under the road near the Galata Bridge

36) here’s the call to prayer from our balcony at the Witt

DSCN1233_4535 (2) (1024x768)37) the shadow of a seagull on the ferry that took us to Asia

DSCN1232_4534 (2) (1020x1024)38) anchors away!

DSCN1229_4531 (1024x768)39) and we’re off to the Asian side

DSCN1227_4529 (1024x768)40) looking back to the Golden Horn

DSCN1230_4532 (2) (512x1024)41) and across to Cihangir

DSCN1238_4540 (2) (1024x1012)42) along the way you have moments like this were the ancient and modern colliade

DSCN1244_4546 (2) (1024x512)43) and here near the Sultan Mehmet Bridge the old protective walls

DSCN1257_4559 (2) (1024x480)44) landing on the Asian side with the Bosphrous Bridge in background

DSCN1258_4560 (2) (768x1024)45) the famous “Madien’s Tower” – now a cafe – was once home to a princess … or so legend tells us

DSCN1263_4565 (2) (1024x616)46) heading back to port with the Suleymaniye Mosque in the background, built in 1550 – it is the largest mosque in Istanbul

DSCN1231_4533 (2) (768x1024)47) fishermen are everywhere on the Galata Bridge

DSCN1266_4568 (2) (768x1024)48) a close-up of the Galata Tower

DSCN1336_4707 (2) (1024x664)49) our room at W Istanbul

DSCN1338_4709 (2) (768x1024)50) it had a great bathroom with a fabulous shower

DSCN1342_4713 (1024x768)51) the shower even could be used as a hamam

DSCN1345_4716 (2) (1024x768)52) lunching at Okka, the restaurant at W Istanbul – those tomatoes you see there were THE BEST tomatoes I’ve ever eaten… go figure!

DSCF0085_4798 (2) (768x1024)53) here along Nevizade street you’ll find a rabbit warren of cafes …. and a bordello where young Istanbul lads hover gawking at the whores coming and going

DSCF0091_4803 (2) (1024x768)54) before dinner at Mikla, we enjoyed cocktails at The Orient Bar at the Pera Palace Hotel, famous as the regular hangout of  Ernest Hemingway and Alfred Hitchcock

DSCF0092_4804 (2) (1024x768)55) me at The Orient Bar

DSCF0102_4814 (2) (1024x768)56) at Mikla, grouper tartare amuse

DSCF0105_4817 (2) (1024x768)57) vegetables & zeytinyagli

DSCF0108_4820 (2) (1024x768)58) crispy hamsi, olive oil bread, lemon

DSCF0109_4821 (2) (1024x768)59) salted & dried beef tenderloin, humus, antep ‘birdshit’ paste

DSCF0110_4822 (2) (1024x768)60) slow cooked grouper, roasted tomatoes, capers

DSCF0111_4823 (2) (1024x768)61) trakya kivircik lamb shank, smoked eggplant, tuzlu yoghurt, stew of kayseri sucuk, chard, peas and plum pestil

DSCF0115_4827 (2) (1024x768)62) sari celtik rice pudding with mastic, sour apple sorbet, black mulberry crisp

DSCN1224_4526 (1024x768)63) G heads down to catch the tramway from the Witt

DSCN1325_4696 (2) (1024x546)64) ah, the hamam (sorry, no pictures)

IMG_3750 (2) (765x1024)65) out for pizza in the narrow streets of Cihangir

IMG_3751 (2) (1024x765)66) ymmy!

IMG_3752 (2) (1024x765)67) … as was the salad; rustic and yummy

IMG_3753 (2) (1024x807)68) Taksim Square

DSCN1324_4695 (2) (1024x767)69) our pet kitty that lived outside the entrance door to the Witt at all times of the day and night

DSCN1350_4721 (2) (1017x1024)70) G strolls near the Dolmabahce Palace

DSCN1352_4723 (2) (1024x919)71) with its very cool trees

DSCN1333_4704 (2) (1024x514)72) we paid a visit to the 13th Istanbul Biennial – a great art show built in the experimental/performance art vein

IMG_3776 (765x1024)73) which then lead us to a trip to Istanbul Modern

IMG_3775 (765x1024)74) G explores the installation outside the Modern …. these umbrellas were linked (below) to the water and swayed with the tides

IMG_3777 (1024x765)75) the Modern’s sculpture gallery

DSCN1360_4731 (2) (1024x841)76) Hagia Sofia – iconic – first built in 360AD and most famously rebuilt by Emperor Justinian in 532. It was the central seat of religious power in the East and site of the crowning of its Emperors

DSCN1397_4768 (2) (768x1024)77) entering Hagia Sofia. Converted to a mosque in 1453 it was the father of modern Turkey, Ataturk who converted it permanently to a museum in 1935

DSCN1364_4735 (2) (1024x768)78) the church’s massive dome with its islamic influences

DSCN1368_4739 (2) (1024x689)79) and again with its six-winged cherub

DSCN1378_4749 (2) (1024x768)80) a close-up of the cherub

DSCN1374_4745 (2) (1024x768)81) moi in Hagia Sofia … so very glad to finally visit here

DSCN1371_4742 (2) (1024x768)82) detail of the Deesis mosaic showing Christ … considered the finest mosaic in the church, it was created around 1261

DSCN1380_4751 (2) (768x1024)83) detail of one of the church’s stained glass windows

DSCN1382_4753 (2) (1024x768)84) gorgeous detail on the screen eh!

DSCN1383_4754 (2) (1024x768)85) here you can see the arabic additions are actually wooden

DSCN1384_4755 (2) (1024x768)86) the Commenus mosaic depicting the Virgin Mary and (on left) Emperor John II Commenus; dates to about 1122

DSCN1413_4778 (2) (1024x735)87) what a beautiful sight

DSCN1399_4770 (2) (1024x768)88) a welcome drink at Matbah Ottoman restaurant

DSCN1408_4773 (1024x768)89)  the terrace at Matbah

DSCN1407_4772 (2) (1024x576)90) the view

DSCN1410_4775 (1024x768)91) a sampler plate that include stuffed squid and grape leaves

DSCN1411_4776 (1024x768)92) the lamb dish

DSCN1412_4777 (1024x768)93) chicken fit for an Emperor … or so it was said

DSCN1390_4761 (2) (1024x768)94) the Sultanahmet Mosque, aka “The Blue Mosque” … I took this photo from a window at Hagia Sofia

DSCN1418_4783 (2) (1024x768)95) the Blue Mosque was built in 1617

DSCN1423_4788 (2) (1024x768)96) we arrived inside just after prayers ended

DSCN1425_4790 (2) (1024x768)97) the dome is magnificent in black and white ….

DSCN1422_4787 (2) (1024x768)98) and in colour! (this one is worth double-clicking and opening large)

DSCN1426_4791 (2) (1024x768)99) looking off to one of the sides of the mosque

IMG_3770 (2) (1024x765)100) the Blue Mosque framed amid the domes of Hagia Sofia

DSCN1301_4603 (2) (1024x768)101) the glorious Basilica Cistern built by Emperor Justinian I in the 6th century took 7000 slave to construct and could hold 100,000 tons of water

DSCN1304_4606 (2) (1024x768)102) there are some 336 beautiful columns that support the structure

IMG_3780 (1024x765)103) and when in Istanbul, do as the Istabulites, here I am trying a hookah pipe

104) and the live video version … it’s dreadful really (ours was apple favoured)

DSCN1321_4692 (2) (1024x512)105) a shot from our balcony at the Witt of Istanbul looking oh-so-lovely at night (with the Topaki Palace on far left; Galata Tower on far right)

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