Merging East and West – Istanbul Series Part I – getting to know the surroundings

Day 1 of the Istanbul Series…

A premium class traveller I am not, but, when the first person greeting you on board a commercial airline (Turkish Air) is wearing a Chef hat and suit, my taste buds rejoiced.  So started and continued my trip to Istanbul and I am still working it off after almost 2 months.  The stale peanuts of Continental Airlines were replaced by warm Hazelnuts and the Dry bread coated with a slather of margarine (my usual vegetarian meal) by a savory pilaf with real saffron.  With my palate satisfied, I nary paid any attention to the tiny turkish women with mile wide shoulders sitting next to me or I should say extending herself into my seat.
An uneventful flight lands us into Istanbul and after paying my US $20 for a turkish visa, I rushed out to meet my cousin who had been waiting for me at the airport Nero (best chai latte ever!) for 6 hours and off we go to our abode for the next 6 nights, Ciragan Palace Kempinski (thanks to a corporate rate from my fellow banker traveler).
A princess I am not, but when you do not even need to go to the registration desk but are comfortably seated in a sofa while a couture clad young lady with all LV office accessories checks you in and walks you to your room (granted it was a wrong room with someone elses luggage) and the doormen (each and everyone) greets you by name every single time you pass them by, you feel like you are royalty.
I am sure I will have a lot more to say about Ciragan Palace in these series of blogs.  Heres a glimpse of the “backyard” of the hotel

Our first order of business was to find our way out of this wonderful quiet neighborhood along the Bosphorus Strait and into the busyness of Sultanahmet.
Despite the continuous downpour we got to Eminounou via the tram and off we headed to Rustom Pasha Camii.  Rustom Pasha was recommended by an English friend of mine, a frequent visitor to Istanbul.  We could see the dome of the mosque but had a tough time finding the entrance.  It is around the corner from the plastics and kitchen tool store, into the alley and next to the kebab shop.
There is no shortage of grand camiis in Istanbul and Rustom Pasha can easily be missed.  But I am thankful to my friend for the suggestion since the scale of the camii actually affords you the opportunity to go examine the tile work closely. 
It is one of the few  mosques where you can go close to the mihrab without using a telephoto lens (just be respectful of the boundaries set up for visitors, after all this is a place of worship)

Close up of the mosque exterior
Brass and mother of pearl inlay on the main door
Mosque Ceiling
Endless array of Iznik tiles, as gorgeous as ever after five centuries.

It was still raining cats and cats (I never saw a dog in Istanbul but there was no shortage of cats) when we left the mosque so we decided to get a cup of coffee at the little cafe in the square.  Our first and only good cappuccino (everywhere else it was instant Nescafe diluted with scalding milk).

As comforting as the coffee shop was, we decided to head back out in the rain.  Much to our surprise the rain had let up so we explored the Spice market next door and sampled one too many Turkish Delights

Tea Kettles

The jet lag was starting to get to us now, we were two hungry vegetarians with nothing but Kebab houses in sight and the skies were dousing us again.  We took shelter into the New Mosque, a much bigger mosque and more of a tourist attraction than Rustom Pasha but I was less impressive for me.  
Hungrier and more tired still we headed out to the train station but the most beautiful night sights of the two mosques kept us there for another half hour. That first night, we gave up on satisfying our palate and headed back towards Bosphorus.  As we walked back from the Kabatas station to our hotel, we passed by the university area and headed into a self serve cafe.  Chickpeas, Vegetable stew and Rice made it a memorable meal.  I leave you here today with night time images of the our first day in Istanbul.  Enjoy!
Looking at Rustom Pasha from the square

Rustom Pasha in the forefront and Sulemaniya Camii up the hill in the back left

Minaret fo the New Mosque

New Mosque Dome


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