Some of my friends have asked me to tell stories about Istanbul. Having heard that I have visited Istanbul several times, they wonder if Istanbul really would be an interesting holiday destination. A considerable amount of Estonians annually visit well-known Turkish holiday resorts, but few have discovered Istanbul. For me Istanbul is a real treasure box. Every time I open this box, I’ll find something unexpected, thrilling. Honestly, it is difficult to tell one story about Istanbul. Whether to focus on the Old Town, Bosphorus, fantastic mosques, tasty food, people? Where to begin?! Now I have time and space for my stories about this city. Thanks to Özgür, he offered me this opportunity.
My first rendezvous with Istanbul was rather confusing. It was one fine sunny day in April. I arrived from rather cool Tallinn (Estonia) after some hours flight and landed in the middle of a most vibrant city I´d ever seen. People, people, people everywhere. Nonstop flow. Random. Curiosity. Lot of police on the streets. Smells. Traffic. Music.
Two and a half days on the conference meant that I did not see anything except the conference room, Taksim Square and the Topkapi courtyard restaurant, where the conference dinner was held. I left Istanbul with a certain anxiety and was sure that I´ll be back as soon as possible.
It did take me 4 months. Did quite a lot of homework and resarch on Istanbul. We were back standing on Taksim Square in the beginning of September. Ramazan was ending (pity!). This time I had persuaded my best friend Kaire to come with me. And I can tell yo, she didn´t regret it for a minute.
The first few days we managed so-called main touristic routes – Istiklal street, Sultanahmet, Topkapi Palace, Blue Mosque, Bosphorus boat trip … It was all very exciting. We took us time to see and feel and digest. But we wanted to step off the high streets and look into the “backyards” of the city, seeking different Istanbul (like many tourists wish…). I think we did manage to find true colors of Istanbul, but there is more to discover. That´s why I am coming again and again back to this place.
Travel guides and handbooks offer us traditional must-see-must-do lists. When speaking about mosques, I´ve tried visited some in Istanbul and I like them all. Really, no doubt. But I have some special favorites - Blue Mosque (Sultan Ahmed Camii), Süleymaniye Mosque, Hagia Sophia (Ayasofya), Sokullu Mehmet Pasha Mosque and Tiled Mosque (Cinli Camii) in Üsküdar. Mosques are certainly one of the reasons why I am so fascinated about Istanbul. Architecturally and spiritually powerful buildings. I prefer just to be there, sit and think.
Back to first impressions. I tend to be somewhat cautious about places that are highly recommended to visit. But I highly recommend my friends to visit the Blue Mosque. And, moreover, now I visit this mosque every time I am in Istanbul. Blue Mosque amazed me. It can be easily captured from different points in Istanbul, from Bosphorus and Marmara (and probably from Golden Horn?). This mosque is as majestic as you can imagine. We visited Blue mosque first during Ramazan and had a privilege to be present during the prayer time which is generally not allowed for visitors. (Thanks Kenan for helping us in!). The interior is a masterpiece in delicate blue. Different shades of blue. Domes, semi-domes and vaults decorated with floral ornaments, tulip designs on Iznik tiles, verses from Kuran. Electric light and daylight pouring in through small windows create a cozy, soft and welcoming atmosphere. Of course, Blue mosque is extraordinary, but my advice would be to my friends who will be going to Istanbul some day – visit mosques away from main streets, in quiet neighborhoods. You´ll find beautiful pearls there.
By the way, many of my Estonian friends have been very surprised that also non-Muslim foreigners can visit mosques. The power of prejudice … But there is an easy recipe against prejudice – observe local people, make friends among them, follow local customs and you are always welcome.