Magnificent and Mystical Moments in Istanbul
Our recent trip to Turkey’s famous city showed us just how seamlessly diverse cultures and religions can blend.
Istanbul will always be a unique and vibrant city where the East meets the West. We were inspired by its beauty, rich history, and distinctive amalgamation of culture and religion.
Known as the place where Europe meets Asia, Istanbul is literally situated on both continents. The European side of the city is separated from its Asian counterpart by the Bosphorus Strait, with a pair of bridges connecting the two sides. This marriage of ethos is reflected in Istanbul’s history, architecture, cuisine, and its people. From our spacious accommodations at the Raffles Hotel in Zorlu Center, the hub of luxury shopping, we could look out toward the bustling sidewalks of the European quarters, as well as the Bosphorus Strait, where the two continents come together. At the end of each day, we’d reflect on all we’d seen and experienced as we watched the throng of people below from the quiet of our suite.
Our close friends and partners ensured that we spent time enjoying the capital’s highlights, including the Hippodrome, one of the largest chariot race grounds of the Byzantine Empire, which is based on the design of the Circus Maximus in Rome. It was the heart of Constantinople’s political and sporting life and the scene of games and riots through 500 years of Ottoman history. The Blue Mosque, steeped in the sunlight afforded by its 260 windows, is also stunning. There is something feminine about its beauty, and we spent time studying the intricate details of the delicate blue Iznik Tiles that comprise its walls and give the structure its name.
Beneath the city, we enjoyed a tour of the Basilica Cistern, the largest ancient cistern and the setting of the James Bond movie, From Russia with Love. The Hagia Sophia, the Church of the Divine Wisdom, represents Istanbul’s defining intermingling of Christianity and Islam. The space has been used as a place of worship by both religions, and it was a prominent church in Christendom before Constantinople’s conquest in 1453, when it was converted into a Mosque. Its superb mosaics feature tribute to Christian holy families as well as Islamic symbols.
We also paid a visit to the Grand Bazaar (another James Bond backdrop, more recently for the movie Skyfall), the largest and oldest covered bazaar in Turkey—in other words, the world’s oldest mall. We were pleasantly overcome by the rows and rows of shops, the sea of eager merchants, the wafting smells of the Spice Market—from coffee to chili powder—and the general atmosphere of high energy commerce. Afterwards, we were treated to a private tour of the magnificent carpet shop owned by the husband of our VIP Host. We marveled at the beauty of these carpets, as well as the intricacies of their processes—from the sourcing of the threads to the design conceptualization to the expert craftsmanship. These works of art retail from 5,000 EU to 1.5 million EU, and with just one touch you could see why. Afterwards, our guide hospitably invited us across the street to his friend’s antique shop, where we enjoyed a scotch as we discussed the store’s impressive collection of museum pieces. That evening, we had dinner at one of his favorite local restaurants. We savored a memorable cut of turbot, a species of flatfish indigenous to the area, as well as dish after dish of light and flavorful cuisine, paired with fine Turkish wines.
One of our most memorable experiences was a delightful lunch at the Four Seasons Bosphorus, where we dined al fresco with our dear friend, Anet. Afterwards, we walked to one of the nearby historic areas with our tour guide, a warm and knowledgeable gentleman who shared his informed take on the city’s politics, history, and religions. Without pretense, he mentioned that he was supposed to go to the mosque for prayers that afternoon, but we had a full day of events planned that could keep him from this ritual. We quickly offered to rearrange our schedule to accommodate his prayers, and he was so touched by this simple gesture that it spawned a candid discussion about his Islamic faith and the tenets and ideals that guide him – beautiful principles that would resonate with any person striving to be good. Love your neighbor. Care for your fellowman. Approach people with kindness and respect and without selfishness. Our friend valued generosity and hospitality, so much so that he refused to accept a tip for his expert services. We were also surprised to learn that although he is a devout Muslim, he will enjoy an alcoholic beverage, in moderation, of course. It reminded us that even here, faith is individual and personal.
The recent spate of attacks around the world are abominable, of course, but we didn’t let them taint our perception of this special place. One should always travel with awareness, not fear, so you can take in your surroundings without being overtaken by them. In Istanbul, you won’t want to miss the awe-evoking glimpses of history or the diversity that makes the city so vibrant and unique.
Looking to plan an unforgettable travel experience? Contact The Accomplished Traveler today at 212.586.2020.
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