A chronicle of Alison and Ron's trip around the world in 2009-2010.

"Not all those who wander are lost"
- Tolkien

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Istanbul was Constantinople

Yes, yes every time I think of Istanbul I think of the "They Might Be Giants" song, it’s a liability, or maybe a curse because its been in my head all week. I wish they made more songs about geography and history because maybe I could remember a few factoids or dates better. I’m afraid its in one ear and out the other for me. In 5th century AD some guy named so and so did blah blah blah. I don’t have a mind for it, and I envy those that can rattle off interesting details about times of yore, but that ain’t me.

I can tell you around 8am on Monday morning July 20 we arrived in Istanbul after a painful overnight bus ride with broken down AC and half the Turkish kingdom heading home we hope for a bath and a good long teeth brushing. The main bus station, or Otogar as they call it, was totally nuts. It took us one hour once we arrived to actually arrive. We had a referral for one hostel but it was a little sketchy so we moved on and found a semi-decent place (other than the arrogant and unhelpful desk punks) called Cordial House. It was in the Sultanahmet district which boasts basically all of the major tourist attractions.

We visited the Sultan Ahmed Mosque or The Blue Mosque, named for the blue tiles inside, which is the national mosque of Turkey. Built in the early 1600’s during the rule of Ahmed I it is rumored that he asked for a gold minaret but the architect confused the word “gold” with the word “six” and built 6 minarets instead of the usual 4. Afterwards, the architect feared a beheading but the sultan was pleased because I guess even then, more was better. The story continues that the sultan was then criticized that there were already 6 minarets at the Ka’aba mosque in Mecca and he had to pay to build a seventh one to ensure its rare distinction (and maybe to keep his head? they really liked to behead people back then).

The Hagia Sophia was built as a church in 537 in the Byzantine empire and was later converted to a mosque when the Ottomans conquered in 1453, and then opened as a museum in 1935. It has a massive dome and was the largest cathedral in the world for a thousand years. Inside is just as impressive with the sheer height of the ceiling making you tiny and inconsequential. There are a few lovely biblical mosaics still available to view and photograph but those pesky Japanese tourists don’t respect the no flash zone so go now before they have completely disintegrated from the onslaught of one too many Sony flash bulbs. I know I stereotype but really there was a whole tour bus in front of us and not one person turned off the flash!

We spent an entire day wandering the world famous Grand Bazaar which is the largest and oldest covered market selling everything from carpets and spices to pottery and tea sets to knock-off Rolexes and Mont Blanc pens. The place boasts over 1200 shops on 58 streets under one roof. We entered the melee with a short shopping list including a new watch for me (lost the second week of our trip), a travel backgammon set for the long travel days, and a t-shirt for Ron of the Turkish flag with the simple yet cool graphic of crescent and star. We also had notions of some gifts, and we still needed our little souvenir from Turkey. Since we can’t carry anything heavy we decided we would get one small (less than 1 inch square) souvenir from each country and make a little wooden keepsake wall box for when we return.

The market was really disorienting. People yelling, trying to get you to buy this and that, price haggling fueled by something resembling crack cocaine and the lust for a good deal. We were exhausted after trying and failing to find a backgammon set that was both cheap and light, and this was only the first hour. Then came my watch, which they don’t sell digital watches really except an old school Casio similar to Ron’s and although the style can’t be denied we are already on the brink of being one of those disgusting couples with way too many matching items. I found a Chanel knock-off that was cute but couldn’t stomach the enormous price tag. In the end we got Ron’s shirt for 15 lira and met a sweet man in a antique shop that let us sift through all of his old Turkish lira to find one as our little souvenir, and then gave it to us for free. Just that one single moment in that smiling moustach of a mans tiny and dangerously overstuffed slightly metallic-smelling stall made the whole day.


sultanahmet November 24, 2009 at 6:13 AM  

Pictures are great.
Thanks for sharing.
I will return to Sultanahmet
Maybe we meet in Sultanahmet

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