So I’ve been on a little hiatus from the blog. Jay has been in Europe for the past three weeks on vacation, and our office has been crazy! Also, in the last entry, I promised I would discuss Lauren’s familiarization trip to Turkey. Out of respect for the protests that occurred this past year, I decided to hold off until now.
To recap, Lauren visited Turkey and the Maldives back in April. The Maldives are a hotspot for honeymooners, but can be tricky to get to— which is where Turkey comes into play! Turkish Air offers nonstop service from Los Angeles to Istanbul, which provided Lauren with the opportunity to explore this culturally rich destination en route to the islands.
Many of our clients visit Turkey at some point in time, as it is a popular stopping point for cruises and layovers. Fortunately, we often work with an amazing tour operator (shout out to Turkey at its Best!) who helps to arrange flawless tours around the historic country. I was lucky enough to see Turkey when I was a young buck in high school and will never forget its wonderfully majestic structures.
Lauren found herself surprised by the amplitude of Istanbul’s cultural and religious history. The city is full of sacred landmarks and mosques, weaving together its Christian past and Muslim present. Lauren made a list of some of her favorite historical sites:
Hippodrome of Constantinople: “This is one of the largest chariot race grounds of the Byzantine Empire. You can actually see the course of the original racetrack, as well as the obelisks marking the area.”
Blue Mosque: “This is just a short walk from the Hippodrome. Completed in 1616, it is a combination of harmony and elegance. The mosque was part of a complex including tombs, fountains, kitchens and baths. There are 260 colorful windows which are stunning when the light shines through. The blue Iznik Tiles covering the walls have given the mosque its popular name, Blue Mosque, though no one in Turkey actually calls it that (that name was given by tourists, mostly). Its real name is the ‘Sultan Ahmed Mosque’.”
Basilica Cistern: “The Basilica Cistern was built in 532 AD by Justinian to hold the water supply for the Great Palace. It is 70 meters wide and 140 meters long with a capacity of 80,000 m of water. There are several hundred columns which are beautiful with the flow of the lights.”
Topkapi Palace: “This palace was the residence of sultans for almost three centuries. Located between the Bosphorus Strait and the Golden Horn inlet, the setting provides magnificent panoramic views. Construction of the palace was completed between 1465 and 1478. Being the imperial residence of the sultan, his court and harem, the palace was also the seat of government for the Ottoman Empire— meaning over 4,000 people lived in this palace! We visited the treasury section, where you can find the 7th largest diamond in the world: The “Spoonmaker’s Diamond.” The Harem, which was a dwelling for the Sultan’s wives, concubines and children, was guarded by eunuchs.”
St. Sophia (or Hagia Sophia): “Known as the Church of Divine Wisdom, this was the largest church in Christendom until the construction of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome 1,000 years later. This enormous dome was inaugurated by Emperor Justinian in 537 and is an architectural phenomenon. Definitely a highlight to see in Turkey.”
Lauren stayed at the Park Hyatt Istanbul in the upscale district of Nisantasi, which is a conveniently located and safe neighborhood. The hotel is walking distance from several fun restaurants and bars, and even the beautiful Bosphorus strait. She found the dining at the property to be spectacular, especially at the Prime Restaurant, which specializes in steak and seafood. She also recommends the 34 Restaurant at the Grand Hyatt (a causal dining option for locals and visitors) and Karakol Restaurant (a restored Ottoman police station with authentic local cuisine).
When visiting Turkey, you can’t miss the opportunity to check out the Grand Bazaar! This is the largest and oldest covered bazaar in Turkey with more than 4,000 shops. There you’ll find carpets, rare jewels, souvenirs in the sea of markets. The sellers can be a bit pushy for you to buy their goods, but it’s all in good fun, and part of the experience! Lauren described it as “crazy, hectic and funny,” and said she enjoyed bartering with the shopkeepers.
Some tips when visiting Istanbul:
- US citizens require a Visa entry upon arrive ($20 USD) which is paid for at the airport upon arrival in Istanbul.
- Lauren strongly suggests using the VIP express service in Istanbul Ataturk Airport. This airport is huge, complex, and can have very long lines, which can be frustrating. The VIP express service (“Prime Class”) helps to alleviate these issues.
- Istanbul is known for its manic street traffic! Be alert if you are driving or crossing a street.
- Check out the Sunset Cruise on the Bosphorus, which is a fantastic way to see the city from a different perspective.
I think it’s safe to say everyone in our office has been to Turkey now, so we will eagerly plan your adventure to this historical and culturally rich destination. Call Coastline Travel Advisors: (800) 448-2374.
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