Turkey in 2 Weeks: Istanbul – Day 2

Share It!Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Pin on PinterestShare on TumblrShare on RedditShare on LinkedInShare on StumbleUpon

On our second day in Istanbul we headed to Topkapi Palace – a huge Ottoman Palace that took a full 6 hours to explore!  The palace was constructed by Fatih Sultan Mehmet in 1478 and was the administrative center of the Ottoman Empire, as well as the residence of the Sultan for 380 years.

20151207_Istanbul Day 2_0774

Palace Grounds, Topkapi Palace – Istanbul, Turkey

Walking through the second of three courts, this huge palace compound once housed up to 4000 sultans, royal wives and children, concubines, eunuchs and servants.

Entrance, Topkapi Palace - Istanbul, Turkey

Entrance, Topkapi Palace – Istanbul, Turkey

The amount of detail found on every gate, room and chamber was so intricate and oozing with royalty.

Palace Kitchen, Topkapi Palace - Istanbul, Turkey

Palace Kitchen, Topkapi Palace – Istanbul, Turkey

The Palace Kitchens were enormous – having to feed 4000 residents is no small feat!  The kitchens took up 10 domed buildings, required 20 huge chimneys and was run by 800 staff.  In addition to which was a grand Chinese celadon porcelain exhibit – fancy!

Felicity Gates, Topkapi Palace - Istanbul, Turkey

Gate of Felicity, Topkapi Palace – Istanbul, Turkey

The Gate of Felicity, the entrance to the Third Court is a rococo-style gate and was used for state ceremonies.

Felicity Gates, Topkapi Palace - Istanbul, Turkey

Gate of Felicity, Topkapi Palace – Istanbul, Turkey

We took a lovely lunch break out on the marble terrace, which overlooked the Bosphorus Straight.

The Bosphorus Straight from the marble terrace, Topkapi Palace - Istanbul, Turkey

The Bosphorus Straight from the marble terrace, Topkapi Palace – Istanbul, Turkey

The Third Court was the sultan’s private domain and was filled with blooming flowers, marble fountains and terraces.

Third Courtyard, Topkapi Palace - Istanbul, Turkey

Third Court, Topkapi Palace – Istanbul, Turkey

The photo below is my favourite pic from Topkapi Palace.  After all the grandeur, it was a simple photo that I liked the most.  The stark composition, varied texture of the bricks and bright contrast of the red flowers against the white wall are what appeal to me about this shot.

Third Courtyard Topkapi Palace - Istanbul, Turkey

Third Court Topkapi Palace – Istanbul, Turkey

Also within the Third Court was the Imperial Threasury (no photos allowed!).  Home to the famous Topkapi Dagger and an 80 karat diamond, it was a pretty impressive display.  While all the sparkling gems were pretty, what really stole my attention was the huge weapons collection, which had some of the most spectacular swords and guns I have ever seen.  Some swords were so massive they looked to be fit for nothing less than a troll!

Third Courtyard, Topkapi Palace - Istanbul, Turkey

Third Court, Topkapi Palace – Istanbul, Turkey

This led to the Islamic Relic Museum, an interestingly entertaining collection of relics that I suppose would be impressive if one were religious.  We examined such rarities as Moses’ beard hair and footprints and swords from the prophets.  Yup.  Beard hair.  My boyfriend and I joked that he should preserve one of his beard hairs in a time capsule and bury it with the Satanic Bible.  Maybe some crazy cult in the future will worship him.

Marble Terrace, Topkapi Palace - Istanbul, Turkey

Marble Terrace, Topkapi Palace – Istanbul, Turkey

The gorgeous marble terrace housed the Baghdad Kiosk and the imperial circumcision room – both beautiful displays of Ottoman tile-manship

Baghdad Kiosk, Topkapi Palace - Istanbul, Turkey

Baghdad Kiosk, Topkapi Palace – Istanbul, Turkey

Circumcision Room, Topkapi Palace - Istanbul, Turkey

Circumcision Room, Topkapi Palace – Istanbul, Turkey

Our last stop was the Harem – a lavish 6 floor, 300 room complex that housed the imperial family.  We were only allowed to visit one floor which included the Imperial Council Chamber.

Imperial Chamber, Topkapi Palace - Istanbul, Turkey

Imperial Chamber, Topkapi Palace – Istanbul, Turkey

20151207_Istanbul Day 2_0764

Imperial Chamber – Harem, Topkapi Palace – Istanbul, Turkey

The Twin Kiosks below were used by the crown prince and is an example of the sumptuously decorated private apartments that the prince, the sultan and his mother once resided.

20151207_Istanbul Day 2_0766

Twin Kiosks – Harem, Topkapi Palace – Istanbul, Turkey

Below is another favourite photo from this day.  I left this photo untouched as I thought the stained glass windows were perfectly illuminated and brought out the cool tones of the room.

20151207_Istanbul Day 2_0773

Harem, Topkapi Palace – Istanbul, Turkey

The palace was fascinating, overwhelming and exhausting and it still amazes me how excessive royalty was – a similar feeling I had after visiting The Vatican.

20151207_Istanbul Day 2_0780

Sunset from Mikla, Beyoğlu – Istanbul, Turkey

My boyfriend’s aunt and uncle were visiting Istanbul as well, so we fought back our jet leg, and headed over to the Beyoglu district for dinner at Mikla, which had a perfect view of the city.

20151207_Istanbul Day 2_0788

Sunset from Mikla, Beyoğlu – Istanbul, Turkey

We enjoyed Turkish fine dining that night, the food elegantly presented with impeccable flavours and balanced compositions.  The dried beef tenderloin “hardaliye” was served with malkara lentil and sunchoke and the lamb ravioli “manti” was served with smoked Buffalo yoghurt, tomato, roasted garlic and sumac.

20151207_Istanbul Day 2_0795

Dried tenderloin, Mikla, Beyoğlu – Istanbul, Turkey

20151207_Istanbul Day 2_0798

Lamb Ravioli, Mikla, Beyoğlu – Istanbul, Turkey

As the moon rose over Istanbul, our exhausted feet made their way back to our hotel after another amazing day.

20151207_Istanbul Day 2_0802

View from Mikla, Beyoğlu – Istanbul, Turkey

20151207_Istanbul Day 2_0803

View from Mikla, Beyoğlu – Istanbul, Turkey

 

Turkey In Two Weeks – Day 1: Istanbul

Share It!Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Pin on PinterestShare on TumblrShare on RedditShare on LinkedInShare on StumbleUpon

My boyfriend and I were all set to travel to Nepal and hike the Himalayas when a week before our departure, the earthquake hit.  We were devastated for the people of Nepal and all their rich history that now lay in ruins.  We wavered if maybe we should still go to try and help, until our government issued a red travel advisory and our flights were canceled and being refunded.

Determined to still make the most of our vacation time, we had to act quickly.  We spent one day going around the world trying to find a destination that suited the warm climate we had bought gear for, a country that required similar (expensive!) travel shots, and a place that didn’t require a visa.  We discovered Turkey while looking through some G travel tours that were unfortunately standby only.  Turkey was always on my travel list, mainly because I had heard that Istanbul was an amazing city to visit, but I knew very little about the country in general.  We were immediately intrigued by what Turkey had to offer – a fascinating history, varied landscapes and cities and also lots adventure.  I managed to plan the first week of our trip before we left and had a general idea of where we would end up for the second week.  I felt very thankful for my past experience as a TV travel coordinator, booking last minute trips under pressure is my forte!

Before we knew it we were off!  We flew Air Canada to London and then connected with Turkish Airlines to Istanbul.  I have to say I was really impressed by Turkish Airlines, the service was four star.  There was also a chef on board who served us delicious local food, and they offered free booze to boot!  We arrived in Istanbul at 7AM, and though the city was very quiet so early in the morning, I immediately felt at ease.  Transit from the airport to the Sultanahmet district was straightforward, and we were able to walk to our hotel from the tram stop.  My review of the Ahmet Efendi Evi is on Trip Advisor.  For the most part I found all the hotels we stayed in during our trip to be small, but charming, with very helpful and friendly owners, and this one was no exception.

We headed right to Sultanahmet Park that lies between two of Istanbul’s most prized landmarks: the Blue Mosque and Aya Sofya.  Our early arrival was a blessing  as we managed to snap some really nice photos before crowds of tourists started piling in.

Blue Mosque from the Sultanahmet Park - Istanbul, Turkey

Blue Mosque from the Sultanahmet Park – Istanbul, Turkey

Sultanahmet Park - Istanbul, Turkey

Sultanahmet Park – Istanbul, Turkey

We decided to head to Aya Sofya first, and this turned out to be a wise choice as we avoided long lines later in the day.  Aya Sofya was commissioned by the Byzantine emperor Justinian, was then consecrated as a church in 537, converted to a mosque in 1453 and finally declared as a museum in 1935.  Much of Turkey’s history reads like this – establishments and cities being taken over by different empires or religions.

Aya Sophia from the Sultanahmet Park - Istanbul, Turkey

Aya Sophia from the Sultanahmet Park – Istanbul, Turkey

We walked through these impressive Imperial Doors and into the building’s main space. I was taken back by the sheer grandeur of the Aya Sofya.  I’ve been to churches in France and Italy but this one was so different and beautiful.

Imperial Door, Aya Sofya - Istanbul, Turkey

Imperial Door, Aya Sofya – Istanbul, Turkey

"Christ as Pantocrator (Ruler of All)", Aya Sofya - Istanbul, Turkey

“Christ as Pantocrator (Ruler of All)”, Aya Sofya – Istanbul, Turkey

Aya Sofya - Istanbul, Turkey

Aya Sofya – Istanbul, Turkey

Gorgeous, massive, low hanging chandeliers lit the huge space, the walls were filled with Ottoman details, Christian mosaics and impressive domes and archways.

Aya Sofya - Istanbul, Turkey

Aya Sofya – Istanbul, Turkey

Library doors, Aya Sofya - Istanbul, Turkey

Library doors, Aya Sofya – Istanbul, Turkey

Most prominent were the Ottoman Medallions that hung around the space.  These large medallions are inscribed with gilt Arabic letters that spell the names of God (Allah), Mohammed and early caliphs Abu Bakr and Ali.

Ottoman Medallions, Aya Sofya - Istanbul, Turkey

Ottoman Medallions, Aya Sofya – Istanbul, Turkey

Looking down from the upstairs gallery, you can get a sense of the magnitude of Aya Sofya.  The massive chandeliers from the first floor look so tiny from above!  High in the top corner you can still see the Seraph figure – one of four – that were originally mosaics, but were recreated as frescoes after being damaged during the Latin occupation between the years of 1204-1261.

Aya Sofya - Istanbul, Turkey

Aya Sofya – Istanbul, Turkey

Aya Sofya - Istanbul, Turkey

Aya Sofya – Istanbul, Turkey

One thing I miss about Turkey is pointing out every cat that crosses my path!  The country is filled with wild felines, which helped to distract me (a bit) from missing my own kitties back home.  Below is a black cat just like mine, taking a quiet moment to clean himself.  I love how I captured the light at this moment.

"Lucky", Aya Sofya - Istanbul, Turkey

“Lucky”, Aya Sofya – Istanbul, Turkey

Then there was the food.  Turkey jumped to the top of my list for favourite travel food (behind Japan, but tied with Italy).  For our first lunch we had juicy kebabs – a beef kofte wrapped in eggplant and a lamb kofta with pistachios.  I loved both, and swore then and there that I would consume nothing but kebobs for the next two weeks.  This vow didn’t last long however, as Turkey had so much amazing food to offer!

Kofta Kebab with Pistachio- Istanbul, Turkey

Kofta Kebab with Pistachio- Istanbul, Turkey

Kofte Kebab Wrapped in Eggplant - Istanbul, Turkey

Kofte Kebab Wrapped in Eggplant – Istanbul, Turkey

In the afternoon we bit the bullet and stood in a long line to check out the Basilica Cistern, a  creepy, never-ending subterranean structure also commissioned by Emperor Justinian.  Built in 552 it is Istanbul’s largest surviving Byzantine cistern and is constructed using 336 columns.

Basilica Cistern - Istanbul, Turkey

Basilica Cistern – Istanbul, Turkey

Basilica Cistern - Istanbul, Turkey

Basilica Cistern – Istanbul, Turkey

Cavernous and atmospheric, we took our time trying to capture the endless rows of columns.  I could help but think what a perfect set this would be to shoot a horror film!  Something like The Descent meets Dark Water.  The possibilities are endless!

Basilica Cistern - Istanbul, Turkey

Basilica Cistern – Istanbul, Turkey

Many of these columns  were salvaged from ruined temples, like this Medusa capital below.

Medusa column, Basilica Cistern - Istanbul, Turkey

Medusa column, Basilica Cistern – Istanbul, Turkey

For our first dinner in Turkey, we took the Lonely Planet recommendation for the Ahirkapi Balikcisi fish house.  Conveniently located right beside our hotel, this small, unassuming restaurant was a neighbourhood gem.  From the bread, to the eggplant to the fish – everything was so fresh and simple, my mouth waters now thinking of that meal.  We also discovered the popular Turkish drink, Raki.  Mixed with water, this light, anise-flavoured, unsweetened drink is similar to Ouzo or Sambuca – but much more addictive because, as we quickly discovered, it pairs well with everything!

Roasted eggplant at Ahirkapi Balikcisi - Istanbul, Turkey

Roasted eggplant at Ahirkapi Balikcisi – Istanbul, Turkey

Fresh sea brem at Ahirkapi Balikcisi - Istanbul, Turkey

Fresh sea brem at Ahirkapi Balikcisi – Istanbul, Turkey

Riviera Maya – Bahia Principe Akumal

Share It!Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Pin on PinterestShare on TumblrShare on RedditShare on LinkedInShare on StumbleUpon

After months of anticipation, the time finally arrived to celebrate my best friend’s wedding in Mexico.  We left the cold, rainy November weather behind and arrived late in Cancun, then driving for an hour out to Akumal in the Riviera Maya.

Riviera Maya, Akumal, Tulum, Mexico

Riviera Maya, Akumal, Tulum, Mexico

The resort was very nice and required shuttles to get around because it was so huge.  I wouldn’t classify this hotel as luxurious, but I wasn’t looking for luxury either.   Resorts aren’t usually my preferred way of vacationing but are a quick and easy getaway.  If I were to book an all inclusive, I would definitely return to the smaller resorts in Central America as I don’t care too much for a fancy resort, all I need is a beach and tasty, local food.

Riviera Maya, Akumal, Tulum, Mexico

Riviera Maya, Akumal, Tulum, Mexico

The beach was inviting, with lots of interesting coral and tidepools to explore.  The snorkeling was pretty decent right along the beach in front of our hotel and we swam for hours exploring the reefs, chasing fish and even saw a giant barracuda – at least 4 feet long with a piercing, menacing stare.  We kept our distance…

The food at the hotel was OK but pretty much the same fare every day.  While we loved all the seafood; different types of grilled fish, smoked fish and carpaccio, there wasn’t much variety in terms of local food.  The one restaurant we were able to get a reservation at wasn’t good at all.  We tried their International Restaurant – the food was way too salty and their martinis were pretty much undrinkable.

Luxury Bahia Principe, Akumal, Tulum, Mexico

Luxury Bahia Principe, Akumal, Tulum, Mexico

Service was hit and miss.  Free WI-FI was a scam, and if you wanted any sort of reliable internet service you had to pay.  That said, we were happy to be cut off from the world for awhile, but we wasted a lot of time trying to connect to this “free” service.  This was the only resort I’ve ever had to wait in line for to get into the buffet restaurant, I’m not sure why as there were always plenty of free tables once we were allowed inside.  The evening entertainment was quite impressive though, and we were treated to a Cirque de Soleil show one night.  I love the Cirque shows, I’m always so amazed at what the human body can do!

"Hope" - Luxury Bahia Principe, Akumal, Tulum, Mexico

“Hope” – Luxury Bahia Principe, Akumal, Tulum, Mexico

On the day of my friend’s wedding it poured rain all morning  My friend tried to cancel or move her wedding but was told they would be charged – and that there were two weddings that day and only one “b” rain plan, which sounded completely unacceptable to me.  The entire ceremony and reception was outdoors with no cover, I don’t know what we would have done if it hadn’t cleared up!

"A New Start" - Luxury Bahia Principe, Akumal, Tulum, Mexico

“A New Start” – Luxury Bahia Principe, Akumal, Tulum, Mexico

But, thankfully, after an hour delay, the skies cleared and the ceremony began.  I think that rain is really cleansing and many cultures believe it to be good omen so after the Persian wedding ceremony – called the Sofreyeh Aghd – was completed, my friends started their new life together walking down a fresh, clean path.

"To Love & Protect" - Luxury Bahia Principe, Akumal, Tulum, Mexico

“To Love & Protect” – Luxury Bahia Principe, Akumal, Tulum, Mexico

On our last full day we indulged in some couples massages on the beach and I finally scored some time with the bride and we spent the last few hours of the afternoon jumping among the waves and pelicans.

"Weary" - Luxury Bahia Principe, Akumal, Tulum, Mexico

“Weary” – Luxury Bahia Principe, Akumal, Tulum, Mexico

Brown Pelican - Luxury Bahia Principe, Akumal, Tulum, Mexico

Brown Pelican – Luxury Bahia Principe, Akumal, Tulum, Mexico

The brown pelicans that fished around the beach were so tame, we could walk right up to them.  I give credit to my boyfriend for this last shot of the trip.

"Dark Flight" - Luxury Bahia Principe, Akumal, Tulum, Mexico

“Dark Flight” – Luxury Bahia Principe, Akumal, Tulum, Mexico