In September last year, I went to Istanbul with my friend Anja. I may have mentioned that we have known each other for a very long time; we used to work together in Leipzig, at the heart centre. As we live so far away from each other, we make an effort to meet at least once a year. So we usually go on a little city trip. In 2012, we met in Amsterdam, last year in Istanbul and for this year, we actually have nothing planned yet. So any suggestions are welcome!
OMG, Istanbul was just amazing! Such a beautiful city!! I loved every bit of it. We stayed in a lovely hotel right in the old town. Not far away from the Blue Mosque.
The markets are just as colourful and amazing as one imagines them to be. But you do have to make sure to hackle the price and never pay the asking price upfront. Especially at the markets and the tourist areas, people trying to sell scarfs, food, whatever it is, are very persistent... so much so that, being unprepared for this, it could spoil your experience a little. However, you just have to be as persistent as them in saying no and you'll be fine. Yet, Anja just seemed to attract male sellers... I guess not only due to her beauty but also to her short hair. She is very cute! I got to take some images of her too, so you can see for yourself.
The food in Istanbul was also amazing and as soon as you go off the tourists tracks, it is incredibly cheap. Oh and the Baklava and Halva, wow!!! There are shops on every corner selling it and it is absolutely gorgeous! Although not quite as good as that which my friend Mata once brought me from Athens, homemade by her mum.
The most humbling experience for me was visiting a mosque for the first time in my life. My breath was taken away by the beauty and the peace you find inside! Having been brought up as atheist, I mostly visit churches to admire the architecture or to photograph a wedding. However, they are often rather cool and darkish. A mosque, however, feels extremely warm and bright and welcoming. I cannot explain why, and I am aware that I was tolerated in the main hall as a tourist, but I just loved sitting there and breathing in the atmosphere. Again, if you ever travel to Istanbul, I suggest to go off the tourist route and visit a mosque that is a bit further outside the city centre. I found the Blue Mosque a little overrated; other mosques are just as beautiful, or even more so. For the Blue Mosque, you have to queue, and once you get inside, it is totally busy and stinks of feet. I recommend Little Aya Sofya and Fatih Mosque, both stunning and if you are lucky, you are the only tourist there, which makes the experience all the more real and breath taking. But of course, they are by no means the only ones. Istanbul counts some 2900 mosques, isn't that amazing!!!
So, if you are ever planning to visit Istanbul, don't hesitate, it is well worth a visit!!! A true gem that connects the West with the East... or vice versa :-)