TRAVEL BLOG

Istanbul, Turkey

Formerly known as Constantinople, the former Byzantine Empire’s capital, Istanbul is at the edges of the Asian and European continents. Its rich history, fast-paced rhythm, and delicious cuisine will transport you to another world. The best way to visit Istanbul – or any city, really – is by foot. Start your day with a simple, traditional breakfast composed of a sesame bagel-like bread – simit – with cheese and a pot of mint tea or Turkish coffee. These can be bought from street merchants, contributing to the authentic Turkish experience. After breakfast, take a walk on Istiklal street toward Galata Tower, one of the oldest towers in the world, for a panoramic view of the busy city, its many Mosques, the Aegean Sea, and Hagia Sofia, one of the most visited monuments in the world. The latter will be your next walking-tour stop.

        Hagia Sofia was a church originally dedicated to Holy Wisdom. As it stands today, the basilica was built under the reign of Emperor Justinian I (6th century). Following the Ottoman Empire’s conquest of Constantinople, Hagia Sofia was converted into a mosque from 1453 to 1931. Today, it is a museum displaying a palimpsest of history and rites. To get to the Hagia Sofia, one must cross the Galata bridge, the Egyptian market, and a few streets where are found stunning Art Deco and Art Nouveau buildings in need of much renovations. The basilica itself is impressive and massive. It became the architectural model of all the prominent mosques of Istanbul.  Its marble walls, fake marble doors leading to royal sacred spaces, and highly decorative and intricate Christian mosaics make you step into history, following the footsteps of many before you. You will find yourself surrounded by gold, light, grandeur, and wonder.

        After Hagia Sofia, you can pursue your day-trip to Topkapi Palace museum and its Harem. There you will learn about the Ottoman dynasty and its sultans, through a visit of the palace’s kitchen, diwan – where high officials would meet sitting on a diwan (kind of sofa) – the Harem quarters, and the Sultan’s bedroom. The museum not only informs on the lifestyle and culture of the Ottomans, but its architecture is a fine example of Baroque and Islamic styles.

        At lunchtime, grab a meal at one of the many restaurants around the Palace before heading to the Basilica Cistern. Lentil soup with lemon, spicy kofta (ground beef skewers) and a glass of ayran, a drink made of yogurt, water and salt. Composed of Ionic, Corinthian, and Doric columns on water, the Basilica Cistern is a must-see. Built under Emperor Justinian’s reign (6th century), the Basilica is the largest cistern of Istanbul and offers a truly remarkable and dramatic spectacle of light, water reflection, architecture, and resonance. It was also featured in many movies, including Skyfall (2012) from the James Bond Series.

        When in Turkey, a trip to a historical hammam (bath) is an absolute must. To get a full-traditional Turkish hammam experience, Cemberlitas Hamami is your best choice. This more than 500-year old Turkish bath will be the highlight of your trip to Istanbul. Not only will you feel like travelling back in time, but you will lose a lot of dead skin while enjoying a remarkably relaxing experience. On your way back to your hotel, stop at the Grand Bazaar to get a few souvenirs and traditional Turkish goods (lukum/Turkish delights, ceramics, jewellery, hammam towels, icons, etc.), while practicing the art of bargaining. The Grand Bazaar is situated next to Sultanahmet Camii (the Blue Mosque), a mosque built in the early 17th century. You can access its beautiful interior, decorated with intricate geometrical and floral Islamic motifs, from either the female or male visitors’ door (unless you are Muslim and wish to pray, then you must take the faithful’s entrance). To be granted access to the mosque, you need to follow the dress code (humble attire, barefoot, women must cover their head with a scarf, etc.), and always remain respectful of the space of worship.

        Conclude your active, yet perfect day in Istanbul with a copious traditional Turkish meal at Konak Kebap, along the busy Istiklal street. Wander along the street after dinner to Taksim Square, to fully immerse yourself in the busyness of Istanbul’s night scene, while stopping by a little shop to treat yourself with the best Turkish delights you will ever eat.

Virgin Gorda beaches and lobsters

This is the second leg of a truly fun week. There are adventures to get each morning when we land somewhere else, but also fun time on the boat itself.

 

The Club Med 2 has an open bar. Yes, that means free flow of pretty good things…all day long. So being on a French boat, you have Ricard for aperitif at lunch time if you are on the boat at lunch time…and pina colada by the pool before sunset, and obviously wine during meals. We are in the North Hemisphere end of November, so sunsets are early at around 5.30pm each day…with some pretty cool views from the swimming pool bar on the back deck. By 6pm, it’s champagne time…all night long. Well, first it’s shower time and getting change for the evening obviously…this is still a French place! And as we all now that mixing different alcohol drinks is not a great idea, I found a fun group of people ready to go on the champagne all night long, each evening, for great and fun time! More in the next entries of this truly fun group of people.

Little warning, Club Med 2
Club Med 2Club Med 2
Club Med 2
is French, and it feels. Out of the 280 guests on the boat this week, I don’t think a single one doesn’t speak at least some French. It would be a pretty boring week if you can only speak English here…and as you may be aware…French people living in France suck when it comes to speak something else than French. You’ve been honestly warned!

So this morning, it’s BVI time. No I’m not coming for business here. And BVI doesn’t only stand for offshore companies…it does too stand for gorgeous beaches, yachts, and British Virgin Islands. We have sailed all night long from Dominica…Dominica is Commonwealth and poor….BVI is British Territory and pretty wealthy.

I spent my day with Thierry….same age as me, and ready to have some fun this week. Because at the end of the day we know you don’t find single ladies in their thirties on these cruises…we knew we would need to get organized to do something else than read our books! Didn’t do my homework about Virgin Gorda. I kew the diving was average, and that the cruise had a BBQ lunch of lobster organized for us on the
Lobster time…Lobster time…
Lobster time…
beach! So we took a “beacher” with the intention to simply go on the beach for the morning.

 

There was a shuttle to “a” beach rented for the morning by Club Med. We set next to the rasta driver…yeah man…and he dropped us on the way. That was off-plan, completely out of the blue! It was time for us to go explore the National Park of “The Baths”. This is some kind of a National Park…it is a series of beaches separated by granite rocks. I first felt in the Seychelles…before finding myself rather in some kind of adventure hike for teenagers ready to have some serious fun. Wow, that place is amazing!

We spent the all morning going from beach to beach and climbing those huge rocks…even getting lost on deserted beaches as wandering if we were only on the right trail. The water was beautiful and warm….the yachts were around, it was just plain full fun…simple!

We made our way back to the Club Med beach, just on time for the last shuttle. Good idea, as we had no idea where the BBQ was, and the ride back to
Little pina colada by the pool…Little pina colada by the pool…
Little pina colada by the pool…
the landing point of the cruise was quite a walk away. Lobster BBQ! That simply cannot be bad just by the way it sounds. It was another of these…free flow of rose wine…of salad, and yes, of lobster too! The sun was there, at the end of the lunch…our faces ended the same color as the lobsters on the grill….but one more time…fun it was!

Back on the boat before the crowds for a good nap and some swimming pool time. Not that 280 guests makes you feel crowded on such a huge sail boat…but queueing is simply really not our thing.

Another really fun night was awaiting us…and a short sail to the land of Uncle Sam…or pretty close to this actually, for another fun adventure…on which I will have to write pretty soon!