Thursday, November 8, 2012

Istanbul: Let's Talk Turkey!

This is truly the city where east meets west. The Bosphorus splits Istanbul in two, with one half in Europe, the other half in Asia.  This was our first visit to a Muslim country, so we didn't quite know what to expect. We quickly discovered that Istanbul is beautiful, vibrant and full of very friendly people that were very doting on our children. It was easy to get around, very easy to communicate with others and very child friendly.    
The Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque are in the Old City.   Walking around Sultanahmet Park, you can see both mosques, one on each end of the garden.  They almost mirror each other. 

The Hagia Sophia, Greek for "Divine Wisdom," is enormous.  To give you perspective on the size, the Statue of Liberty could do jumping jacks in there.   It started out as a Christian church over 1500 years ago, the greatest architechtural achievement of the Byzantine Empire.   When Constantinople was sacked in 1453, Sultan Mehmet the Conquerer converted it to a mosque.  

Look how much fun Patrick had in there!   Whenever that call to prayer went off, Patrick would scream right along with the chanting.  Claudia would cover her ears and yell "why is he [the guy on the loud speaker] screaming?!!"   
More of the inside of the Hagia Sophia.  The light pours in from the dome and the windows.  It felt like everything was glowing.

Inside the Hagia Sophia is the Column of St. Gregory.  You're supposed to stick your thumb in and say a prayer.  If your thumb comes out damp, your prayer will be answered.

It's a bizarre place, knowing it has been a Christian church, then a mosque and finally a museum.  When it was converted into a museum about a century ago, they restored all of the original Christian frescos.   They were still beautiful and in decent condition, despite being covered in plaster for centuries.   They didn't allow any pictures of those. 

Like everywhere else, we ate lots of ice cream to keep spirits high.  It was chewy, though, which is odd, but it was very good.  They also sell fresh squeezed pomegranate juice everywhere, which I thought was pretty neat.

The Blue Mosque is an active mosque.  It was interesting watching everyone washing their feet before going inside.  No shoes allowed.  Women have to cover their heads. 

The interior was amazing.  Patrick was wide eyed the whole time.

We enjoyed the local eats and drinks too.  The Turkish tea was excellent, but I don't know about the Turkish coffee.  Russell liked it, but it was all grounds.  You just drink it after meals as a digestif.  We all loved the Turkish Delight, the local desert.   I think its served all over the Middle East, though.  Lots of sugar, lots of cornstarch, lots of powdered sugar. 

The Topkapi Palace, which was the Turkish sultans' home for centuries was like nothing I've ever seen.   The harem, which was the sultan and his family's living quarters within the palace was equally impressive.  The bedrooms were all completely tiled with gold, mother of pearl and tortoise shell, with some pretty lofty vaulted ceilings.  

I didn't get into too many of the details of the harem with Claudia. She had been watching Aladin before we left, so we just called it "Jasmin's Palace."


The Grand Bazaar was exciting and a little overwhelming.  It's over 500 years old and is known as the world's first shopping mall.  There's Turkish carpets and lamps as far as the eye can see.  There are no windows and people crawling all over the place.   And about 500 guys trying to convince you that their carpet is the carpet for you.   The new James Bond movie has a scene here.  He drives his motorcycle through the aisles of the Bazaar. 

Here are just some of my favorite spots around town.  This is the golden door inside the Hagia Sophia.  It seemed like it was glowing.

This is the underground cistern in the Old City.  It dates back to the Justinian period, but fell out of use and was forgotten after the Turks settled here.  After being rediscovered, its now a tourist spot.  If you've ever seen the Bond flick From Russia with Love, they filmed some scenes down here.   

A pic from the upper gallery of the Hagia Sophia.

I have to say this was one of my favorite places to visit.  Amazing sights and amazingly gracious people.  Thank you for the wonderful time, Istanbul!


  1. Wow! What beautiful sites. Can't wait to make it there. Looks like your little ones are quite the troopers!


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