Most call Paris the city of love. Not in my book. Istanbul is one of the most beautiful cities I’ve ever seen, rich with so much history and such a lovely combination of European and Middle Eastern culture. It’s the last place I expected to find love. I know this blog is supposed to be about Alara, but she wouldn’t be here if we didn’t meet. 😉 So here’s our story first.
I went to Istanbul in August 2009 with a friend to attend another friend’s wedding. I instantly fell in love with the city. We stayed in Ortaköy, which is right in the middle of the European bank of the Bosphorus. For those who don’t know, Istanbul is a transcontinental city, occupying both Europe and Asia. There’s a beautiful mosque located right near the Bosphorus Bridge, which connects the European and Asian side of the city.
This is where the wedding was located and this was where I met my husband.
A beautiful wedding, lots of wine and dancing was all it took to spark an instant connection.
We spent the remaining of the week exploring and sightseeing the city. I’m no history buff and I can’t possibly get into as much detail as I’d like, but here are some of my highlights from sightseeing the city. Not too far from Ortaköy is the Dolmabahçe Palace, which was the main palace for the Ottoman Empire from 1856 to 1922 and also the place where the first President of Turkey (Mustafa Kemal Atatürk) spent his last final days.
About 2 km away is Taksim Square, a beautiful modern part of Istanbul. Lots of great shopping, food, and the main transportation hub for the city. Now, the Sultanahmet District is part of the city where the most historical and beautiful landmarks are. The Hagia Sophia was first a Greek Orthodox cathedral built in the year 537 and was used as such for nearly a thousand years, before turned into a mosque by the Ottoman Empire in 1453.
It was used as a mosque until the fall of the Ottoman Empire, and is now a museum. The Hagia Sophia is an amazing clash of the Islam and Christian religion, with its interior displaying panels with the names of Allah, prophet Muhammed, and other prominent figures of Islam, along with paintings of Jesus and the Virgin Mary on its ceilings.
Across from the Hagia Sophia is the Sultan Ahmed Mosque, also known as the Blue Mosque because of its interior tiles, built in the early 1600s.
Right next to these two beautiful mosques is the Topkapı Palace, which was used by the Ottoman Empire sultans for nearly 400 years. The Palace is now a museum which displays kitchen wear, sultans’ clothing, jewelry, and some of the most amazing holy relics, including the prophet Muhammed’s sword and the staff used by Moses. This is the view of the city from the top part of the palace.
Also near these mosques and palaces is the very famous Grand Bazaar, which is one of the largest and oldest enclosed marketplace in the world.
All of this doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of what there is to see and do in Istanbul, but these were some of the most memorable, and my favorite, major landmarks. See below for my other Top Istanbul Picks.
That concluded my first trip to Istanbul. I came back home to Boston and we continued our 7 hour time difference, video chatting relationship. I flew to Istanbul again in November 2009 for a short 5-day long weekend, but this time stayed in his city Tekirdağ, which is still in the European side of Turkey. Tekirdağ is also a beautiful, Marmara seaside city and is where I met his parents for the first time.
December 2009, he flew to Boston to visit and meet my family, and he proposed to me on New Years Eve.
He moved here permanently and we had a very beautiful wedding with family and friends on June 26, 2010.
Exactly a year later on our anniversary, we flew back to Turkey with my family and had a very traditional Turkish wedding, with a traditional Henna night the day before.
Fast forward to June 2013 and Alara was born! That’s about it for our story. Or at least the beginning of it.
Here are some more of my Top Istanbul Picks!
- Sultan Ahmet District: Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque, Topkapi Palace, Basilica Cistern, Take a ferry to the Asian side of Istanbul
- Ortakoy: Ortakoy Mosque, Bosphorus Bridge ferry, Dolmabahce Palace, Maritime Museum
- Take a ferry to the Princes’ Islands (Buyukada and/or Heybeliada), no cars allowed just horse-drawn carriages and some lovely beaches
- Eminonu Pier (get a fish sandwich from a rocking boat and try their vinegar-ish drink)
- Taksim Square (Istikal street is a very boutique-style night life)