Lockdown Armchair Travel – Istanbul, Turkey – 29th March 2012

Continuing with the lockdown armchair travel memories, and T is for Turkey. We’ve been there a couple of times on cruises, and we had a week in Istanbul in the late 90s, but I can’t find any of the photos from that holiday. So these pictures are from a day spent in Istanbul during an Eastern Mediterranean cruise in March 2012, concentrating on The Main Sights. So, what do you think of, when you think of Istanbul? Probably one of two places, depending on whether you’re Team Blue Mosque…

Or Team Aya Sofya

It’s a tough call. From the photos, you’d always say the Blue Mosque, but when you’re inside the Aya Sofya, it takes your breath away. We took a tram from near the port into the centre of the city, and headed straight away for the central complex that houses both these magnificent buildings, plus the ancient hippodrome.

I’m not sure Constantine would remember it looking like this, mind. OK, let’s head straight for the Blue Mosque.

Really the Sultan Ahmed Mosque, built between 1609 – 1616.

One of the five mosques in Turkey that has six minarets, apparently.

It’s a big tourist favourite, but is primarily a working mosque. It has a relatively small courtyard fountain.

Delightful from the outside…

But its beauty really hits you inside!

Look at that amazing decorated ceiling!

It really is the definition of breathtaking.

It’s beautifully lit too

And the calligraphy is stunning

Architecturally fabulous!

The pictures tell their own story.

A brilliant place. After the Blue Mosque, we decided to find the Basilica Cistern, a favourite place of ours from our previous visit.

It’s called the Basilica Cistern, because it was built underneath a basilica in the reign of the Emperor Justinian in the sixth century.

It’s an incredibly dramatic and moody place, enhanced by the lighting

With just a little water in there to make some extra-dramatic reflections.

There are two columns topped with Medusa heads

Or, rather, upside down! It’s a dark and haunting place

But, being Istanbul, you’re never too far from a spot of commercialism…

That’s so out of place! Anyway we left the Cistern and returned to the other end of the main square to see the Aya Sofya.

Or Hagia Sophia, if you prefer. It’s been a Roman Catholic cathedral, then it was converted to a mosque, and then in 1935 it was turned into a museum – which is how we saw it. But in 2020 it became a mosque again.

Those colours are extraordinary!

Just take it all in….

The immaculate marbled floor is apparently now covered by carpet

There’s a stunning minbar

Beautiful calligraphy

Marvellous windows

Fabulous tiled walls

Big pillars

Ramps lead up to an upper floor

From where you get this great view!

And you can get a closer look at some of the detail

You’re also closer to the mosaics – this is the Deësis mosaic

The Comnenus mosaic dates from 1122

The Empress Zoe mosaic is even earlier

Southwestern entrance mosaic dates from the reign of Basil II (958-1025)

The Aya Sofya even has nice doors!

And a look out of its upper floor windows reveals a fascinating collection of domes!

Yes, I think I am still Team Aya Sofya. Other interesting sights include the Egyptian Obelisk

With its intricate base

And the Serpentine Column

Shoppers, of course, head for the Grand Bazaar

A massive covered market, probably the best I’ve ever visited

It’s a maze where you can easily get lost

You’ll get invited in by the shopkeepers to share a “no-obligation” cup of apple tea

If you believe “no-obligation”, you’ll believe anything!

Great place for lighting

And ceramics

We had a quick walk past the University

But the other place I really wanted to see before we left was the Suleymaniye Mosque

Commissioned by Suleiman the Magnificent and inaugurated in 1557,

It was the largest mosque in Istanbul until the Çamlıca Mosque superseded it in 2019.

Four minarets, each and every one a stunner.

Again, it’s inside the mosque where the whole place comes alive

with its extraordinary ceilings

superb arches

and just its innate grandeur.

Although, to be fair, it’s pretty grand from the outside too.

Streetlife in Istanbul is pretty hectic, as you would expect

But the views make up for it

And you can easily blend in with the crowds.

And that’s Istanbul – grandeur, magnificence, and the occasional bit of quirkiness.

So we sail away and say farewell to Istanbul!

 

 

Lockdown Armchair Travel – Tunis, Tunisia, 19th December 2012

Finally moving off S and on to T, and T is for Tunisia and one day spent in its capital, Tunis, during a Mediterranean cruise shortly before Christmas in 2012. So, when you think of Tunis, what do you think of? Probably not this…

But our cruise was one of the first that called into Tunisia after its 2011 revolution, and there were still plenty of military around, worried about security.

However, it didn’t spoil our day – the country was desperate to revitalise its old tourist industry, and the soldiers simply ignored us. Tunis is a delightful mix of the old and the new. Modern architecture like the City Hall

Sit comfortably side by side with sights such as the Catholic Cathedral of St. Vincent de Paul.

The modernity of the University

And the tradition of the Youssef Dey Mosque

As with many Muslim cities, you get the best feel for real life in the bazaars and the souks. Tunis has a wealth of them.

You can have your hair cut

Buy from a tailor

Have a coffee

Buy food

Buy decorative trinkets

And of course, a magic flying carpet!

And there’ll always be a traditional dancer there to encourage you to buy!

The architecture of the souks and the old town is fascinating too. I love the old doors

And those Moorish arches

And, of course, the tiles

Walking the streets is where you see the real people and the real sights

Outside Tunis, Sidi Bou Said is known for its beautiful blues.

Just one day  in Tunisia is obviously not enough, but you can get just a taste of the life here.

And there’ll always be a traditional welcome for day trippers off a cruise!

 

Lockdown Armchair Travel – Bratislava, Slovakia, 2012

Continuing this lockdown look at travel experiences of the past, and S is also for Slovakia, and a weekend to Bratislava in February 2012. It’s a stunningly beautiful city from an architectural point of view. So what do you think of, when you think of Bratislava? Maybe nothing in particular comes to mind, but there is one thing that dominates the city.

The Castle. Not only is it a beautiful building…

But the views of the rest of the city are spectacular.

It’s also a splendid sight by night.

You might also think of the Danube flowing through the centre of the city.

Despite what Johann Strauss might have you think, it’s not really blue. However, the church of St Elizabeth is!

It looks like cake icing, doesn’t it? Delicious on the inside too.

And I loved the door handles!

A stroll around the centre of the city will take you to some delightful squares and spaces. Here’s Hviezdoslavovo namestie

Adjacent to the theatre

On the Saturday night, we popped in for a cultural experience – a performance by the Slovak National Theatre Opera. It’s a grand theatre

With opulent boxes

And a decorative bar!

The town is full of churches and cathedrals. This is the stunning Church and Convent of St Elizabeth on Spitalska

with its incredible ceiling

St Martin’s Cathedral is also very grand

with some great sculptures

Sculptures and street art figure highly in Bratislava – some of it takes your breath away, some of it makes you laugh.

Elsewhere, the Old Town is beguiling, on every street corner.

And I confess we found a few pubs and restaurants that we became very fond of, very quickly!

Bar 17

Pulitzer Restaurant

It’s good to pay a visit to the Slavin Monument, a war memorial treated with much respect.

This is the Cabinet Office

And this is the Grassalkovic Palace, the President’s Residence.

But the joy of Bratislava is just in the simple pleasures of walking around and discovering odd and beautiful sights.

Must go back sometime! I posted a more detailed travel blog about our weekend at the time, which, if you’d like to read it starts here – one blog post for each of the three days we were there (plus one for the opera review!)