We toured 4 countries in close to 4 weeks and the most anticipated destination on our European vay-cay for me was Turkey. Steeped in history and culture, this was the one stop I wanted to immerse myself completely in the surroundings. We flew Agean Airlines from Mykonos, a quickie layover in Athens and we were on our way to Istanbul. Flying in low over this magnificent land and once again I was pinching myself. I had arranged, for a local driver to collect us and take us to the hotel, The Hotel Arcadia Blue. http://www.hotelarcadiablue.com
This is one of many luxurious hotels situated directly opposite the famous Blue Mosque in Sultanahmet. And it did not disappoint. Upmarket hotel. Stunning outlook. I mainly chose this locale so we could see the Blue Mosque and hear the call to prayer from our rooms. We were visiting during Ramadan, this is the ninth month in the Islamic calendar and every day during this month, over 1 billion Muslims worldwide spend the daylight hours in a complete fast.
No food, drink, smoking or any other pleasure from day break until dusk. They are allowed to eat at midnight, and pray 5 times in the 24 hour period. The prayer was loud and often. Even more surreal was the hauntingly beautiful sound of the prayers being broadcast over the city. A very spine tingly, rare and treasured experience. Even through triple glazed windows at 3am!
Listen to the 3am Prayer.
When travelling to Istanbul, the biggest decision you will make is where to book your accommodation. The city is divided by the Bosphorus River into 2 sections. The European section and The Asian section. I opted to stay in the European side, and I think for first timers this was the best choice. Sultanahmet district is in the heart of historic Old Istanbul, some buildings dating back 300 thousand years, which in itself is just incredible. It is very easy to navigate your way around. After only a few hours, you feel comfortable, safe and confident to wander the steep streets and explore. There are many hotels, restaurants, bars, and some interesting shopping stalls in this area.
On our first day, once settled into the hotel, we headed straight out towards the Blue Mosque, and stumbled across a market full of exotic foods and traditional arts and crafts. Turkish Delight, fez hats, brightly coloured ceramics, hookah pipes…so stereotypically perfectly Turkey! The sights and sounds are just as you can imagine, and it is very crowded. Unfortunately we were unable to enter the Blue Mosque at this time, as it was prayer and only Muslims were allowed to enter. We were told, “Come back tomorrow”…So we headed off to find a local restaurant and try out the traditional cuisine.
Back at the hotel, away from the crowded streets and with a belly full of lamb and Turkish hot bread, I was fully entrenched in the Islamic Middle Eastern vibe. I sipped Turkish Tea…ate Turkish delight…held my newly purchased green prayer beads and closed my eyes and embraced the Ramadan midnight call to prayer.
Day one done and done.