Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Welcome to Istanbul

Welcome to Istanbul, Turkey. Every year in June-July, we organize a family trip where families with kids ages 8 and up can join us to explore Istanbul, cruise the Turquoise Coast and then visit Cappadocia.

This year, we had 8 families joining us so we organized two groups going parallel to each other. One group has 15 and another has 10 people. Each group has a guide throughout the trip. We'll keep you posted every day about our adventures, sites we visited, food we ate, activities kids liked, etc,...

Today our group of 4 families from Marin set off on a comprehensive tour of the Old Quarter of Istanbul which is home to most of the major monuments which reflect Turkey's rich history.  We started with the magnificent Aya Sofia which once boasted the largest dome in the world when it was built as a Byzantine Church in the 7th century.  
We marveled at the massive domes which were ornately decorated and perched in perfect architectural harmony one atop another.  The effect was stunning, as if one were looking up into the heavens.  After viewing the well preserved frescoes we walked across to the Blue Mosque where we soaked in the religious atmosphere of this venerable mosque which features some of the most beautiful blue Iznik tiles on the planet.  

Hobie and Jordan, in front of the beautiful tiles of the Circumcision Room, at the Topkapi Palace
Then we headed over to lunch at the famous Pudding Shop to sample some great local food.  This restaurant was a focal point during the height of he hippie trail from Europe to India and you can still read the articles about that era on the walls.  Our next stop as the atmospheric sunken cistern which was the water storage that supplied Istanbul for over a thousand years.  As we walked down below the city streets we entered into another world dominated by ancient columns that were salvaged from Greek and Roman ruins around Asia Minor.  The air was cool and the lighting was superb...Jale spoke of the famous James Bond film hat had a scene shot here in From Russia with Love where agent Bond sneaks under the Russian Embassy.  It is easy to imagine and feel the sense of mystery and intrigue here under the streets of Istanbul.  
Sunken Cistern, Photo by Henry Swisher
Our last stop of the day was the Topkapi Palace which was home to the Ottoman empire for over 700 years.  Courtyards spill onto inner courtyards as one makes there way through a maze of rooms and chambers dedicated to various aspects of the palace life including the amazing wooden carriages, the huge kitchens, the treasury, harem, living quarters and diplomatic greeting rooms.  Jale lectured about Ottoman history as we wandered through the Palace.  It was great to see kids were so interested in the history of Ottoman Empire.
Sam, trying on Ottoman style noble man's headwear
We needed our day with a big treat - a grand welcome dinner on the rooftop of our hotel which is strategically located just steps between the Aya Sofia and the Blue Mosque.  The views of Istanbul and the Sea of Marmara are outstanding and our group quickly bonded as we soaked up the city vibe.  As we drifted off to sleep we could hear the haunting call to prayer emminating from the Blue Mosque next door.
View of Blue Mosque, from the rooftop terrace of our hotel, Photo by Henry Swisher

Turkish wine tasting before dinner

Everybody loved eating imambayildi, an eggplant appetizer

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