This is a new adventure and it was an amazing day spent with a guide who was worldly with an educated historical background. He was also very accommodating to my needs. I told him I didn’t want to walk for miles in the heat, and, most importantly I wanted to avoid the sites where there were huge crowds. The first visit was to the Blue Mosque, which is included in the UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1985 under the name ‘Historic Areas of Istanbul’.
Since I arrived during a four-day religious holiday called Kurban Bayrami, the Blue Mosque was very crowded and sadly, it’s now being refurbished and has been for the past five years. This religious holiday takes place 70 days after the end of Ramadan. It’s referred to as the Sacrifice Festival and it’s mainly about charity and community during which time people are visiting family and friends. It seems that this holiday is designed to strengthen family ties and is also an opportunity to bond with older generations.
Unfortunately for me, it was impossible to appreciate and capture the beauty of the Blue Mosque. Unlike the first time, when I was in Istanbul more than twenty years ago. After that visit, I told my guide, Akin, that I wanted to avoid the crowded historical sites. So he took me to some of the cultural places that are kept secret from the big tour groups. The first one was a place called NT Rugs Fine Art and Authentic Lamps. The owner, Remzi, offered an excellent explanation about the art-making of these luxury rugs. The rugs that he showed me were exquisite and truly works of art. I can see one particular rug that would be so perfect in my friend’s apartment in New York. The second cultural artisan place was an exclusive pottery-making boutique. Both places were fascinating. Akin then took me around to see some interesting sites after which I asked if he could join me for lunch and found a restaurant that he knew and where the food was superb.
When I arrived I had a real cultural shock, especially after spending a month in my beloved Lake Como, for the contrast couldn’t be more different from being in a natural setting to being now in a huge city. Nonetheless, I understand now why my friend, Soraya, and my other friends find Istanbul an amazing place. As my friend Olivia in Athens wrote to me this morning: ‘…when you beheld the great and unique treasures that its historical district revealed to you once more, it’s impossible not to be awed by Istanbul’. Indeed, Istanbul is fascinating with a multicultural texture, a very lively ambiance that melts the past and future, and a bridge between East & West, providing a sense of universal history.