After our sunny stop in Mykonos, Greece, our cruise on the Celebrity Equinox ventured to a different country to visit what is consistently rated as one of the most beautiful and enchanting cities in the world… Rich in history and a unique atmosphere, it will definitely take your breath, and attention span, away.

Catch an eyeful of Istanbul, the original Constantinople

From the view on our cruise ship, it felt as exotic as stepping into a spice market, literally because Turkey is a single country situated in two continents. Istanbul is the only city in the world located on 2 continents. It’s the nearest Asian city to Europe, and the nearest European city to Asia.

The Asian and European side of Istanbul is separated by the Bosphorus, the strait which connects the Black Sea and the Sea of Marmara. The ancient city has an eclectic vibe to its lifestyle, people and sights, consisting of palaces, mosques, churches, museums, bazaars and other wonderful places to visit. It’s not advisable to visit all of them by foot, because they are spread around.

We were lucky to explore Istanbul by coach, and had our very knowledgeable guide Tuna giving us all the best tips. Unlike Florence, Santorini or Mykonos, Istanbul is a very large city and walking by food might leave you tired and muggy, since it’s a bit humid outside.

Even while driving around the city, one couldn’t help but be enthralled by the ancient structures that litter post-modern buildings. Founded in 6BC as Byzantium and refounded in 330AD as Constantinople, Istanbul was THE Eastern European imperial capital for over 15 centuries

For our first stop in Istanbul, we readied our sunglasses, sunblock, and sandals. It was HOT out. Oh, and if, during this cruise, you notice my mother’s lavish outfits, don’t blame her. She lost her luggage at the airport in Rome before boarding the cruise ship, so she had to resort to borrowing clothes from my aunts in the group. Some were quite festive, like her above moo-moo.

First Stop: Topkapi Palace

No, it’s not Disneyland! From the outside, it does resemble the place where dreams, and history, are made of.

Topkapi Palace was once the grand abode for the Ottoman Sultans and their Harem

Built after the Conquest of Constantinople in 1453, the imperial palace-city was originally intended to be a summer palace

The interior garden was enveloped by the complex quarters of the Palace, and was filled with cypress trees. Such a pretty garden to walk on.

Now a museum for Byzantine artifacts, the Imperial Treasury converted the palace to holding rooms for gems such as an uncut emerald weighing 7lbs, a pearl studded throne, the golden Topkapi dagger and other treasures.

ToT & Mother heading out to visit the 76 carat diamond. I think she wanted to buy it, or at least try it!

The Topkapi Palace was built on the shores of the Bosphorus, hence the unbelievable view

Great View = Awesome Photo Op!

Individual buildings near the Bosphorus Strait.

Mother & Siblings bored from the culture.

Once we exited the Topkapi Palace, we decided to walk to our next major destination.

But behind the walls of the Palace was a beautiful courtyard with roses converted into a cafe. I wanted to stop and take a refresher. It reminded me of old world Intramuros in Manila, and the tour I did felt oddly similar to Carlos Celdran’s. I was craving for something to munch on but we decided to move on.

Our next destination: The Hagia Sophia Museum

Or, in Turkish, The Aya Sofya

Such a magnanimous sight, it took tens of thousands of workers during Emperor Justinian’s time to build this structure in 532-537AD. Originally a basilica, today it still stands as Istanbul’s most revered Byzantine monument.
Archaeologists knew this as a Theodosian Church.
But after Constantinople’s conquest in 1453, the Ottomans turned the Basilica into a mosque, hence the mixture of Christian images mixed with Muslim characters

Here’s the intricate mosaic of Archangel Michael, and yes, the surrounding wall is composed of GOLD leaf.

This is the wishing column, which has a hole in the middle of the wall. It is said that if you make a wish and put your thumb in the hole, and if you’re able to twist your hand 360 degrees, your wish comes true. Any guesses what I wished for?

In 1932, they converted the Hagia Sophia into a museum and preserved the Islamic and Christian elements in its design

Renowned for its Byzantine mosaic decor and plaques of the sacred names of Islam, the Hagia Sophia at one time had the largest dome in the ancient world.

I have a major fascination with doors, and this was the Emperor’s Doors, which would only be opened when the great leader would grace the Hagia Sophia with their presence… I wanted them to open it for me… but kidding aside, look at the height of this door!

The Parentals thinking that what’s behind them is the Taj Mahal…

In actuality, the domed presence is the Sultan Ahmet Camii, or the Blue Mosque.

Bro being a total tourist. This is NOT the Leaning Tower of Pisa!

If you want to understand the art and architecture of Istanbul, you have to realize that their mosques are beyond comparison, and the Blue Mosque serves as a striking example of its craftsmanship.

It’s called the Blue Mosque because of the blue & white Iznik tiles lining the walls as well as the windows with stained glass which create a myriad of colorful effect from the inside looking out.

To enter the mosque, you have to pass through one of the low tunnels from the courtyard.

Also, no shoes! Luckily, they had a plastic bag roll for the shoes…

I won’t lie, the smell of the mosque reeks of feet even if they constantly change the carpet, which actually protects the real carpet underneath. Note the sweater because your knees and shoulders must be covered

The interiors are classic Ottoman style and design, and if you look up, you see a series of beautiful domes, Byzantine ivory work, intricately decorated tiles, and six different minarets. No other mosque in Istanbul could boast of a laundry list of perks like the Blue Mosque.

There’s no question about it, Istanbul’s interiors match the exoticism of its exteriors… which I plan on exploring extensively after visiting all these mosques…

Next Up: Food Finds!