Friday, April 30, 2010

A Big Sweeping Day in Istanbul

Where to begin? Today has been overwhelming by anybody's standards. We began with another of those giant buffet breakfasts on the roof terrace, and then at 8:30 we headed off up the hill to look at the Hippodrome (ancient chariot-racing site from the time of Roman Emperor Constantine) which now is a big city plaza with some Egyptian obelisks and the beautiful Sultan Ahmed (Blue) Mosque off to one side.We spent a lot of time in both places, and heard the history of that part of the city, and were appropriately awed by how much beauty we were seeing, and the sense of history beneath our feet for so many thousands of years. It is humbling to know that the US is only about 200 years old as a nation, and we are standing in the middle of ancient civilizations that date back millennia, places the US sees fit to boss around, plunder, and patronize in recent years. Here in Istanbul,the Muslim population is 98% and yet we have beet treated with unfailing courtesy and kindness.

Upon leaving the Blue Mosque, we went to the neighborhood of the spice market which also is where all the "hardware" and cooking utensils and so much more is concentrated for sale. We wandered up and down narrow streets and in and out of bazaars, tasting, smelling, and sampling great things to eat (many of them have already played a starring role in our breakfasts here). In fact, as I write this, we are snacking on corn nuts, pistachios, Turkish delight, etc.!Next we walked across the Galata bridge, crossing the Bosporus to the Asian side. The bridge was crowded with fishermen catching small silver fish like sardines, and selling them to passers-by. We took a short, uphill subway ride into the Taksim neighborhood, where we walked down a long, no-cars avenue, Istiklal Cad, that could have been Rome or Paris or many European cities. Very cosmopolitan, filled with young and lively people, plenty of Starbucks...

We had lunch in a little side street, wandered around a little, then got onto the van to go back across the Golden Horn for a long drive around a variety of neighborhoods. We got out and walked in an area where the old city wall is still quite intact. Went to a Muslim shrine with a men's cemetery, many were worshiping there. Through a portal in the wall, we were suddenly in a gypsy area, very ramshackle buildings, slapped up against the city walls, beautiful children, women knitting or working on sheep wool outdoors, many stares at our small band of foreigners invading their territory.We continued on and visited the Sokullu Mehmet Pasha Mosque, which had more beautiful blue tiles than the blue mosque even dreamed of, a much more intimate and stunning little mosque. Notice the prayer rug covering the floor, with a separate space for each worshiper patterned into the rug design.Also went to the patriarchal Greek Orthodox church, full of glowing ancient icons, and even the relics of St. George, slayer of dragons! Last, but not least, we took a long, leisurely walk through Balat, a working class neighborhood full of ordinary Turks going about the business of living. Out guide is phenomenal, brave, and unflagging in energy and enthusiasm. Tomorrow we fly East to Uchisar, Cappadocia, where we will be for several days. Wish I could record for you the sounds here, particularly when the whole city seems to begin chanting at the time of the call to prayer. And the smells, of spices, fresh cheeses, lamb grilling on charcoal, and so much more. This is a feast for all at the senses.

-- Posted from my iPad

Location:Ahırkapı Sk,Istanbul Province,Turkey


robin andrea said...

Just catching up here. OMG, Turkey is so stunningly beautiful. It takes my breath away. Your photos capture a city so colorful and full of life. It is truly awe-inspiring.

istanbul said...

I like Istanbul.

I like Sultanahmet.

I like Eminönü.