Goodbye Europe ... Hello Asia!

After exploring the Spice Market, everyone met at a nearby dock to board a boat for our cruise on the Bosphorus. The Bosphorus is a strait that connects the Black Sea with the Sea of Marmara and Istanbul straddles the Bosphorus. We cruised up the strait along the European side and down along the Asian side admiring all the beautiful homes and estates lining the its banks.

Basilica Cistern

Big day for these boys!


We started the tour on Monday evening with an orientation/get-to-know-you meeting, and then headed over to the Blue Mosque. It was within walking distance of our lovely hotel, Hotel Obelisk. You may be looking at the photo and asking, "why is it called the Blue Mosque?" Its name is derived from the tiles on its interior. It's official name is Sultan Ahmet Camii.

The Best of Turkey - A Rick Steves' Tour

(top) (<< back) (next >>)

Home "Cousins" Istanbul Ankara Cappadocia Konya Antalya Pamukkale Aphrodisias Kusadasi & Ephesus Slideshows More Thanks

Rick Steve's Tours

Day 1: Blue Mosque ... Day 2: Basilica Cistern, Hagia Sofia, Turkish & Islamic Arts Museum, Chora Church, Grand Bazaar ... Day 3: Topkapi Palace (Janissary Band video), Egyptian Spice Market, Bosphorus Cruise, Train to Ankara

When it was converted to a mosque, they covered the walls but did not destroy the Christian symbols. It was very interesting to see Christian symbolism alongside Islamic symbolism.

Blue Mosque

Interior of the Blue Mosque
After exploring the Blue Mosque thoroughly, we headed to a nearby restaurant for our first meal together. It's funny to think back on that first dinner ... we were strangers at that point ... I wouldn't have thought I might become so attached to this group of people. And I had no idea how much I was going to enjoy this tour!
While we were there, we noticed two young boys dressed all in white and wearing crowns. Sidar explained to us that it was a big day in their lives ... they got to be "kings for the day" because that was the day they would be circumcised.

First, we started the day with an incredible breakfast ... no continental breakfast at Hotel Obelisk. We had cherries, apricots, oranges, olives, tomatoes, eggs,fresh yogurt with honey & preserves, and much more. Then we met at the entrance to the Basilica Cistern. Underneath the city, this cistern is the size of a cathedral. It now holds about a foot of water on the floor of the cistern in which koi goldfish swim. It is capable of holding 80,000 cubic meters of water! As we walked around on a raised pathways, they played music that helps to give a mystical feel to the place.

Blue Mosque ceiling and walls

Our first dinner together

Medusa's Head - Basilica Cistern

Interior of Hagia Sofia

Hagia Sofia
Next, we headed over to Hagia Sofia. Also know as Ayasofya or Sancta Sofia, it was built as a church when Christianity was the main religion. Then the Turks converted it into a mosque in 1453. And it was subsequently converted into a museum in 1935.


Our next stop was the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts. Before entering, we sat down as a group and had tea together. But due to still feeling a little jet lagged, I didn't spend much time in the museum. My mom and others, however, really enjoyed exploring this museum. I chose to quickly browse the museum and then head back to the hotel to rest a little before going to lunch and heading off to our next activity.

Chora Church mosaic

We were in awe of the beautiful mosaics
After lunch, we all boarded a bus to visit Chora Church. Chora Church is filled with the most amazing 14th century mosaics. They are simply breathtaking. I could have looked at them for hours. (My mom took the center photo. It shows, as well as we can, the detail of the mosaics.)

Mosaic detail

One of many corridors in the Grand Bazaar

Louise and Rochelle at an entrance to the Grand Bazaar

Dinner with Jan at Albura Cafe
Our last stop before dinner, was the Grand Bazaar, a labyrinth of stores and cafes. At every step someone is trying to get you to look at their goods ... carpets, scarves, jewelry, pottery, trinkets, and much more. It was very easy to pass a few hours meandering through the corridors.

The food at Albura Cafe

What a day! How did we pack so much in? And this was only the beginning of two incredible weeks.

We ended our day at Albura Cafe, a peaceful restaurant with delicious food. After that we headed back to the hotel and crashed!


Day 2
Day 3

Sidar walked us through the Harem teaching us about all the details

Tile wall in the Imperial Hall - the tile throughout the Harem was jaw-dropping

We spent this morning at Topkapi Palace. This was the home of Ottoman Sultans for nearly four centuries. We first explored the Harem, the living quarters of the Sultans and their many wives. Sidar taught us so many interesting little details ... we felt as if we'd entered the world of the Ottoman royalty.

Topkapi front gate - to me the castle-like appearance did not seem to fit with the rest of the palace

Sultan Harrison?

My mom and me in the Harem

Imperial Hall - Can't you imagine the Sultan being entertained here?

Janissary Band "Soldier"

Janissary Band
Janissary Band Slideshow & Video Listen to the music from the Janissary Band and check out my bold videography!

As we were finishing up in the Harem, we could hear music coming from the largest courtyard in the palace. Knowing that we were in for a treat, Sidar encouraged us to hurry toward the music. What we found was a delightful cultural experience: the Janissary Band. In Ottoman times a band such as this would accompany the army into battle. I read somewhere that the music gave morale and courage to the soldiers. If you watch my video and hear the music, you may be able to imagine the Ottomans marching to battle.

My mom and I watched the band until they marched away and then explored the rest of Topkapi Palace during our free time there. The Imperial Treasury was impressive ... silver, gold, diamonds, rubies, emeralds, jewels, jewels, jewels! The views of the Bosphorus was pleasant and relaxing ... oh, the luxuries that royalty has enjoyed!


At the end of the morning, we all hopped on the bus and headed over to Istiklal Caddesi, a pedestrian street in the modern part of Istanbul, for lunch. At Sidar's suggestion, my mom and I and a few other "cousins" went to a restaurant to eat some local delicacy ... was it lamb intestines? Whatever it was, I let the others experiment and opted for something else. I'm adventurous ... but not that adventurous in the food arena! Everyone (my mom included) seemed to enjoy the new dining experience. After lunch, we roamed Istiklal Caddesi.
Next on our itinerary was the Egyptian Spice Market.

A view of the Bosphorus from Topkapi Palace

Susan speaks with a merchant in the Spice Market

Can you name that spice?

Front of the Spice Market

A street near the Spice Market

Delicious dried fruits!

Edmond's downfall! ... Turkish Delight

The Spice Market was definitely one of my favorite places in Istanbul. It's so full of interesting sights and smells.

At this point in the day, my mom and I separated and I had the first of my treasured "solo" walks in Turkey. I loved being able to quietly walk around watching people all around me. I wandered around the Spice Market for a little while and then headed out to the surrounding streets. I found myself in areas where there were no other tourists ... and where none of the vendors tried to sell me something. And I soaked it all in ... mother and child sharing a tender moment ... the throngs heading wherever it is they're going ... men leisurely chatting, sharing the day's news ... life so much the same, yet so different than life where I come from. I watched, listened, and slyly took as many pictures as I could.


Waiting for shoes to be repaired

These guys saw me taking candid shots of people all around them and sort of gestured over as if to say, "what about us?"

Our cruise ended in Kadikoy, a part of Istanbul on the Asian side of the Bosphorus. Along with several other "cousins," we ate dinner at Yanyali Fehmi Ottoman Cuisine ... the food was delicious! After dinner we boarded a night train to take us to Ankara.

The homes on the Bosphorus are very expensive.

Me and Mom on the Bosphorus

Sunset on the Bosphorus - skyline of Sultanahmet (Istanbul Old Town)

Boarding the train

Stephanie and Reva in their sleeper car

We enjoyed dessert and a drink in the dining car before going to sleep
Day 1
Goodbye, Istanbul!