Some of our family friends in Istanbul have a house in Beylerbeyi right on the Bosphorus. After some shopping one day, we went back to their place for tea, and eventually dinner. The views from the outdoor patio, and living room window, are absolutely stunning. Talk about watching the world go by, I could sit there for hours. Tea consisted of cake, gozleme (a turkish style quesadilla), and homemade helva. And of course glass after glass of tea.
No trip to Istanbul is complete without a wander around the neighborhood of Sultanahmet, which includes some well know historical sites such as Aya Sofya (Hagia Sofia), The Blue Mosque, and the Basilica Cistern. This is also the neighborhood one is most likely to be told "you look like a carpet buyer", and invited back to the eager carpet seller's for tea. Aya Sofya was a Greek Orthodox Church built in the 6th century A.D., that was converted to a mosque in 1453 when Constantinople was conquered by the Ottoman Empire. In 1935, Aya Sofya was opened as a museum. The building itself is considered the epitome of Byzantine architecture, and wondering around inside and pondering history, while viewing orthodox mosaics and gigantic Islamic inscriptions alongside each other is an experience indeed.
The Basilica Cistern, where the Medusa head lives, is a Roman cistern that was built in the 6th Century A.D. The cistern was used to store water that was brought into the city from the Belgrade Forest to the north. Walking through the cistern is a surreal experience right out of the movies (literally), as many movies have been filmed here. There are many myths as to how and why the Medusa heads got to the cistern.
We also explored the Dolmabahce Palace, a lavish palace, built in the mid 19th century in the lavish style of French palaces (pictures of the inside of the palace are not allowed). Some say the expense spent on this palace was the "beginning of the end" for the Ottoman Empire, as tremendous debt was accrued in its building. The word "Dolma bahce" in Turkish means "filled-in garden", as the location that the palace sits used to be water, and was filled in with dirt to allow for the building of the palace and surrounding gardens.
We also experienced the legendary friendliness of the well-cared for cats of Istanbul, they are some of the cuddliest "stray" cats I have ever met, and we encountered them all over Turkey, not just in Istanbul. On this walk we also encountered this statue of St. George slaying the dragon.