Istanbul was a must on my list.
And since several airlines and cruises have pulled out due to recent terrorist events, this was actually a great time to visit - no long lines or big crowds. We were vigilant about our surroundings, but felt relatively safe overall - there is a risk traveling anywhere in Europe or the Middle East, and when people stop traveling, the terrorists win. And oh, what a tragedy to miss this city!
We chose a cruise carefully, not for luxury, but for the many ports and islands we could visit. Pulling into the dock at Istanbul, we were greeted by the ancient Hagia Sophia on the right, and the Blue Mosque on the left. Mosques and minarets everywhere!
I love St. Peter's in Rome, but it's got nothing on St. Sophia.
And oh, the history!
Built by Emperor Justinian in the 6th century, this is the spot that inspired the Russians to adopt Christianity at the turn of the 11th century, and was the site of the Great Schism in 1054 - the papal bull of excommunication from Rome was delivered to the altar.
Prince Vladimir of Kiev in 998 decided to adopt Orthodox Christianity as a unifying religion, after his emissaries visited the Hagia Sophia, and declared:
We did not know whether we were in heaven or on earth. Such splendor and beauty are not found anywhere on earth: it is impossible to describe. We only know that God was there among the people.My sentiments exactly.
Lorelei's approximating the Medusa pose.
We loved Istanbul! Just behind Meteora (which I'll get to last), it was the highlight of the trip for me, even above the glorious Greek islands. I'll always treasure up this land that seemed so distant from all that was familiar - the kids' first visit to Asia.