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Istanbul is where East meets West, Europe bumps up against Asia and old meets new. On my quick visit to Istanbul, known as the “Queen of Cities” during the Middle Ages, the opulence of the Topkapi Palace, intricately designed domes of the Blue Mosque, historical significance of the Hagia Sofia and the cacophony of the Grand Bazaar combine into one exotic day in this Turkish city on the Bosphorus.
Of course I recommend a longer vacation to truly explore the city. If you’re planning travel to Istanbul, stay at the 5-star Swissotel The Bosphorus Istanbul for a centrally located headquarters. And while you’re there, don’t miss these Istanbul highlights.
Looking up in the Blue Mosque
Six minarets stretch to the sky as I wait in line to visit Sultan Ahmed Camii Mosque, known to many as the Blue Mosque for the line of blue tiles decorating the interior. After placing my shoes in a plastic bag that’s handed to me and covering my head with a scarf that I brought along—I’m dressed modestly enough to make wearing one of the complementary robes unnecessary—I enter and immediately look up. My neck remains in that position for most of the visit, as the elaborate ceilings of the seven cascading domes demand my attention.
Lamps hanging throughout the Blue Mosque were originally decorated with gold and jewels. And the 260 windows contained elaborate stained glass windows, which have been lost and replaced with lesser copies. In its prime during the 17th century, the opulence must have been overwhelming. But, for now, I’m content to gaze up and photograph the beautiful domes.
Walking With Time in Hagia Sophia
From Sultan Ahmed Camii Mosque, I walk across a small park to Hagia Sophia, where an immense building seems as old as time. Originally a Greek Orthodox Church, later a mosque and now a state museum, Hagia Sophia is an extraordinary mix of Islam and Christianity. Through the centuries, the building has suffered fires, insurrections, earthquake damage and the plastering over of golden mosaics during its years as a mosque. The main floor is vastly empty but galleries on the second floor display some of the Byzantine mosaics that have been uncovered during restoration.
Imagining Life at the Topkapi Palace
Standing on a terrace at the Topkapi Palace, I gaze at the Bosporus and imagine what life would have been like as the wife of one of the many sultans who called the palace home. Of course I would have lived in one of the opulently tiled rooms where the harem resided. I wonder which of the jewels displayed in the treasury rooms I would have been allowed to wear?
Shopping in the Grand Bazaar
Later at the Grand Bazaar, old meets new as locals and tourists alike gather to browse the estimated 4000 shops. From flat screen TV’s to gold jewelry to tourist trinkets, there’s something for everyone. Practice your bargaining skills because that’s part of the fun. And don’t let browsing the shops distract you from protecting valuables from pickpockets. If you are not into shopping, do what I do—take a seat in one of the restaurants for a meal accompanied by people watching.
Planning for Next Time With Swissotel
Of course I‘ve barely scratched the surface when it comes to travel to Istanbul. On my next visit, I’ll stay at the 5-star Swissotel The Bosphorus Istanbul. Centrally located, and with a lovely view of the Bosporus, the recently renovated property offers rooms, suites and the new Swissotel Living concept, providing short-term luxury apartments that would make any travel princess happy. I think relaxing in the 65 acres of historical gardens would be a good ending to vacation days spent wandering the exotic streets of Istanbul.
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