Continuing with my fondest memories of Istanbul last summer, I offer my final recommendations:
IN ADDITION TO THE USUAL SIGHTS, I ALSO SUGGEST…
- HIPPODROME. Dashing between bigger sights, I almost missed the ultimate in antiquities. Several monuments, already unbelievably ancient when imported to decorate Constantine’s Constantinople, grace the space between the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Art, and the Mosque of Sultan Ahmet III (Blue Mosque). For an American with few traces of civilization left that go back more than a few hundred years, I could hardly contain my wonder. Please don’t miss the original Serpents’ Column. Melting down the weapons strewn over the battlefield by the defeated Persians under Xerxes I, the victorious Greeks made it in 478 B.C.
- RAQQA. Housed in the kind of major sight I’m not generally describing here, the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Art, is a truly haunting room dedicated to this ancient, exotic city that still witnesses more than its share of heartbreak today. Don’t miss this exhibit with the mournful calls of birds so strange you can’t believe they could have ever flown through an impossibly orange sky. (The rest of this museum is also excellent.)
- LIBRARY IN THE OLD PROCESSION KIOSK. You must ascend a long ramp on the side of Gülhane Park opposite Topkapi and the archaeological museums, and leave all your worldly possessions in a locker, when visiting this gem. Still, for those of us who glory in the past, it’s well worth it just to leaf through the huge red books with sepia photographs of an Istanbul long gone. And, if you’re lucky, someone will be playing the baby grand on the ground floor.
- HAYDARPASA STATION. Admittedly not that much to see in exchange for a trip over the water to the Asian side of Istanbul, but the ferry ride itself has charm and is cheap. (Sit outside!) And the now-defunct station is a must-see for any romantic with reverence for a time when it was the entry point to all the exotic cities of the East.
- GRAND OLD HOTELS. You can also dream of the past when visiting some grand old hotels north of the Galata Tower. One, the Pera Palace, perhaps suffers from over-renovation. But its magnificence is certainly worth seeing. Another, the Grand Hotel de Londres, perhaps suffers from under-renovation. Still…sitting in its somewhat shabby lobby, listening to an elaborately caged canary sing behind me…I can so easily imagine Hemingway in the next wing chair.