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My husband and I enjoy traveling and experiencing new things together, we often travel with our kids, and while we make sure to go on trips with just the two of us. Spending time with each other without thinking about work or the pressure of our everyday routine is a wonderful way to reconnect as a couple and recharge as individuals and as parents.

For years now, I have been so curious about Istanbul. It has always been on my bucket list. The fact that it’s one of the few cities that lies on two continents, how it connects Asia and Europe geographically and culturally has always fascinated me.

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Standing by one of the gates of Dolmabahçe Palace.
Brightly colored ceramics, textiles, carpets, teacups at The Grand Bazaar.

A Taste of Turkey

We landed just shortly before sunrise and was welcomed by pleasantly cool weather. We caught a cab to our hotel located on the European side of the city. Istanbul is divided into two “sides”, as it is located on two continents. Hence, the European and Asian sides. As soon we got to our room, a beautiful view of the Hagia Sophia and the Galata Bridge greeted us with its night lights against a stunning show of amber and blue skies and the sun slowly appearing from the horizon. And just like that, we experienced our first sunrise in Istanbul! What a magical way to start the trip!

Tired yet full and fueled by Istanbul’s famous coffee, we make our way to our first stop: The Grand Bazaar. En route, it was such a delight seeing bustling Istanbul for the first time! It was exciting, busy, and had such a pulsating vibe.

We found ourselves walking into a fascinating labyrinth with lanterns of different shapes and colors hanging from the ceiling of the stalls. With over a thousand shops, I was a bit overwhelmed because it felt like a wonderful maze of Turkish carpets, ceramics, brightly colored textiles, teacups, jewelry, silverware and antiques, all seemed to call out my name. It was a technicolor dream and I felt like a kid in a candy store, but I had to be organized about shopping to avoid a lot of kitschy souvenirs and refrain myself from buying too much. As the name implies, a whole day isn’t enough to explore the very Grand Bazaar.

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The Grand Fountain at the entrance of the Peterhoff palace.
The main dining room at the Peterhof was situated 1km away from the kitchen so beautiful plate warmers were filled with hot water to maintain the temperature of the food.

The Historic Sights of Russia

Our first stop was the Peterhoff Palace, the Romanovs’summer palace about an hour away from the city. It reminded me of Versailles in France. It was a two-story palace with a beautiful garden and a grand fountain at the entrance with an amazing view of the Baltic Sea. The amount of gold used in this palace was astounding. I also had just recently finished watching the Netflix documentary about the Romanovs which made me more drawn to the story of the imperial family and my visit to this palace even more fascinating.

The next day we visited the Catherine Palace. The abundance of gold displays and trimmings all over the palace truly depicted the opulence of a monarch known as Catherine The Great. The stories behind every room were as compelling as the woman herself. What stood out for me was the great hall which is the main ballroom of the palace with gilded mirrors, elaborate paintings, and the beautiful parquet floor which was just magnificent. You can almost picture all the gatherings that took place in that room.

Overall, Russia was a discovery, everyone was friendly, welcoming and accommodating like our cab driver who even gave us a little present upon finding out we were there for the first time.

This trip to Turkey and Russia was definitely eyeopening, having experienced cultures of stark differences but still sharing a lot of common ground with its people.

Read the full travel story of Bianca Brandner featuring tourist destinations in Turkey and Russia in Lifestyle Asia’s December 2019-January 2020 edition titled, “Agents of Change.”

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