By Lupita Peimbert (Travel.)
I was alone, single, and excited to be in Istanbul, a city that is part European and part Asian. My host dropped me off at the Ferry, and as soon as I boarded, I was able to see the other side of the Bosphorus, and a skyline of places I would soon visit, each one with its own charm, beauty, and mystery. Below please find three of my favorite places, and I bet you that they also are the favorite places of millions; I highly recommend that you visit them when you go to Istanbul, a modern city that has kept the influences of the empires that ruled it over many centuries ago.
It is a palace and a citadel. The place where sultans reigned, lived and love. The moment you enter Topkapi, you feel its grandiosity. The tall walls are covered with amazing designs; your eyes get lost in the colors and forms in many of the walls you find. You get to see the living rooms and the bedrooms, the halls and the secret places where women had to stay and wait for men to tell them what to do. From the small windows, one could take a quick look of the bay and other parts of Istanbul at a distance, far away from your freedom. And yet, the palace is full of gardens and areas where one can feel free. I wonder how life was, and how the women felt.
It was first a Christian basilica, then a mosque, and now a museum. Before you enter, be careful. You may experience a pause, a moment of truth, or an epiphany, as it happened to me. It was unexpected; a silence around and inside me that deeply touched my soul. Haya Sophia, to begin with, is a magnificent tall building of Byzantine architecture. The dome is huge. The lamps are gigantic, and they hang all over like curtains, framing the interior while lighting it up softly. The biblical scenes in some of the walls are more interesting because at some point they were plastered, and then uncovered, and so you see the changes this place has gone through. Haya Sophia means “The Shrine of the Holy God.”
The Blue Mosque
Of extraordinary architectural beauty, It is a popular site for visitors, but it actually functions as a mosque, with its corresponding religious services; reverence required. Built between 1609 and 1616, the Sultan Ahmed Mosque is known as the Blue Mosque because of its adornments. It is impressive from the distance and once you are inside. I visited during Ramadan, the month of fasting for observant Muslims, and the ambience felt a little more serious because of that. There is no charge to enter, but you must take your shoes often. Also, praying at any mosque happens five times a day, starting at sunrise, with the last one when the night falls; it is suggested to stay aside during praying times, and if you enter, you may want to cover you head if you are a woman.
A Word of Caution
Especially if you are traveling on your own, or if you are a woman, be assertive. Outside and close to these amazing places, you may find people trying to sell you something and lure you into going with them to a store. If you are not into shopping, say no strongly from the beginning, as they can be very insisting. When going to a bar, be careful too, whether you are a man or a woman. I have heard travelers’ stories of being forced to pay for a large bill, or being followed to their hotel or the place they were staying; not fun at all. This can happen in any tourist destination, by the way. Other than that, enjoy one of the most beautiful cities in the world.
Read more about my experience as a Solo-Traveler here: In Istanbul I Stayed With a Man I had Never Met Before.
Content and photos by Lupita Peimbert @Lupitanews.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.