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x0x Sultan's Delight

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    x0x Sultan s Delight Roadtrip OC METRO BY PAT NEISSER Istanbul is a city of dreamlike beauty and exotic moments. The last sunlight filtered through the
    Message 1 of 1 , May 30, 2005
      x0x Sultan's Delight

      Roadtrip

      OC METRO

      BY PAT NEISSER

      Istanbul is a city of dreamlike beauty and exotic moments.

      The last sunlight filtered through the minarets of
      the Blue Mosque, and sparkled on the glittering
      Bosphorus sea that lay beyond. As the twinkling
      lights of the blue-tiled mosque came up, its six
      slender minarets gave off an eerie glow. The Blue
      Mosque stands as the single most recognizable
      monument on the Istanbul skyline. Built between
      1609-1616, during the reign of Ottoman Sultan
      Ahmet I, the enormous complex is a small city.

      Nearby stands Saint Sophia, built by Byzantine
      Emperor Constantine in the 4th century and rebuilt
      by Justinian in 537 AD, considered the greatest
      church in Christendom for 1,000 years. Its dome
      rises nearly 200 feet above the sea and is more
      than 100 feet in diameter. It became a mosque in
      the 15th century and today it is a public museum,
      awe-inspiring in its enormity. Plan plenty of time
      to explore these two amazing buildings.

      >From my balcony in the sophisticated five-star
      Marmara Hotel, I could see minarets all over the
      city, as well as modern skyscrapers, palaces and
      neighborhoods filled with shops and restaurants.
      Fragments of Istanbul's ancient wall could also be
      seen and, as you explore the city, you'll see many
      restored segments of the wall.

      After a wonderfully comfortable flight on Turkish
      Airlines from New York, I was looking forward to a
      few exciting days revisiting some of Istanbul's
      famous landmarks and eating my way through some of
      Turkey's wondrous cuisine. Afterward, we would be
      heading to Romania and Bulgaria by train.

      A limo from the hotel had picked me up at the
      airport, and as we crawled into the city, it
      seemed as though all 10 million citizens were at
      the wheel. Do not drive yourself. I repeat: Do not
      try to drive in Istanbul. I learned from my driver
      that Kamal Ataturk founded this Republic in 1923,
      making it a secular country, despite a 93% Moslem
      presence.

      We passed a street where a mosque, synagogue and
      church stood side by side, sharing a courtyard. As
      I wandered through neighborhoods, I noticed that
      the younger women were tall, stunning and very
      chic, not wearing shawls. But as we visited the
      Spice Market and Grand Bazaar, many older women
      were shrouded in shawls. They smiled at our
      western garb and we felt relaxed in this unusual
      city.

      Istanbul is surrounded by seas; The Golden Horn
      inlet divides the city (connected by a causeway);
      the Sea of Marmara and the Bosphorus literally
      split the city into the Asian and European parts,
      the only city in the world to be located in both
      Europe and Asia. (This is one of Turkey's
      explanations of why they should be included in the
      European Common Market.)

      To understand the peculiarities and wonders of the
      city, a tour is necessary. My hotel found a great
      all-day tour for me, including a boat ride. Our
      English-speaking guide was brilliant at explaining
      the history, as well as the present-day goings-on
      of Istanbul. We saw many dogs around, and
      discovered that new apartment buildings no longer
      allow pets, so these animals are given shots by
      the government and allowed to roam about.

      Our guide led us around the aromatic Spice Market
      and temptations were great. Bargaining is the
      thing to do, so we all came home with spices. Our
      visit to the 4,000-year-old Covered Bazaar was
      mind-boggling. Thousands of shops, cafes,
      shoeshine booths, costume stores, and jewelry from
      the cheap to the exquisite, glittered before our
      dazzled eyes. Without a guide, you may have to
      sign up for Turkish citizenship, since you'll
      never find your way out. Even having been here
      before didn't help. Tourists were buying tea urns,
      daggers, belly-dancing costumes and amazing
      outfits. Istanbul offers fabulous leather clothes
      and will make them to order. You'll also discover
      small shops that offer large bargains, especially
      in the Sultanahmet area around the mosques and the
      delightful Topkapi Palace.

      Overlooking the Marmara Sea, this 15th century
      palace complex housed the Ottoman Sultans until
      the 19th century. A guide will give you a brief
      tour of the small palaces, kitchens, harems and
      museums. The Treasury is filled with famous
      jewels, and other rooms hold robes, crystal and
      other treasures. A nice restaurant offers meals
      and the gardens are exquisite.

      Two other palaces also took my breath away. One,
      the Dolmabahce Palace fronts the European side of
      the Bosphorus. You get a great view from a boat,
      and can explore the palace from the city side. The
      750-bulb crystal chandelier in the reception salon
      weighs 9,000 pounds. I stood next to it, not under
      it. Ataturk died here on Nov.10, 1938.

      Across the Bosphorus Sea, on the Asian side of
      Istanbul, is the Beylerbeyi Palace. Built of white
      marble in 1865, it was used by Sultan Abdulaziz as
      his summer palace. An indoor pool and
      well-furnished rooms dazzle the visitor. The
      Suleymaniye Imperial Mosque is considered the most
      beautiful of all the mosques here. Your guide will
      take you to all these sites and give you a
      fascinating history of each one. Istanbul amazes
      me with all its ancient buildings, and yet it is
      one of the most sophisticated cities I've visited.

      One can become satiated with such overwhelming
      beauty, and relaxing in a typical Turkish café or
      modern restaurant is a big part of the fun. I was
      truly amazed by the variety of cuisine all over
      the city. Also, after a tiring tour and before a
      grand dinner, visit a Hamam, with its steam baths,
      massages and saunas. Ask your concierge where the
      best ones are before setting out.

      My two favorite restaurants are fortunately housed
      one above the other at the Convention Center. The
      Borsa, is an up-to-date Turkish eatery with a
      thousand choices from grilled kebabs to fresh
      seafood to every kind of Turkish appetizer you
      could imagine, all prepared beautifully.

      The Loft, owned by the same family, is a swinging
      modern restaurant and lively bar, offering cuisine
      with a French Turkish flare. The presentation is
      brilliant. The Ozkancas, who own these
      restaurants, are wonderful hosts. Phone:
      011-90-212-232-42-01.

      Before we left Istanbul, we had lunch at the
      Akvaryum restaurant in the Kumkapi district. On an
      alley with many open-air cafes, this delightful
      place offers a typical menu with plenty of yogurt
      and mint sauce. We found great little cafes with
      belly dancing, kebabs and typical Turkish food,
      including lots of fresh fruit, rice, grilled
      prawns and other fresh seafood.

      The latest news comes with the opening of
      Istanbul's first modern art museum, located on the
      shore of the Sea of Marmara. Its terrific
      collection of abstract paintings, portraits,
      sculptures and photographs from private and public
      collections will bring many more visitors to the
      city. It aims to foster innovative exchanges
      between Turkish and Western art. Its timing
      couldn't be better for Turkey's wished-for entry
      into the EU with its emphasis on melding Western
      and Turkish cultures. Istanbul is a swinging city,
      constantly changing and constantly remaining the
      same. Its history is a permanent part of its lure,
      but the 21st century is here to stay. OCM



      If You Go:

      Lodging: The Marmara Hotel in the Taksim district
      is a stunning, 5-star hotel with all the
      amenities. I loved the buffet as well as their
      elegant restaurant. The concierge will get
      everything done for you. The staff is amazing and
      people watching is superb from the lobby. Phone:
      011-0212-251-4696.

      We also stayed at the Arcadia Hotel in the
      Sultanahmet district with its amazing views over
      the water. Contact by e-mail:
      info@....

      Transportation: Turkish Airlines flies from
      Chicago and New York non-stop to Istanbul. You'll
      fly in great comfort. Phone: (800) 874-8875. Go to
      www.raileurope.com for information about European
      rail passes if you are traveling overland.
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