A weekend in Istanbul

We don’t need a magic carpet to see this fascinating melting pot of the Christian, and Ottoman worlds. We can take a ride on the new Marmaray rail link, which has a stretch under the sea, to a fabled Turkish city, straddling two continents.

Istanbul is a bustling, modern metropolis where symbolizes the opulent riches of old, rub shoulders with the trappings of Turkey’s new economy.

Beyond the view of the spectacular skyline dominated by mosques, the Bosporus Strait divides the city; one side is in Europe. The Sea of Marmara lies to the northeast and the Golden Horn, to the south, is a scenic waterway for ferries and pleasure crafts.

From Sultanahmet square, the heart of the city, many of the main monuments can be reached on foot or by a network of trams, buses, and the bright yellow taxis, whose drivers usually have a modicum of English.

Spice Bazaar aka Egyptian Spice Market
You will find this colorful marketplace – the largest bazaar in the city – under an arched roof in the Eminou quarter of the Faith District. As soon as you walk in you’ll notice the aromas of coffee, cinnamon, saffron and cloves wafting by. Lining the narrow passages there are 85 stalls offering jewelry, sweets dried fruits, and nuts. Stallholders selling Turkish delight and lokum, are happy for you to taste their wares.

Topkapi Palace
Be dazzled by the glittering diamonds in Topkapi Palace – an opulent enclosure of courtyards, ornate rooms, and a Harem; the treasure – chest that housed the sultans for hundreds of years. It is now a spectacular museum. You enter through the Imperial Gate erected by Sultan Fatih. Its niches used to be gruesomely decorated. There is a wonderful view from the restaurant here, out onto the Sea of Marmara and the bridges that span the Bosphorus. Visitors to The Sacred Safekeeping Hall can see items including Moses’ staff, Muhammad’s sword, tooth, beard, and cloak while a soundtrack plays of the Quran being read live. In the treasury, itself are jewels, golden artifacts, emeralds the size of eggs, and the famous bejeweled Topkapi dagger.

Basilica Cistern
All the museums are closed every Monday so this would be a good day to go underground and say hello to the carved head of the Gorgon Medusa. This ancient Roman water-storage depot, a remarkable engineering feat with brick vaults supported on 336 columns, is eerily calm, and, of course, damp. The carving of Medusa was reused as a base of one of the columns which rests in water; the head is upside down and no one knows why.

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