Istanbul Imperial Legacy – Sultans, Mosques, and Hidden Stories.

It became a bit of an inside joke in Istanbul when the Movers and Shakers of Sand Hill Road and Silicon Valley passed each other under the dome of the Blue Mosque.  We usually reserved Haig St. Sophia privately for our client families, which is an amazing experience. I lay on the floor and could imagine the hoofbeats of ancient horses galloping through. The President has deemed St Sophia be converted into a Mosque again, the floor is covered in carpet for prayer.

“We arrived by boat at the Four Seasons Hotel Istanbul at the Bosporus from the airport in Istanbul. Splendid traffic-beating ride and a look at the beautiful city skyline.” Reed Hastings & Patty Quillin 

Four Seasons Hotel Istanbul

The old airport was near the Marina, when all of our clients arrived, I insisted everyone cruise the Bosporus on a yacht charter to the Four Seasons Hotel. After a long 14-hour flight, avoid the traffic plagued streets, our clients were whisked to the marina for a yacht transfer, it is a brilliant memorable arrival! Avoided the traffic, breathe in the fresh air, and savor the skyline from a yacht which I feel every visitor must experience. The skyline is fascinating and stunning!

Istanbul is one of the most ancient cities in the world and the only city on the globe to be situated on two continents, straddling the Bosporus Strait in northwestern Turkey between the Sea of Marmara and the Black Sea.

All our clients who began with us 18 years ago have visited Istanbul; Americans are visiting again.  A magical destination, Istanbul has a wealth of attractions from architecture, shopping, and delicious healthy dining. An ancient city with an unparalleled cultural heritage, truly a timeless charm. Since my last visit, many new five star hotels have opened in Istanbul. Six Senses is plopped on the upper Bosphorus, Raffles and the Fairmont have planted roots and The Mandarin has established a water side location.

A showcase of ancient culture and Western History.

Follow Me – up the grand Bosporus Strait to berth at the Four Seasons Aqua Restaurant for dinner under an inky black sky.

Highly Recommend!

Caravan to Jordan, Middle East Exploring

There are many reasons to visit Jordan, the obvious draw is the UNESCO World Heritage site of the lost city carved from stone, Petra. Jordan guides and the tourism board are interested in drawing more travelers to the religious sites in Jordan as well as Petra.

Uncover the ancient rich culture and visit cities etched in tho the distant past. Bask in the epic and monumental rock carved city of Petra and don’t miss a float in the Dead Sea, followed by a black mud treatment enhanced by a salt exfoliation, signature Journeys in the Arab kingdom of Jordan!

One lands in the capital city of Amman, which is chock a block full of pale white sandstone structures. Amman was a central Middle Eastern crossing point and the birthplace of several great civilizations. A modern evolving city which maintains a Middle Eastern flavor epitomized by many residents in olden dress, mouthwatering food and friendly locals. It’s a hilly city, not built for strolling, there are hidden stairways that lead to viewpoints if you want to meander. But I would save the strolling for Madaba!

Amman City Jordan

Full confession, I am a fallen Catholic girl, close to Pagan baby, so I would suggest if you aren’t interested in seeing building footings of the excavations at Bethany or Mount Nebo which is mentioned in the Bible, where Moses was granted a view of the Holy Land but kept from entering, avoid the religious sightseeing. There is a collection of newly built Churches where the country hopes to eventually host pilgrimages. The prophet Moses was buried here, but from a visual perspective, there isn’t much to see. For me, it wasn’t a fruitful day. I did enjoy an impromptu visit to the mosque in Amman, much more to my interest. The kingdom and people of Jordan display great pride in their culture of religious tolerance, evidenced by the Amman Message, which states that “Islam honors every human being,” regardless of color, race, or religion. Non-Muslims are welcome at many mosques in Jordan. The exquisite blue-domed King Abdullah I Mosque was well worth a stop. The attached gift shop provides dresses for women to cover the body and hair. Remove your shoes and leave them at the doorway. Remember that this is a place of worship. Adornments typically include the carved olive wood minbar (pulpit), ornate calligraphic quotes from the Quran, and lavish arabesque designs on the ceiling. The enchanting ethereal call to prayer ( Adhan) is recorded in Jordan. In Egypt, the prayer call is live and many of the deliveries included a few shrieking verses of the Koran on Friday’s, which provided interest, however, I didn’t feel compelled to be mindful when the Imam engaged in the frequent 15 minute outbursts in Egypt!

King Abdullah I Mosque, Amman Jordan

I am a car girl, so I visited the Royal Auto Museum in Amman, also not for everyone. The Royal Automobile Museum depicts the history of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, from the early 1920s to the present day. The museum offers an insight into the history of the Kingdom through cars from the era of King Abdullah I, the founder of the Kingdom, to the current era of King Abdullah II. The cars on display reflect the development of the Kingdom in pace with the automotive advancement in the country and its transformation since the Great Arab Revolt during World War I. Rare photo archives and video footage are used throughout the museum.

Nearby Amman, I enjoyed a day outing to the Roman City Jerash. Nestled in the hills of Gilead is the Greco-Roman city, where archaeological remains from Neolithic, Greek, Roman, Byzantine and UJuneyad eras have been found. Jerash’s golden age, however arrived with Roman rule. Today, Jerash is acknowledged as one of the best-preserved province cities of the Roman Empire. Stroll the long promenade and imagine yourself visiting during another era. Once one of the ten great Roman cities, the ancient city of Jerash was restored from beneath the sands and is considered to be one of the best preserved Roman cities in the world.

Hadrians Arch at the Roman Ruins of Jerash

Some of the most interesting things to see are the Hippodrome, the Oval Forum bordered by tens of beautiful ionic columns, Hadrian’s Gate, and Jerash Archaeological Museum’s collection of statues and sarcophagi. The Citadel towers above the city from atop Jabal al-Qala’a, making it an excellent vantage point to appreciate the cityscape below. The Citadel is the site of ancient Rabbath-Ammon and excavations here have revealed numerous Roman, Byzantine and early Islamic remains. The most impressive building of the Citadel, known simply as al-Qasr (the Palace), dates back to the Islamic Umayyad period. Its exact function is unclear, but it includes a monumental gateway, an audience hall and four vaulted chambers. A colonnaded street also runs through the complex. Downhill from the Citadel and five minutes’ walk east from downtown, the Roman Theatre is the most prominent and impressive relic of ancient Philadelphia. The theatre, which was built during the reign of Antonius Pius (AD 138-161), is cut into the northern side of a hill that once served as a necropolis or graveyard. It is very similar in design to the Amphitheater at Jerash and can accommodate 6,000 spectators. The theatre is still used periodically for sporting and cultural events.

The Four Seasons Amman is the best hotel, the luxurious property is set atop the highest of the White City’s famous seven hills. The perfect location for day trips between the desert and the fertile Jordan Valley. La Capitale restaurant offers a menu of traditional French classics in a traditional brasserie setting and boasts Jordan’s first farm to glass seasonal bar menu. I’m a Rye Manhattan aficionado, the bartender created a smoky thyme infused cocktail combining dramatic flourish’s table-side!

Enroute to Petra, I visited the ancient city of Madaba, the “City of Mosaics”, perched on an archaeological site with more than 4,000 years of history buried beneath it. The trip south from Amman is along the 5000-year-old Kings Highway. If you’ve visited, India, the people of both countries must have attended the same driving school; it’s a fluid drift, road lines are merely a suggestion of lanes. Donkey carts laden with bountiful vegetables compete for road space, happily they all converge; they rarely honk, unlike Cairo, and traffic moves at a decent nerve-wracking clip.

Madaba street scene

The quality and quantity of the mosaic flooring found in Madaba has made it one of the most prominent cities in the world for mosaics. St. George’s Church houses a world-famous mosaic floor containing a large mosaic map of Palestine, which also features a detailed map of Jerusalem as it was during the sixth century.

At the Church of the Apostles, at the southern entrance of the city, is a mosaic floor attributed to the craftsman Salamonie’s, depicting the sea, with the central figure of a woman encircled with a selection of creatures, vegetation and an inscription.

Madaba has one of Jordan’s largest Christian communities. The town’s long tradition of religious tolerance is joyfully – and loudly – expressed on Friday, when imams summon the faithful to pray before dawn, and bells bid Orthodox Christians to rise at first light.

The charming town is authentic as can be and can be visited with a delightful lunch stop at the Haret Jdoudna Restaurant. Haret Jdoudna represents an authentic village in the city of Madaba, offering everything from amazing traditional food, to entertainment, to local crafts, mosaics and souvenirs. The restaurant is a 19th century house, still with its original features and floors. The exquisite menu offers local mezza dishes, oven-baked delicacies and traditional home-made meals. The working bakery downstairs bakes piping hot pita bread in a gas fired oven, you will never eat Pita bread at home after a few weeks in the Middle East! Take a stroll around the town for photo taking, it’s a lively location with locals out and about.

Local well off farmers at lunch at Haret Jdoudna Restaurant, Madaba

Within a few hours’ drive, one reaches the colorful decorated town of Petra. All over Jordan, the government enforces the white sandy hue on stone buildings, however, in Petra the government encourages creativity with home colors reflecting the bright rose and pink hues of the rocky environment.

Petra doesn’t need an introduction, for full appreciation plan on staying two nights. The Movenpick Hotel is modern, clean and centrally located across the street from the Petra visitor entrance. As a spectacular introduction, we would plan your visit to coincide with an evening Monday, Wednesday or Thursday for the candlelight walk into the Treasury. It’s a 1.5 mile trek downhill illuminated by hundreds of glowing candles – the Siq (small canyon) road is a mixture of cobblestones and packed dirt. A torch is helpful, at a central point, guides ask you to put away the torch and become accustomed to the dark. I used mine here and there when the rocky path seemed unstable. An almost full moon illuminated the high walled passage, the candles cast enough light to glimpse faint outlines of the landscape. Around a bend, 1500 flickering candles indicated the end of the path – we sat on a bench quietly absorbing the energy. An entrancing flute, played by a local Bedouin set the mood and within a few minutes, purple and rose-hued lights gradually revealed the magnificence of the Treasury, I was unprepared for the majesty of this ancient site. Traditional warm mint tea is passed among the guests. The perfect introduction to one of the Seven Wonders of the World. It was a magical scene and sparks excitement for exploring the next day.

The Treasury by candlelight Petra Jordan
The Treasury by candlelight Petra Jordan

Walk uphill to your hotel and mosey to the bar for a well-deserved cocktail and dinner! Next morning, I would suggest our guide arrange a horse carriage for the entire day for exploring Petra. The advantage of this arrangement provides a leisurely day in the Valley which stretches
for miles. Over thousands of acres are scattered with hand carved caves, temples and tombs in the majestic mountains. The towering pink façade of the Treasury is only one of the numerous archaeological marvels to explore at Petra. Several walks and climbs reveal literally hundreds of buildings, funerary halls, ancient tombs, baths, arched gateways, colonnaded streets, temples, and haunting rock drawings – as well as a 3,000 seat open-air theatre, a vast 1st-century Monastery, all of which can be explored at leisure. The guide will advise your driver if you are interested in stopping for photos at specific locations. A modest shrine commemorating the death of Aaron, brother of Moses, was built in the 13th century by the Mamluk Sultan, high atop mount Aaron in the Sharah range.

The Rose City was a well-traveled crossroad, ideally positioned in the trade routes between the Arabian and the Mediterranean Seas, and Egypt and Syria. There were at least 26 natural water springs suppling the area. The mountains provided natural defensive advantages, with outlook points and barriers to successfully avoid attacks. Little else is known of the nomadic Nabataens except that they were exceptionally business minded and extraordinarily wealthy.

The Treasury Petra Jordan

Petra was absorbed into the Roman Empire in the first century AD. Most of what you see at Petra was built by the Romans. Petra continued to flourish until an earthquake destroyed buildings and crippled vital water systems in 749 BC. After that, Petra was largely abandoned. Other than the local Bedouins, people forgot about the ruins. Petra remained hidden to the world until the 19th century when they were “discovered” by a Swiss explorer. In 1929, the first major excavation of the site occurred. There are a few village Beduins who still live within the confines of the Rose City.

We can also arrange a private sunrise visit at 7 am, crowd free.

You may enjoy this view of Petra