Have you heard? Istanbul has been named the European Cultural Capital of 2010. I’ve decided to dedicate this post to Istanbul as I just read an article on the NYTimes about the Best Places To Go in 2010 and Istanbul was named #1! I was lucky enough to have visited the city in the beginning of January with my family (click here for more pictures). It was an incredible experience. So much to see, so much to do! To give you an idea of the city, I have noted some key places to go if you ever do get the chance to visit (and I highly recommend it!)
Having discovered the Pera Museum (Mesruityet Caddesi No.65), I explored the exhibit at the time, Chagall’s Colors of Love, which was very well done. It was quite a large exhibit, with paintings, prints and drawings that I had never seen nor heard of before. Most special to my heart was the collection of paintings on the theme of lovers, a theme that was often explored by Chagall, and for which he created many incredible paintings – “his own intimate experience gave rise to pictures of lovers clasped tight in each other’s arms, kissing, enclosed in the enchanted circle of love.” For additional information on this exhibit, check out the website, Pera Museum: Life and Love. On display from February 6th till April 18th, 2010, is Picasso-Suite Vollard, which exhibits Picasso’s most important engraving series from the early 20th century.
Along the same lines, I went to the Istanbul Modern museum (Meclis-i Mebusan Caddesi, Karakoy), which was incredibly interesting. Most memorable for me was a video I saw in the museum, of two Turkish men dressed in traditional clothing on horseback in the mountains, “on the road to Tate Modern” in London. It was comical, yet the message was evident: it discussed the difficulty of Turkish artists to establish themselves as credible players in the contemporary art world. After exploring the museum, be sure to grab a drink or a bite to eat at the Museum Cafe, which overlooks the Bosphorus and has an incredible view – I hear you can sit out on the terrace in the summer!
Art aside, what else is a must-see? Definitely the Hagia Sofia mosque and the Blue mosque (I would also pop into as many smaller mosques as you can, those seemed to be more impressive to me than the larger touristy ones). Furthermore, you must walk through the markets – the spice market was my favorite, but the Grand Bazaar is a must! Every guide book will tell you to visit the Topkapi palace, and you can’t have been to Istanbul without seeing it, but I spent just a few hours walking around and getting a feel for the place, which was rewarding in itself. I would definitely suggest finding authentic Turkish restaurants for dinner (watch out for tourist traps!) Speaking of food, be sure to check out the House Cafe chain if you’re in the mood for a relaxing atmosphere and great food. Where to stay? I spent 3 nights at theRichmond Hotel on Istiklal Caddesi, the main shopping street on the new side of the city, which was a perfect location. I definitely recommend getting lost in all the side streets in this area as there are plenty of bars, restaurants, etc. to keep you entertained till late into the night.
My final advice, get lost. Explore. Put your guidebook away and see where the city takes you. The more you let yourself be taken away by the treasures of the city, the more you will fall in love with what it has to offer.