Just round the corner is the cruise holiday that you have been so looking forward to. Sailing on the Celebrity Reflection in the eastern Mediterranean is going to be a treat, but the most exciting part of this cruise vacation with Celebrity Cruises is going to be the two full days at Istanbul.
Minarets and mosaic, mosques and museums are what spring to mind when someone utters the word Istanbul. The old city or the new city? The Asia bit or Europe or a bit of both? Two days in this exotic city is a bonanza and such an exciting proposition. Istanbul is a complex city, so it’s best to be prepared and zero in on the top sights one should aim to see in the short time one is there. So here we have compiled a list of the ‘must –sees’ when your cruise ship docks at Istanbul.
Your first stop could be the Hippodrome that is as ancient as they come. Constructed over 1400 years ago as an arena for chariot races, over the years it has been used as a sports complex, social and political ground and history speaks to you here by way of the Serpentine Column erected by the Greeks in Delphi to honor the victory over the Persians.
An imposing sight from your cruise ship the six gleaming minarets are magnificent against the backdrop of the evening sky, and even more so close up. For a fabulous view try and enter the Blue Mosque from the west entrance (when you are coming from the Hippodrome). The sight is magical with the domes looming up before you. Inside the 260 beautiful stained glass windows and the 20,000 blue tiles that adorn the paneling only add to the beauty of this mosque.
The Hagia Sofia has had many avatars. This was once a church, then a mosque and today a museum. In 1935, the Hagia Sofia was ordered to be transformed into a museum by Kamal Ataturk and the museum today hold treasures that are rich in history. The insides of this imposing structure are lined with mosaics in wonderful colours and they reflect the Byzantine and Ottoman influence. Today the Hagia Sofia also known as the Aya Sofia is the greatest example of Byzantine architecture with its imposing marble pillars and beautifully executed mosaics. Definitely a must see!
The home of the Ottoman sultans since the 15th century, the Topkapi palace was converted into a museum in 1924, and holds an enviable collection of art and artifacts and also has the largest clock collection in the world. The Topkapi Palace is in the Sultanahmet area in the Old City, will be the highlight of your visit to Istanbul for sure!
The underground cistern is actually a cavern and was built in the 6th century to supply water to the palace complex in the vicinity. A feat of architecture it has 366 supporting columns and is illuminated by muted coloured lighting. The constant sound of dripping water is accompanied by strains of classical music and will immediately transport you into an age long gone.
Yes, we know you’ve just got off a cruise ship, but a small cruise down the Bosphorus river is something not to be missed! So hop to one of the boats in the morning and get a different perspective of the sights along the Bosphorous River as your boat glides through with sights of picturesque palaces, villas and villages on the shore line.
Located at the very heart of Istanbul is the Galata Bridge that spans the Golden Horn from Karaköy on the north to Old Istanbul on the south. From this vantage point from the bridge you can get fantastic views of Europe when you look westward and when you turn your eyes towards the east, you take in the Asia part of Istanbul. Under the bridge, do try out the traditional fish sandwich that is made by the fishermen of their fresh catch, on grills set up on their boats!
Now how can you go to Istanbul and not indulge in a Turkish Bath? The ‘hammam’ is l a major part of the Turkish culture, and to the Turks it means Cleansing as well as relaxing. Do give yourself up to this experience and though there are many of them, the most popular ones are Suleymaniye and Galatasaray and a typicasl ‘bath’ lasts about 45 minutes, go for it!
Navigating through a maze of 4000 shops is bound to be a serendipitous experience, and the Grand Bazaar is almost like a destination in itself! Everything you would want to buy is available from carpets to kilms, evil eyes to lamps, ceramics to hookah pipes, silver jewelry to mother of pearl ornaments. Be ready to have the time of your life haggling, bantering and then buying. Do it with a smile and you are bound to come away with goodies you always wanted but never had!
The aroma of the Spice Market or Egytian Market as it was earlier called surrounds you before you set foot here. The colours that greet you are a feast for your senses – flaming orange saffron, piles of delicious nuts, pistachios, almonds, figs and dried apricots, sweet smelling cloves and cardamoms. Wander around, buy some spices to take back home and generally chat with the tea vendors and shop keepers . Your visit to the Spice Bazaar, will expose you this mystical city called Istanbul.