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Country #10: Turkey

April 21, 2011

Hagia Sophia at Night

The first word that comes to mind and perhaps the best word that describes our experience in Turkey is relaxing. Jen and I had just spent three wonderful weeks with our parents visiting various countries, but they were also three weeks that were a much faster pace than we have been accustomed. Turkey provided us a chance to take it easy while still being able to take in some great sights and eat some decent food. We stayed in Istanbul for the entire week and had contemplated heading to Cappadocia, an outdoor region to explore, but decided to stay put.

In fact, we were never supposed to be in Turkey in the first place, we were actually slated to go to Egypt. Due to the political uprising we figured it would be best to put that off for a couple of years and head somewhere else. Thanks to advice from our friend Mary and Cousin Carol, we changed our flights to Istanbul.

Uncovered Mosaic in Hagia Sophia

From the moment we arrived, we knew it would be a good city. We stepped off of a great public transportation system into a park filled with tulips and free Wi-Fi. This made it so easy to not only find our place but enjoy the day more thoroughly. I think just about the only problem we had in the country was finding a cheap place to stay. We had booked two nights in one hotel thinking we could find something cheaper. When we could not find anything and tried to extend our stay, they were full. The same was true for most spots, except for one tiny place that charged us quite a bit for a room where you had to stand on the bed to get to the other side and went to the bathroom and showered in the same square foot of space. Finally we found a fantastic place that we bargained down to a reasonable rate for four nights. The room even had a huge bathroom, a sitting area for us to read, a stellar breakfast, and nice rooftop terrace.

The Blue Mosque behind tulips

Much of our time was spent sleeping and reading but when we weren’t doing those things, we were exploring various sights in the city. One of those being the Hagia Sophia which is a former church turned mosque turned museum. Built in the late 4th century it served as a church until the Ottoman Turks conquered Constantinople and converted it into a Mosque. It then stayed that way until the 1900s when it was turned into a museum and is now one of the major tourist attractions in Turkey. For nearly a thousand years it was the largest cathedral in the world. It was neat to see simply because it told yet another story of the Christian and Muslim faiths intersecting much as we have seen over the past month traveling through the Middle East.  As well, before it was a mosque, there were gorgeous, ornate mosaics all around the building. However, once converted they were plastered and painted over, subsequently being hidden until the 1930s and are still being uncovered today. Traveling through the structure you see influences from both religions that are on display and intertwined with one another (check out the picture at the bottom of this post to see the inside and try to find all the different symbols of both faiths).

Inside the Blue Mosque

Another large structure that we spent a lot of time exploring was the Sultan Ahmed Mosque, otherwise known as the Blue Mosque. This building is situated not far from the Hagia Sophia and is easily distinguished by its’ six large minarets jetting into the sky – which frequently broadcast the call to prayer. Speaking of which, if you have never heard the call to prayer, click on the video below and it will give you a good idea of what it is like. Anyway, the blue mosque is quite pretty inside and it was weird to be within the walls of a mosque since typically only Muslims are allowed inside. What was even crazier was that we were allowed to stay and observe the call to prayer and worship of the followers. It was certainly something I have never seen before and quite unique compared to what we are used to. Just as we did, everyone takes off their shoes and then enters through the main doors. The men and woman separate and go to their respective areas to worship – the men in the front and the women in back hidden behind a wall. The men formed a long line facing Mecca and when instructed would bow or stand while repeating what the Imam said. Like I said, very interesting to witness.

While we were in Jordan the call served as our 4:45 AM wake up call… luckily we didn’t hear it in the hotel in Istanbul.

One Ornate Ceiling in Topkapi Palace

One day we hopped on a ship and headed down the Bosphorus to take in the views from the water, all of which you can read about here. This cruise included getting to see a good view of Topkapi Palace which we then visited the next day. Topkapi Palace was a nice place but did not really live up to all the hype we had heard about it. This is the dwelling where all the Ottoman Sultans lived for a majority of their rein, and our favorite part were the artifacts held in the museum like rooms. These included such things as the Prophet Muhammad beard hairs, Moses’ staff, and tons of diamond and jewel encrusted objects.

With the Mayor of Istanbul

Best of all, on our way out the doors of Topkapi we ran in to the Mayor of Istanbul. No clue why he was there but Kadir Topbas is a very friendly man and he loved taking pictures and getting to meet people. So, naturally we told him hi and shook his hand. He then proceeded to have the photographer use our camera and take several pictures. No lie, he spent a few minutes directing the guy just so we would have the perfect shot. It was all quite hilarious.

Other than that, we enjoyed eating from street vendors and searching for good fried mussels. A lot of doner kebaps were consumed, which is the big local food, but we never seemed to have any that were that amazing. We also wandered over to the Grand Bazaar one afternoon which was just alright. By this point we are somewhat burnt out on large shopping areas where you are constantly being hassled to buy something and bargain. It is very common throughout the Middle East and we are pretty tired of it by this point. Plus, if we buy something it just means we have to carry it around with us for the next three months.

Our Last Sunset in Istanbul from the terrace

Now, Jen and I are both very relaxed and still feel like we got a good sampling of what Istanbul had to offer. For the next three weeks or so, we are off to Western Europe to hang out with friends and experience what their lives are like on a daily basis living abroad. It is going to be a blast.

Steven

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One Comment leave one →
  1. carol permalink
    April 29, 2011 08:36

    Leave it to you guys to meet the Mayor…
    Glad you liked Istanbul!

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