Istanbul - Turkey
Getting to Istanbul really feels very different than western Europe. The city itself has different areas, the European area, the Asian area, and the old city area, so it has a lot to offer!
We took the metro as we feel confortable with metro systems by now to the old city from the airport. In the old city, we had the opportunity to visit the Sultan Ahmed Mosque (known by tourists as the "Blue Mosque").
The mosque is only open to visitors at certain times when Muslim people are not in there praying. (They pray about 7 times a day).
They have very good information outside about the fundamental beliefs of Islam, what the Qoran teaches and the a genealogical tree of the prophets. It said "One God, One Humanity, One Religion, Many Prophets"
It is great to have this kind of information before entering a religious place like this, as it gives a little bit of perspective on the culture.
Before entering there is a place with lots of faucets to wash your feet, (called abstination).
The reason why is because Muslim people touch the ground with their forehead and nose, so they ensure the sacred place is clean.
Also there is a dress code, you have to take off your shoes, they don't allow shorts or any showing of skin on the shoulders, and also you need to cover your hair. Don't worry if you don't have clothes, as they will lend you some when you visit.
Here is a picture of my outfit before going in.
Inside it's decorated with colorfull tiles. From far they look mostly blue, so that's why it been called the blue mosque.
Outside the mosque there are several squares, parks and beautifull fountains
plus around it you can find the Aya Sofia entrance, the Basilica Cistern and the Topkapi Palace.
We also went to see a deverish dance. Which it was first created as a meditation ritual. The one we saw was in a building built in 1500 and it had 5 performers. They spin and spin for about 45 mins and they were completely coordinated. I don't know how these people don't get dizzy!! As they also had their eyes closed. Very interesting!
On the other hand, I didn't know I liked Turkish food so much! My favorites are the kebabs, yogurt sauce, and the shimp casserole that they had. Also the pita bread and basically bread in general was great! As most restaurants we went seemed to make their bread in a brick/wood oven.
They also use a lot of spices in their food and if you are into it you can easily find spice shops like this one. (Not sure what they would do if a little bit of wind comes their way as all their spices would fly away!)
On the sweet side, don't forget to try the Turkish delight candies and my new complete favorite "Baklavas"
Also the bars have great music, great vibe and are very well decorated with colorfull Turkish cushions and Turkish lamps.
Most of them offer hukas too. We happened to go a place called "Just Bar" and made friends with the bartenders, it was pretty fun!
And don't be surprised when your waiters start some sort of show at your table!
Another highlight was the Turkish bath. Highly recommended!! We went to a really traditional place, so traditional that this bath was built by a sultan in 1400 for his own entertainment.
We did a couples bath and it was a great experience. It was basically a huge sauna all in marble (like a church), where you lay on a huge marble stone and sweat, then someone comes to scrub you and gives you a soap massage, while its still hot. My skin was the smoothest I have ever had it probably since I was a baby!
We also visited the Gran Bazzar, where we bought an amazing Turkish lamp! Now we just need a place to put it! :)
We said Good bye to Istanbul as we were listening to this prayer on the plane :)