Long on my bucket list, I finally made it! Here are a few pages from my Istanbul travel diary.
Before I started on this journey, I made a small commitment to keep an art diary to document some of the brilliant sights I was sure to see. A handy watercolor book that I could travel with and a collapsible watercolor palette set that could be folded up to the same size as an iPhone. It comes with it’s own little brush too! Yes, only artists get excited about these things but here is the link if you are interested! PS..the palette is empty and you have to pour in the paints you want and dry it to go.
Three wonderful days in Istanbul and we took it easy the first day, after a long flight, strolling the streets and a lovely dinner in a nearby restaurant. An early night in to get over the jet lag.
Istanbul, Lygos, Byzantium or Constantinople has a rich and diverse history, starting somewhere in the 13th century BC. We chose to stay in the midst of the historic sites, Sultanahmet vs the more modern areas and did not regret it.
This was the view of the Sophia Hagia form our hotel rooftop lounge!
Built in 537 AD, the original Byzantine church, later converted to a mosque during the Ottoman Empire, now a museum, is a splendid sight to behold.
I painted it the next morning! Wish I had more time but there was so much to see and do!
We had booked the Taste Of Two Continent Food Tour and started off the day in Europe with our guide and another couple from Australia. I loved the fact that they keep a small group size, usually 4-6 people. We strolled through the Spice Bazaar and picked up ingredients for a delicious breakfast comprising of local cheeses, Olives, Simit (Turkish bagel with sesame seeds), and Menemen, a scrumptious dish of scrambled eggs with tomato, onions and chilies.
I loved the way the spices were so artistically arranged along with the dried chillis and eggplant garlands creating a riot of colors!
Of course, I couldn’t resist painting it, albeit at a later date.
After breakfast, we took the boat across the Bosphorus to Asia. Did you know that Istanbul straddles two continents? The Bosphorus strait connects the Sea of Marmara to the Black Sea and separates the European side from the Asian side. A glorious sunny day, we crossed the strait and saw the old station on the Asian side, the original port of the Orient Express! (it now starts on the European side). I wore my aviation dance butterfly scarf, which was perfect for the day!
Once in Asia, we resumed the tour and spent several hours on streets with food that we would never have tried by ourselves! All delicious and thoroughly enjoyable. One that stood out in particular was the original place for the Iskinder Kebabs. Mouthwatering and loaded with butter, served with Pide or Turkish flat bread. After eleven more stops, it would suffice to say that we had indeed experienced a gastronomical adventure!
The day did not end with the tour. We ended up at Punto, THE place to shop for a rug or learn about them. This beauty goes for 160K, a visual treat in craftsmanship!
That night we had a special invitation as passengers of the Orient Express for an after hour tour of the Hagia Sophia. It marked 20 years of their signature journey and was a phenomenal experience.
The 1500 year old museum/church/mosque is a marvel of architecture, completed in just five years!
The Ottoman chandeliers, with giant Arabic calligraphy, juxtaposed with murals of the Byzantine murals are truly a wonder to behold! I wish religions coexisted like this today!
Day 3 was a tour of all the historic sites during the morning and afternoon hours. We started with the Blue Mosque. Places of worship require you to cover your head and you should wear clothing that cover your knees and do not expose your shoulders. I chose the Abstract Buddha scarf for its vivid colors and it served me well during the day. When it got too hot, I tied it on my bag. Here are more ways to wear silk scarves, if you are interested.
After the blue mosque, we toured the area of the hippodrome, the center of Byzantium life for almost a 1000 years, with a few pieces still remaining. The grand granite Obelisk of Theodosius is still well preserved. Carved in Egypt in 1500 BC originally housed at the temple of Karnak. It was subsequently brought to Constantinople in 390AD. The podium that holds the obelisk has the carvings of the emperor and his family watching the races from the royal box. You could close your eye and imagine the chariots racing!
We did tour the Hagia during the day too, a completely different experience with bustling crowds and sunlight. Next stop was the Roman underground cisterns, a must for any Dan Brown fan! (remember Inferno!?!). Built in 6th century AD the chamber is able to hold nearly 80,000 cubic meters of water, with the roof supported by 336 columns made of marble and arches in between.
Two Medusa heads watch over the entryway, here is one!
Topkapi palace was next on the list. This enormous palace was the Imperial residence of Ottoman sultans for almost 400 years. Overlooking the Marmara Sea and the Bosphorus, it had a beautiful view. The tile work was stunning and will indeed find themselves in my future works! This is a picture of the dome from the Baghdad pavilion,
I highly recommend a private tour as you will not have to stand in lines for all the sites, so worth it!
Day 3- evening
A visit to the Grand Bazaar was included, if you are into the haggling rows of shopkeepers who try to lure you in. I love this picture of the dog resting on all the rugs, nobody bothered to move him. We passed him everyday on the street by our hotel, always in the same position.
A sketch and a little color to document the day.
The last night we chose to go to the more modern side of Istanbul in the Pera or Beyoglu area with a stroll down the famous cobblestone Istiklal Street and Taskim square. A delicious meal at the Hamdi restaurant overlooking the golden horn and the old city, to complete the day.
A last minute indulgence at a 16th century hamam built by the empress for women initially but now houses a male section too. Reservations are highly recommended and worth it.
Then it was time for the train journey and a much awaited trip on the Orient Express..a story for another day! Hope you enjoyed the travel diary for Istanbul! Do sign up for more adventures with us on our site, here. You might also enjoy other travel diaries here or here.