The Topkapı Palace is a great example of why you should take in monuments twice. When I first visited in 1992, my short guided tour zoomed through a series of relatively modest, rather scrubby chambers. I was left underwhelmed and somewhat confused as to why the Topkapı was supposed to be one of the greatest surviving palaces in the world. It certainly didn’t feel that way.
When Thomas and I returned to Istanbul in 1993, we skipped the Topkapı and visited the Dolmabahçe Palace instead. On this trip, when we heard entry tickets were now a whopping $22 US – more than Angkor Wat – my first thought was, “NO WAY IN HELL AM I PAYING THAT FOR A BUNCH OF RUN-DOWN ROOMS!” But gut instinct told me to go again.
Honestly, I have no idea what happened on my first visit. Were they restoring 90% of the Topkapı in 1992? This time, we discovered a massive » Continue reading this post »
First Paris with my family, then Istanbul with friends. Our latest travels have been especially social – and we’ve been having a blast. Friends and Istanbul experts Özgür and Leonie went way out of their way to make sure we (and the rest of our group) got more than the typical tourist’s view of Istanbul. They showed us as well as friends Armin, Marc, Petra and Uri a few of their favorite local hangouts.
Without Leonie and Özgür, we wouldn’t have found great spots like the local produce market in Beşiktaş and the tea gardens in southern Kadıköy, where we had the pleasure of hanging out with Özgür’s cousins Oz and Bengül. They also introduced us to one of the greatest finds EVER » Continue reading this post »
We’re not big shoppers, but we love to wander through markets. Street markets, food markets, fish markets, spice markets, animal markets – we love them all. From China to Guatemala, Sweden to Madagascar, we’ve seen the best of the best. So we can say with some authority that Istanbul has some pretty spectacular markets to choose from.
Of course, the two most famous – and visually stunning – are the Grand Bazaar and the Spice Bazaar (also called the Egyptian Bazaar). Halls of carpets, walls of colorful lamps, and shops full of jewels, spices and Turkish delight will fulfill any visitor’s wildest dreams of Ali Baba chic. Turkish friends can stop groaning; people need a little exotic romance in their lives. Plus, they are extremely photogenic.
But Istanbul’s market scene goes way beyond » Continue reading this post »
For some reason, I was especially intrigued by the beautiful stained glass windows in Turkish mosques. Many Westerners never really see pictures of Islamic stained glass windows, so I thought I would put one up to let our viewers contemplate an art form that they may not associate with Islam.
Most of the windows in the major mosques were quite high and difficult to photograph, but I got this shot in the Mihrimah Sultan Mosque in Edirnekapı near the city wall. If you are wondering why mosque decorations, stained glass, and Islamic arts in general do not usually depict any people or animals, Wikipedia has a decent article on aniconism in Islam. That may seem a bit too esoteric at first, but it really helps shed light on the heat behind the Muhammed cartoon controversies, which many Westerners find quite hard to understand.
Not so coincidentally, my favorite building in the world is in my favorite city in the world. Hagia Sophia, consecrated in 537 A.D., is one of the architectural greats. Considered simultaneously the greatest construction of late antiquity as well as the Byzantine world, Hagia Sophia reigned supreme as the world’s largest cathedral for nearly a millennium until the construction of the Cathedral of Seville. In reality, there was nothing in the entire world that could compete with it from an architectural standpoint. (And there still isn’t in my mind.)
The Ottomans did their best to out-construct the wonder sitting in their backyard. And if we are talking about exteriors only, many would argue they succeeded. But nothing compares with the cavernous interior of Hagia Sophia. There is something magical » Continue reading this post »