I know we would have seen more of Istanbul and know more about what we saw in Istanbul if we had the services of a guide. However, after spending most of the last five weeks with guides we were ready to be on our own again.
Our first stop was the Blue Mosque. We had already seen the main dome, minarets, and secondary domes from our hotel. The Mosque is five minutes from our hotel unless you are letting me lead the way. I showed Nancy the ten minute mostly scenic walk.
I am sure my scenic walk would have set new heights of joy for Nancy if it hadn’t been raining!
After a ten minute wait in line to enter and then a few minutes to put slippers over our shoes, we entered the mosque. It is by far and away the most beautiful mosque I have ever visited.
The first five minutes my eyes bounced from one area or section to another without really seeing what I was looking at. It is overwhelming.
Nancy thought it was interesting but didn’t understand why I wasn’t ready to leave after fifteen minutes. Then I realized it wasn’t just the workmanship and architectural design that held my interest it was “how did they build this building without cranes, design without engineering software programs, layout the building without survey equipment, etc.”.
I began explaining to Nancy the different sections I was looking at and then the intersections of two or more sections and Nancy began to realize my amazement in the building team that put this all together.
After properly being WOW’ed by the construction I them began to be re-WOW’ed by the beauty of the details and the overall grandure of the space.
Our next stop was a cafe for coffee. Did I already mention the rain and chilly temperature which we had NOT packed for. This trip was to Africa and we didn’t give the proper thought of what the weather may be like in Istanbul. The hot coffee was well received by my body.
After coffee we continued our tour at the Hagia Sophia. We both rented the self guiding tape tour. This was a definite help but I still admit I don’t have the sequencing of all the history organized correctly in my mind and believe me there is a lot of history and then there is the fact that two different religions — Christianity and Muslim — and two different theologies of Christianity — Greek Orthodox and Roman Catholic — have used the building since it opened.
The building broke ground in the early 500’s — no I didn’t drop a digit. The interior is almost all marble and tile. It is a fascinating building.
It is and has been for many years under renovation. It was converted in 1931 to a museum and opened in 1935.
The original Christian mosaic art was plaster over when it became a mosque. One if not the key issue is what do expose — Christian art — and what do you leave — Muslim art.
The legs were tired and the stomachs were empty — it must be lunch time and a late lunch at that.
A very polite rug salesman tried to get us into his store but we explained it was time for a drink (pain killer for the traveler’s legs) and food. No problem, he walked us around the corner and told us the restaurant in front of us was the place to eat. It was a great meal. My lamb and there was lots and lots of lamb on my plate was as good if not better than any lamb I have ever had the pleasure to eat. Only problem was after sitting, drinking two beers, and eating enough lamb for a family of four; we both were ready to rest. No more sight seeing for the day. Oh yes, guess who showed up as we were paying the check?!
This morning I was to navigate us to the Topkapi Palace. However, as we are (again) taking the scenic route and there is the entrance to the Basilica Cistern and oh, did I mention it was raining. Next stop is the Basilica Cistern.
Now for some information that makes this cistern a little out of the ordinary as far as I am concerned. The cisterns roof is supported by 336 marble columns. In my mind that was a whole lot of marble no one was ever going to see at the time of the cistern’s completion.
There are several other quirks other than the marble columns. For instance there are two column bases carved with Medusa heads. One of heads is laying sideways and the other is upside down.
Our next stop is the Topkapi Palace. This is a relative new building complex with construction beginning in 1459 or 33 years before Columbus discovered America.
We spent more than four hours walking the palace buildings and viewing jewels, religious artifacts, buildings, and the grounds. One of the guide books I
read before coming to Istanbul recommended setting aside three hours. We spent four and didn’t even enter the primary treasury room and its jewels and skipped several other buildings. But don’t despair, we quickly walked through two other jewel rooms. Again, we elected to tour using the prerecorded tape machines.
One of the religious and historical items for public view is Mohammed’s cloak and sword. Also there were several small orate boxes with whisker hair from Mohammed — better than an autograph I am guessing.
If there is one thing the past rich and powerful liked no matter where they were in the world is gold leaf. Makes me wonder how Melinda and Bill Gates decorated their palace.
I’ve always said the first thing a traveler loses his legs and Nancy and I decided after the last two days it was time to rest the legs. We stopped for another very good meal on the return walk to our hotel. We opened the hotel provided (for a price) wine in our room and rested and slept.
Our last full day in Istanbul we navigated the subway, a bus route, and the ferries. Our first stop was New Town and Nancy had done some internet research for a long sightseeing excursion. First thing to know about new town it is only new compare to Sultanahmet where we are staying and had explored.
There is a little of everything in New Town. Religious buildings, shops, a block of shops selling musical instruments, candy stores, jewelry stores, embassies, offices, living spaces, and the list goes on.
We walked through a fish market to get to the ferry building. Nancy purchased two tickets and we were off to see Asia.
The ferries are very clean and pleasant. And I give the subway even higher marks and the bus was good — getting around in Istanbul was easy for us and pleasant.
We only spent an hour or so in Asia Istanbul. Very nice and wish we more time to explore. I did note to Nancy I saw more women wearing headscarves on the European than the Asian side of Istanbul.
After three days in Istanbul I feel like we barely touched the high points. I know I want to not just return to Istanbul but also travel Turkey. It is a fascinating city and from what I have read an even more fascinating country.