Through my eyes

living my life without regrets

Tuesday, January 05, 2016

Istanbul, Turkey (TR)

Istanbul, Constantinople, Byzantine et al., TR

The Hagia Sophia Started As a Christian Holy Place
The Christian Church Became a Mosque 
Riding our bikes into Istanbul and finding our hostel was an experience! Before we even entered Istanbul we had to decide in what part of the city we wanted to stay for a few days. Istanbul is HUGE. Most people (Tourists) want to see the Sultanahmet area; the area around the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque. And since we were tourists we were headed to that district, too. Sultanahmet is a large area, a whole district of Istanbul and it takes weeks to walk most of it. We only had a few days in town before we had to head back to Germany. Not that I felt rushed but I know I have to come back to Istanbul to see ‘other’ things. So we did not rush through, we meandered. Our ‘hotel’ was a hostel, the Sultan Hostel.   

This Hostel is centrally located, rated above 8.0 on most websites and a good place to stay when in Istanbul. It is not a posh place, it is a Hostel. We picked it because of its central location and the ease of getting to anything made it a good place to stay. I am sure there are other places, even better places, but we had a spot to park our bikes, received breakfast, had our own room with bath and the room was quiet. What else do we want? The price was OK, too.

The ride into Istanbul was difficult on a motorcycle. Cars veered in front of us to take an exit without signaling, tailgating seems to be a sport, signage is only for the initiated and there are just too many cars on the road, most of them sharing the lane we were in. It was tough on the nerves, clutch hand, brakes and eyes. You have to be totally awake to ride through Istanbul; there is not much room for error. Carol is a good rider, I can tell you that, she was a trooper and we made it to the Hostel alright. It helped a lot that I have been to Istanbul before; I had a pretty good grasp of the city and knew somewhat the direction we had to go. Still, because of road closures for construction, we got lost a few times despite the GPS and my knowledge of having been there, etc. If you go to Istanbul, study, I mean really study the maps. Once checked into the Hostel we never rode the bikes until we left Istanbul. Like NYC, there is no need for personal transport in Istanbul; you walk a lot, take trolleys, and hire taxis.

The sounds of the city are highlighted several times a day by the muezzins calling for prayer. Around the Blue Mosque are many other mosques and the calls are ‘timed’ so that when one call finishes, the other starts. It is quite pleasant to hear the muezzin call, very melodic and a bit romantic even. When it was prayer time, we did not go to the mosques however, we just found a bench or chair or table and sat for 10 minutes, giving the religious people their respect or due. We noticed that most people just kept on going on with their daily lives. Yes, this is an Islamic Country like Italy is a Christian Country but it is very, very secular. Here and there I saw women with a hijab, but most wore western clothing. I only saw one burka in the few days we were in Istanbul.
Hagia Sophia 
Islamic Details Are Amazingly Delicate 
After we had settled into the Sultan Hostel, we walked over to the Hagia Sophia. Entering the museum (formerly a Christian patriarchal Basilica and later an Imperial Mosque) I was overwhelmed by the huge space. What a building! To come to Istanbul and just visit the Hagia Sophia (meaning Holy Wisdom) would be understandable. This is a one of a kind spot on earth. The building is so large, so huge, so spread out that you could study the details for years and probably find yourself not knowing much. There is hidden history around every corner. Humanity has passed through its doors. From the earliest years in 537 AD until today many, many souls have visited this space. Never mind that this ‘Holy Wisdom’ place took almost 1000 years to build. It was and is a ‘holy’ place and a must visit destination.
This Is a Mosaic Made From Very Small Tiles

This Is An Islamic Mosaic With Absolutely Wonderful Detail
The Whole Of This Wall and Door Are Made Of Marble
We spent about 3 hours or more just gawking in awe, straining our necks to look up and about. We could see Christian symbols interspersed with Muslim symbols. I even sat down on one of the few benches along the wall and just watched people. We took too many pictures, but I could not help myself. Carol was in her glory, this is her kind of place, full of history and beautiful mosaics. On an upper level we found the wall-to-wall Marble Gate used by the Synod when entering/leaving their meeting rooms. On the upper level walls were beautiful glittering, gold-tiled mosaics of Biblical scenes or Imperial portraits. There are just too many details to mention, this is a place you have to visit yourself and while here, take your time to see a lot of it.

I could go back to Istanbul just to visit the Hagia Sophia again and maybe I will do that in the future.

For dinner we ate at a ‘rooftop’ restaurant. We climbed rickety stairs, narrow and old to finally land at a terrace with a view of the Blue Mosque. It was twilight. We watched the lights being turned on to highlight the minarets, we heard the muezzin calling the believers to prayers. 

I looked at Carol, smiled and pinched myself. We are in Turkey! We are in ISTANBUL!

The Blue Mosque At Sunset From Our Table In A Rooftop Restaurant  

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