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
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
Fabulous tiled walls
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
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
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.
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 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!
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!
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!)