March 03, 2011

Pick Istanbul for its beauty and Turkish baths

When I tell people that my husband and I saved for years so we could go to Istanbul, most of them seem puzzled, as if to say: "Really? That's where you most wanted to take your hard-earned vacation?"

But the city holds a mystical charm that has captivated people throughout history, including me. Home to Byzantine emperors and Ottoman sultans, the city literally connects Europe and Asia and blends them together with beauty and a sense of pride. Ancient, modern and in-between meet and flow through the winding streets and hills. Waking up each day to echoes of the wailing call to prayer from minarets around the city was a thrilling experience in an exotic world.

The old city, or specifically, the Sultanahmet district, provides the best arena for the convergence of cultures and has the most significant historical landmarks. Sultanahmet holds some of the jewels of Istanbul, including the famed Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque. In the northern part of the city, the Theodosian walls and Chora Church Museum award you a piece of Byzantium, the last continuation of the Roman Empire. Istanbul also boasts some of the best museums in the world, such as the Istanbul Archeological Museum and Modern Art Museum, and their varied collections provide a look at the art of Turkey, old and new.

Should you be lucky enough to go, too, here's what you need to see and do...

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