New year's eve may be over rated but I shamelessly accept I am on the list of their target when they promote parties, getaways and other frills.
Since I believe 1st of every year is a glimpse of how you will be spending the rest of the year, I ensure I plan my New Year's eve and 1st of January meticulously. (I just pass a vague idea to my husband who comes out with perfect plan to execute it). 2015 has been wonderful to us with moving away from country and taking few risks.
It all started when I wanted a New Year being away from the dreadful winter of Dublin and we chose Turkey as our destination. As per weather reports few months back it should have been +5-6degrees of what Dublin had to offer. Fortunately the weather gods were not pleased and instead we were welcomed with 5-7inch snow in Istanbul.
S is very particular of where we stay, he ensures we travel less during holidays and enjoy more in the vicinity of our stay. We carefully chose the hotel next to the iconic Blue Mosque which even has the monument Hagia Sohia within 500mts.
We landed in the evening and the unexpected snow ensured we tuck ourselves comfortably and order room service for the night. We had our 5 day schedule in the Evernote which listed a visit to Grand Bazaar for the shopping on 1st day (Yes, that’s the way to deal with women and keep them happy on holidays). The Grand bazaar right to its name is grand in every way. You would need minimum of 4hrs if you have to cover each lane. The colorful lanterns, the nazar souvenirs, the beautiful and royal merchandise for home decor would leave you wanting for more back home.
The 1st thing we had learnt was to bargain everything and anything. Start with a price in mind and stick to it (Almost 50% of the original rate). I had 2 bags full with my choice and S bargaining powers. We had to head back for the New Year's Eve to our hotel so that the cruise we had booked could arrange to pick us for the night.
The cruise is a must, even if not dinner included you need to experience it for the feel of being under Bosphorous Bridge, in between 2 continents and realize how irrelevant our pity issues of day to day life are compared to such sights. We had booked the cruise for dinner, Turkish dance, Belly dance and liquor of course. The cruise ended at 2:00 am and left us exhausted with wonderful memories to cherish.
Morning we had the major parts of the trip to cover with Topkapi palace, Hippodrome and Basillica Cistern. Being from the city of palaces Mysore, Topkapi palace was a disappointment. The history associated with it was fascinating. The treasure maintained by them takes you back to the times and you wonder of their lifestyle, battles fought, life they lived. For me the swords of Prophet caught the attention, novice in history of the religion and of course the Kaaba pieces of Mecca will enlighten you. We wanted more of it and picked a book on Ottoman Empire to quench our thirst to know more. Time constraint we missed the Harem, place where one emperor had almost 900 women at his service in a given time (Book called Sexual life in Ottoman Society gives in depth information on it). Also you must try the Konyali restaurant at Top Kapi, amazing food with breath taking view to enjoy and relax after the whole walk.
The Basilica Cistern was captivating with the story of Medusa to be covered. To witness a part of Roman love for water storage underground with such marvel will not disappoint you. You can spend hours looking at Medusa pillars and wonder what story she withholds behind those closed eyes. You are tempted to run your hand in her snake like hair and wonder if she was as beautiful as described. (S couldn’t stop referring the book Inferno which ends at Basilica Cistern, sorry for the spoiler).
The Blue mosque is captivating with its enormous structure and visibility of the minars throughout Istanbul. Be it winter, summer or spring the monument is beautiful throughout the year. We were well prepared to cover our head with Hijab/Scarf as per the norms Kiddo was excited with the new hairdo. The crowd chattering inside takes away the peace which I prefer in places like Blue Mosque. The walls have that tinge of blue with a couple of blue colored tiles in the ceiling. The whole set up of low lights for visibility takes away the charm of the mosque. I personally feel if you need to appreciate the beauty of the mosque the low lights needs to be banned for good. You finally make it through the crowd of tourists who often forget to keep their slippers in the blue plastic bag provided and you regret the missing 'No Shoe policy' followed at temples.
Haghia/Aaya Sophia on the other hand is calmer (Probably because you can walk to the next floor and get a panoramic view of the 1700yrs old monument. The number of years is good enough to visit this place and you realize its not easy to restore them with do and redo of the artwork. It was a church during Byzantine times with the painting of Emperors donating to Virgin Mary and Christ. I found that amusing given we criticize people or wonder how desperate are you to be seen with celebrities in present times. Apart from that you can see the altar which has the Allah and Christ next to each other scribbled across the interiors of the monument. This has to be one of my favorite places in Istanbul because it triggers everything you have learnt in terms of religion. The history of how Constantine and other emperors evolved in this monument will be eye opening. (P.S I did feel like keeping an idol of Ganpati in the pic to make it picture perfect but I let that go: P)
Now, THE PLACE to visit while sightseeing Istanbul and which did indeed got me to drop my jaw was Dolmabache Palace. Take all the synonyms for the word Grand or Royal and this palace should define it for you in pictures. Just rushing through 4 rooms, 4 halls and 4 chandeliers along took 4 hrs, Not Kidding. The Harem (Place specific for women in the family) confirms the least importance given to it. However the grandeur of the interiors, the decor is fantabulous. It is believed the construction of this palace left the emperor almost bankrupt and you will agree why when you visit this palace. The obsession of Emperor to showcase the European style, the art of Venice is depicted in the palace throughout.
Amidst enriching ourselves with few wiki pages on history of these monuments we did squeeze in time for a relaxing Hamam at Cagaloglu, which was rated as 1 of the 1000 places to try before you die (In 2007). Nevertheless it was peaceful and royalty experience when someone else scrubs and gives you a bubble bath just before you turn 30! Of course after I ran through the celebrities list who has visited the place, I can say I did take bath on the same stone as Cameron Diaz (Or had my ass on the same stone as hers).
Apart from this we did barge into Hard Rock Cafe which was rated the best in the city and a must try (P.S if you have tried the place in India you can skip it in Istanbul for no novelty in menu or food). For the same we skipped Takism square and Galata tower because we were drunk hard at HRC. (No Regrets)
I have summarized my trip to Istanbul and hopefully will visit this place, rich in history sometime in summer of my lifetime.