I got to meet up with family in Istanbul, Turkey. We only had a few days, but it was enough to get a taste of how unique Istanbul is. It is the one place on earth where I have been able to see religion, land, and culture converge and grow.
- Religion: Of all the places I have visited, I have never been in a place that values religion as much as Istanbul, where in one block you will find a temple, church and mosque. The first place we visited in Istanbul was the Topkapi Palace. This palace has an extensive history, lush courtyards, elegant rooms and large jewels. What I thought was most interesting was its collection of religious relics, such as Moses’ staff and a piece of the Prophet’s beard. The Blue Mosque, pictured on the right, is still an active place of worship. It is such a large space for prayers and reflection. To be honest though, while the ceilings were beautiful, I did not really feel as spiritually moved in the Blue Mosque as I did in Hagia Sophia. Hagia Sophia, pictured below, is no longer an active place of worship but a museum that represents a dramatic history where it was used as a place of worship for Christians, Catholics, and Muslims. I hope that it remains a museum.
- Land: Besides experiencing the convergence of religions and empires in Istanbul, this is also where two continents meet. From the Bosphorus River, that runs through Istanbul, you can see Europe and Asia. Istanbul is split between the two continents. While on an enjoyable cruise on the Bosphorus, I got to see the Asian side of Istanbul but unfortunately never stepped foot on that part of town. I will just have to do that next time. For a little additional taste of history, explore an underground cistern. The one that we got to see, pictured on the left, has been converted into a mini museum.
- Food: Food in Istanbul is more than a necessity, it is an experience. On our first night in town, we ordered a meat dish that was prepared in a pot. When the dish was ready, the waiter brought the pot to the table, broke of the top of the pot in a dramatic fashion and then served us our meal. Seafood is plentiful. I saw a filet served that had a layer of salt on it. The waiter set the filet on fire and then chiseled the salt layer off. My favorite part of dishes in Istanbul is the flavor. I am not one for souvenir shopping, but I will purchase Turkish spices. Even if spices and other items are more expensive at the open markets, you should check out the Grand Bazaar anyway. (Just a side note: After ingesting my share of expresso and cappuccini in Italy, I was excited about having some Turkish coffee. However, unlike coffee in Italy, you will want to leave a little of the Turkish coffee in the bottom of the cup. If you don’t, you will be swallowing a lot of bitter tasting grounds. Unfortunately, I was not forewarned about this.)