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Istanbul embraces two continents, one arm reaching out to Asia, the other to Europe. Through the city's heart, the Bosphorus strait, courses the waters of the Black Sea, the Sea of Marmara and the Golden Horn. The former capital of three successive empires - Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman - today Istanbul honors and preserves the legacy of its past while looking forward to its modern future.

Indeed, it is Istanbul's variety that fascinates its visitors. The museums, churches, palaces, great mosques, bazaars and sights of natural beauty seem inexhaustible. As you recline on the shores of the Bosphorus at sunset, contemplating the red twilight reflected in the windows on the opposite shore, you understand, suddenly and profoundly, why so many centuries ago settlers chose to build on this remarkable site. At times such as these, you feel that Istanbul is truly one of the most glorious cities in the world.

A stay in Istanbul is not complete without the traditional and unforgettable boat excursion up the Bosphorus, the winding strait that separates Europe and Asia. Its shores offer a delightful mixture of past and present, grand splendor and simple beauty. Modern hotels stand next to yali (shorefront wooden villas), marble palaces abut rustic stone fortresses, and elegant compounds neighbor small fishing villages. The best way to see the Bosphorus is to board one of the passenger boats that regularly zigzag along the shores. You embark in Eminönü and stop alternately on the Asian and European sides of the strait. The round-trip excursion, at a very reasonable cost, takes about six hours. If you wish a private voyage, you can contact one of the agencies which specialize in organizing day or night mini-cruises.

During the journey, you pass in front of the magnificent Dolmabahçe Palace; farther along rise the green parks and imperial pavilions of Yildiz Palace. On the edge of this park, on the coast, stands Çiragan Palace ,now restored as a grand hotel. Refurbished in 1874 by Sultan Abdülaziz, it stretches for 300 meters along the Bosphorus shore, its ornate marble facades reflecting the swiftly moving water. In Ortaköy, the next stop, artists gather every Sunday to exhibit their works in a streetside gallery. The variety of people create a lively scene; sample a delicious bite from one of the street vendors. In Ortaköy, there is a church, mosque and a synagogue that have existed side by side for hundreds of years - a tribute to Turkish secularism and tolerance. Overshadowing Istanbul's traditional architecture is the Bosphorus Bridge, one of the world's largest suspension bridges linking Europe and Asia.

The beautiful Beylerbeyi Palace lies just past the bridge on the Asian side. Behind the palace rises Çamlica Hill, the highest point of Istanbul. You can drive here to admire the magnificent panorama of Istanbul as well as the beautiful landscaped gardens. On the opposite shore, the wooden Ottoman villas of Arnavutköy contrast with the luxurious modern apartments of neighboring Bebek. A few kilometers farther out, facing each other across the straits like sentries guarding the city, stand the fortresses of Rumeli Hisari and Anadolu Hisari. The Göksu Palace, sometimes known as Küçüksu Palace graces the Asian shore, next to Anadolu Hisari. The second link between the two continents; the Fatih Sultan Mehmet Bridge straddles the waterway just past the two fortresses.

The Golden Horn, a horn-shaped estuary, divides European Istanbul. One of the best natural harbors in the world, the Byzantine and Ottoman navies and commercial shipping interests were centered here. Today, lovely parks and promenades line the shores where the setting sun dyes the water a golden color. In Fener and Balat, neighbourhoods midway up the Golden Horn, whole streets of old wooden houses, churches, and synagogues date from Byzantine and Ottoman times. The Orthodox Patriarchy resides here at Fener. Eyüp, a little further up, reflects the Ottoman style of vermicular architecture.

Cemeteries sprinkled with dark cypress trees cover the hillsides. Many pilgrims come to the tomb of Eyüp in the hope that their prayers will be granted. The Pierre Loti Cafe, atop the hill overlooking the shrine is a wonderful place to enjoy the tranquility of the view.

One could visit Istanbul for the shopping alone. The Kapali Çarsi, or Covered Bazaar, in the old city is the logical place to start. This labyrinth of streets and passages houses more than 4,000 shops. The names recall the days when each trade had its own quarter: Goldsmiths' street, Carpet sellers' street, Skullcap makers. Still the commercial center of the old city, the bazaar is the original shopping mall with something to suit every taste and pocket.

Turkish crafts, the world-renowned carpets, brilliant handpainted ceramics, copper, brassware, and meerschaum pipes make charming souvenirs and gifts. The gold jewelry in brilliantly lit cases blinds passersby. Leather and suede goods of excellent quality make a relatively inexpensive purchase. The Old Bedesten, in the heart of the bazaar, offers a curious assortment of antiques. It is worth poking through the clutter of decades in the hope of finding a treasure.

The Misir Çarsisi or Spice Bazaar, next to Yeni Mosque in Eminönü, transports you to fantasies of the mystical East. The enticing aromas of cinnamon, caraway, saffron, mint, thyme and every other conceivable herb and spice fill the air. Sultanahmet has become another shopping mecca in the old city. The Istanbul Sanatlari Çarsisi (Bazaar of Istanbul Arts) in the l8th century Mehmet Efendi Medresesi, and the nearby l6th century Caferağa Medrese, built by Sinan, offer a chance to see craftsmen at work and to purchase their wares. In the Arasta (old bazaar) of the Sultanahmet Mosque, a thriving shopping arcade makes shopping and sightseeing very convenient.

The sophisticated shops of the Taksim-Nisantasi-Sisli districts contrast with the chaos of the bazaars. On Istiklal Avenue, Cumhuriyet Avenue and Rumeli Avenue, you can browse peacefully in the most fashionable shops that sell elegant fashions made from Turkey's high quality textiles. Exquisite jewelry as well as finely designed handbags and shoes can also be found. The Ataköy Galleria Mall in Ataköy and Akmerkez Mall in Etiler have branches of Istanbul's most elegant shops. Bahariye Avenue, Bagdat Avenue, and Capitol Mall on the Asian side, offer the same goods.


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