|The Blue Mosque|
The last day in Malta was an eventful one having visited the fresh produce market at Marsaxllok and visit to the famous Café Cordina, before we boarded the flight to Istanbul. The hangover of the lovely stay at Malta and Italy would remain etched for a long time to come. When the flight descended at Kamal Ataturk Airport at 9.30 PM in Istanbul the city was wrapped in thick fluffy white snow and huge mounds of piled snow on either side of the runway. The sub- zero temperature and the icy wind was something which we had not anticipated. The driver of the taxi informed us that since the Christmas the city was in the grip of a severe cold weather. We sailed past the embankment of Bosphorus. Traffic to the city center, Sultanahmet was sparse and that enabled us to cover a distance of more than 30 km in just about 35 minutes. The courteous staff at the hotel offered us hot coffee and as it was getting late, we hit the bed and soon went to sleep.
As the day broke, we got ready and climbed to the terrace to enjoy the view of the city enveloped in fresh snow. It was reminiscent of the motor bike chase scene enacted on the roof tops for the James Bond movie” Skyfall”, but only this time there was no chase. The sumptuous breakfast comprising of various Turkish delicacies, different types of cheese set the mood for a long day ahead.
After wading through puddles of water and treading on glassy iced surface we were soon at the Sultanahmet square, from where the majestic Blue Mosque and Hagia Sofia came in view. It was a picture perfect with mounds of snow everywhere, a lovely fountain sending out the spray of cold water and delighted crowd of visitors flocking in. Hagia Sofia has an intriguing history of being once a Christian church, getting converted into a mosque where Muslims invoked Allah for a thousand years. The place was converted into a Museum in 1935 and draws thousands of visitors each year admiring the scriptures, the huge dome, an epitome of Byzantine architecture, relics from Bible and Holy Koran.
Adjacent to Hagia Sofia is the iconic Blue Mosque, a place worship where prayers are held five times a day. Six sky kissing minarets, more than 20000 handmade ceramic tiles, 200 plus stained glass windows with intricate designs, huge chandeliers and verses from Koran add to the grandeur of the mosque.
|The Grand Bazaar|
Topkapi Palace and Grand Bazaar are places that cannot be missed. The former needs more time to visit and enjoy the intrinsic beauty but to get a feel of the culture and creative genius of Turkish, a visit to Grand Bazaar is a must! The curio shops, the artifacts, the carpets, aroma of Turkish coffee and whiff of Bakalwa and Turkish delights will melt even the strong willed misers to loosen their purse strings.
|Baklawa and Turkish Delights|
The city is very well connected with a network of metro and the next destination was Eminonu which is the heart of the walled city of Constantine. It is also the confluence of the Bosphorus River where it meets the Sea of Marmara. The distant New Mosque, Galata Tower and the adjacent Galata Bridge are sights that cannot be forgotten. There is a galore of Fish n Chips restaurants right on the Galata Bridge. There is a huge Spice bazaar and one of the oldest shops Hafiz Mustafa established in 1864 serves as a magnet for those with a sweet tooth. The variety of Turkish sweets on display is dazzling and enticing at the same time. It has featured in all major travel shows across the world from CNN, BBC and many more.
One must not forget to taste the Turkish breads and Mezze that are available in restaurants in Sultanahmet area. It is a paradise for foodies of all hues no matter what may be one’s choice of food. There could have been a no better grand finale than the last leg culminating at Turkey after hopping across the three nations as diverse as chalk and cheese.
Exactly after one week of return, the news of a human bomb striking the Sultanahmet area and killing a number of German tourists reminded of the grim reality that looms large no matter where we go.