Istanbul, once Constantinople, a cosmopolitan city that is a Turkish Delight. I came here as a birthday present to myself, a long-awaited trip I’ve dreamt of for years. With a history of empirical rule that spans across two millenias, there lies an anciently modern feel in what’s known today as Istanbul. What once was the empire of the world falls, to create a new empire keeping the architecture and traditions alive with historical significance.
Before traveling I had several dreams of being in the Hagia Sophia what was heard in my dream was:
So I booked a ticket to Istanbul.
After booking in the international news happening a young American woman was murdered. Needless to say, I heard a bit of backlash. Yet, I took a chance, because I’m a risk-taker. More importantly my living dream was instated in this mecca of culture and city.
As for my hotel, I will express my love for it to you; it’s by far the best hotel experience I’ve ever, ever had.
Like a genie in the bottle and much more than 3, my every wish was granted. From the staff, to the spa, to the restaurant, to the concierge. The staff was beyond amazing, I got to know most people by name. The service was personalized in a way that I felt cared for like never before in a hotel. I was given tea when sick from the lovely lady who ran nightly guest services. I was suggested where to go and what to do by the navigator. I was questioned every time I came in how my experience was, what my favorite parts were, if I liked everything so far. I was brought coffee and breakfast dishes in bed, without asking for.
My experience was truly out of a dream.
Renaissance is modern, sophisticated and sexy. The light fixtures of blown glass in shades of red and yellow are surreal. On second note, Istanbul seems to be full of astounding light fixtures.
After 24 hours of traveling, delays and no sleep I awoke my first day at 2 pm, wondering why I had slept so long.
My energy felt heavy with travel, imbued in my state, all I could think was: relaxation, purification.
My first stop was the spa downstairs where I indulged in a traditional turkish bath, otherwise known as a Hammam.
In this bath, I laid on a marble slab in a soothing room lit up by pale blue. As I lay there, covered by a thin sheet, I was wondering what I was in store for. At which point my bather gathered hot water from elaborate sinks into a large brass bucket, dousing me from head to toe. Soothing me to my core. I stepped back in time as this ritualistic bath warmed and cleansed me. This treatment was purification of mind, body and spirit, honoring of myself making it to Turkey and my birthday a bit too
My second treatment was an Ayurvedic massage that used about 4 liters of a special Ayurvedic oil poured on me.
Yes, 4 liters.
This oil was invigorating, working on the Saharsara or Crown chakra and 3rd eye Chakra. 3 of the 4 liters were poured on my 3rd eye, head and hair from an ancient brass instrument dripping oil on my head, tickling at first, it was almost to say uncomfortable, then I relaxed into it as I became used to the sensation. This same oil was used in an anointing way all over the body for a deep tissue massage.
Needless to say, this was invigorating and relaxing. I left feeling luxuriously refined, ready for what Istanbul had in store.
With new customs intertwining an ancient stillness that envelops this city, there is movement with a slow feeling of tranquil sensuality.
Images come to me of ancient people and smells, who were part of cultures centuries before, penetrating modern existence. This is breakdowns and restructuring, changing and shifting with the times, as we as a race have done so often. In Istanbul there is a conglomerate of cultural reference to bygone ages. The roots of this city have a formidable, yet inviting energy.
Hagia Sophia & Blue Mosque:
My first stop was Tutahnemet square, where the tourist relics I wished to visit were.
Upon entering the square the sight of Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque was overwhelmingly gorgeous. Coming to my mind were the mammoth amounts of energy taken to build such impressive structures. Therein lies an ancient strength in reverence to piety, as such I praise the minds that came up with such beautiful mastery. The ability and time it took to carve such finely laid intricacy in ancient times is astonishing.
The circling of what came before is still within the now and what is now will come to pass as the past, into a new wave of future = exaltation of now.
Aya Sophia’s structure architecturally has the golden ratio or Fibonacci sequence, the name translates to divine knowledge. I believe all creative processes we are gifted with, from the arts to science, religion to music and more come through a ratio as such. I think this symbol is the perfect example of this thought, found on the ceiling in the Hagia Sophia. To me this is a representation of humanity’s evolution; a merging of ideals, ideas and time spans.
Looking at the inlaid inscriptions, still there after thousands of years I realize there is a mystery of Hagia Sophia, the inscriptions tell a story of some of the different faces and names divinity has taken throughout history. First built as a church in 532, it was rebuilt twice and changed into a Mosque in 1453 with the new Ottoman rule. A cultural treasure to beautiful architecture standing the times.
I visited the impressive Blue Mosque. It was my first time entering a Mosque, in honor I covered my head with my hood and walked inside taking my shoes off. I revere the architectural masterpiece that it is, in a larger, quieter, beautifully subdued way. With current religious practices taking place, it left me in a hushed reverence of honoring Islamic worship.
Mimar Sinan designed the Blue Mosqe known as Sultanhmet Mosque and many other architecturally astounding Mosques around Istanbul. He also redesigned Hagia Sophia in the mid 1500′s when it was a Mosque.
The underground roots of Istanbul, this cistern was built in the Byzantine empire as their ancient waterways. I’ve never seen nor imagined something like what this maze of waterways consists of. The passages are symmetrically perfect columns of differently carved structures, where old waters from the Belgrade forest circulated through.
With a past of mythological presence at the end of the passages there are two separate gigantic heads of Medusa; one upside down and one on its side. Ancient to the times of Constantinople, they were brought from ruins as relics. viewing from 2013, I think what a perfect oxymoron that is to now.
These heads are thought to be omens keeping away bad spirits, like a time capsule, only the empire holds the secrets to why they’re really placed there.
As I walk through I feel almost breathless, chills run through me, even though it’s quite warm. There is a beauty that is uncaptured and untouched down under. As though the times are unchanged and when walking through it can be felt in a compelling way.
I meander around the square, stopping before each relic to sit and have a Turkish coffee and dish. Rich flavors of the mediterranean represent turkish fare, cheeses and spices with creamy overlays, light foods like tomatoes and cucumbers, carrots with fish dishes. Ah, and the Turkish coffee, mmmmmmmm, like a rich, sweet espresso with grounds left in.
The obelisks I knew about before knowing about. Brought here as ancient relics to the Byzantine empire, they’re about, give or take, 3,000 years old. It looms over the plaza with Egyptian hieroglyphs lighting up each side, impressive and daunting with the clouds rolling in.
I was transported in time.
In Taksim square I met with a friend whom I met on the plane, we went to a local Hookah bar. Here, I experienced a more traditional Turkish feel of living, men and women playing backgammon and traditional card games, smoking apple flavored “Nargile” while watching Football. Drinking black tea and passing the Hookah, the place becomes eveloped in a sweet-smelling smoke.
During Islamic prayer time, the game is silenced, at which point throughout the city chanting of prayers is heard through the speakers, known as the Azaan or rise to prayer. Beautiful to my foreign ears.
I walked to Arasta Bazaar, an outside market in Sultahnamet Square. It was a gorgeous day to be walking around, with the sun peeking through the clouds.
What I thought was large Arasta Bazaar was minimal in comparison to the Grand Bazaar…
It’s in my opinion that this 500 year old indoor bazaar was the inception of a modern mall. The vendors sell everything from shoes, to lanterns, to silks to turkish delights, stones, jewelry, sunglasses to every and anything you can imagine, literally.
Overwhelming in its scope, one brightly covered tunnel lead to another. Turning right to turn left to find myself facing what seemed like a never-ending maze of retailers selling colorful, bright products. My eyes were awash in amazement, a unique experience……
I loved it. Mostly
I really love Bebek, a section of the city on the Golden Horn where cafes gorgeously dot the streets, with lounge music and what I would say an Istanbul feeling along the Marmara sea.
I love to taste the traditions of Turkish culture and couldn’t help but come to one of the most famed Starbucks worldwide. With four stories along the Marmara, it’s known for the best view of all their stores.
I was held in rapture by the panoramic beauty encapsulating this city. The gem is captured brilliantly with sailboats and homes sparkling the sea, everything lazily caught up in soft winds rolling over the hills surrounding the golden horn.
Relishing in the delights of a place called 40 Bebek, an eclectic cafe with a colorful Eurasian Turkish vibe. Writing and drinking a glass of Rose wine, eating goat cheese bruschetta that tastes delightfully rich, garlicky and perfect, I’m akin to falling in love with this city….. already?
I tried Lulu, outdoor on the street heated by lamps, in Turkish heaven. The music has the turkish flair of down tempo beats with horns, drums and vocal samples with displays of lights that feel warm and sensual against the sea.
Every day is an adventure, one that takes me for its own ride. I didn’t know what I was in for planning this trip and yet, I surrender to the pleasures I’m surrounded by. In an abstract way I have an idea of what I’d like to do, then like cracking a window the whole wall falls down and I’ve embarked on something extraordinary, daily. All I can say is that I’m falling in love with this city, I’m truly blown away by you Istanbul. I’ll be posting more soon.