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An Impromptu Trip to Istanbul

Shelly found a great deal on airfare to Istanbul, so we took an impromptu trip in March of 2014.  What a fabulous city.  The people were very friendly and helpful, and the food was delicious.  The mosques, bazaars, and other sites were very memorable.  We took a cooking class and prepared an authentic Turkish dish which we dined on, and toured and feasted on local delicacies.  It rained most of the trip but we had a great time anyway. 

When we arrived, we immediately went to see Hagia SophiaHagia Sophia is a former Greek Orthodox Christian patriarchal cathedral, later an Ottoman imperial mosque, and now a museum.  It was built in 537 AD at the beginning of the Middle Ages, and was famous in particular for its massive dome. It was the world's largest building and an engineering marvel of its time. It is considered the epitome of Byzantine architecture and is said to have "changed the history of architecture".

Right across from the Hagia Sophia is the Blue Mosque.  The Sultan Ahmed Mosque, known as the Blue Mosque because of its bluish interior decoration, is the most important mosque of Istanbul standing next to the Byzantine Hippodrome in the old city center.  It was built by the Ottoman sultan Ahmed I between 1609 - 1616 facing Hagia Sophia, in order to compete with it.  Its architect was Sedefkar Mehmet Aga, a poet and inlayer as well, and a student of the greatest architect Sinan.  When Ahmed I died in 1617, he was buried near the mosque and a mausoleum was built over his tomb.


We then hit the Topkapi Palace, a large museum in the old part of Istanbul. In the 15th century, it served as the main residence and administrative headquarters of the Ottoman sultans.  There is some beautiful mosaic work in the palace.

We stayed at the Sirkeci Mansion,  a beautiful, boutique hotel in the old part of Istanbul.  We took a cooking class and made ourselves a local Turkish dish.  It was fun and delicious.  Our hotel had a hamam, and we had a great Turkish bath and massage.  We also did a tour of Istanbul street food vendors.  We tasted all kinds of specialties, and Shelly even ate a sheep thyroid!  Really, everything was very good.

We spent some time in the Grand Bazaar, which was huge, full spices, Turkish rugs, and hundreds of shops.  It's easy to get lost, and we did.  We then went to the Basilica Cistern which is the largest of several hundred ancient cisterns that lie beneath the city of Istanbul.  

Lastly, we took a boat trip up the Bosphorus Strait to the Black Sea.  It is a narrow, natural strait and an internationally significant waterway located in northwestern Turkey. It forms part of the continental boundary between Europe and Asia, and separates Asian Turkey from European Turkey.  The Bosphorus has 620 waterfront houses built during the Ottoman period along the strait's European and Asian shorelines. Ottoman palaces such as the Topkapı Palace, and the Hagia Sophia, and Blue Mosque were visible from the strait.

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