- Istanbul, Turkey
from Turkey and a dedication to the fabulously lovely Emma,
our Aussie pal who we are traveling with again.
the matter of Turkey remains to be settled.
we left off, we were heading to Istanbul,
known as Constantinople, which carries the
of over two thousand years of history.
to the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque. Crossroads
of Europe and Asia, East and West.
also the largest concentration of carpet dealers
the world. (Yes, we did buy)
highlights of Istanbul:
The Hagia Sophia
has a checkered past as
home of the Eastern Orthodox Christian church and its
uncomfortable transition to a Mosque, and finally
present day status as a museum. Inside,
you can see the vast history played out. The original Christian mosaics
are side by side with large panels of Arabic writings, as imagery is
forbidden in Islam. One is thankful that the mosaics survived a very
turbulent period relatively unscathed. But
is awe-inspiring and very architecturally advanced even for this day and
age. Not bad for a building built in the fifth century.
was home to the Sultans of the great Ottoman Empire, and nowhere better
to see their wealth, glory, excess, cruelty and artistic accomplishments
than Topkapi Palace, the seat of the empire. It houses all 86 karats of
the Spoonmakers Diamond, though you have to compete with the crowds to
get a glimpse. And the legendary Topkapi dagger, the knife portion an
afterthought stuck in three enormous emeralds. Maybe you will dazzle
your enemies to death.
the most fascinating part of the complex is the infamous harem, a place
of intrigue and debauchery. The Sultan and his family and concubines
lived in the harem and it was forbidden for any man other than the
Sultan and his immediate sons to enter. Instead, an army of eunuchs
catered to their every whim. It was a maze of room after splendid room
designed to wrap them in the art of luxury as they lounged in court
lifestyle and took part in cerebral entertainment like belly-dancing and
Seal of the Sultan
of the Ottoman Empire
have visited many mosques here in Istanbul, the Blue
Mosque being the most inspirational of all. As all
working mosques, women enter only if they are
attired, this translating to completely
covered. This is where the handy-dandy headscarf
into play. Your hair,
shoulders, arms, and
must be covered. If not,
they will provide you
the appropriate clothing. Oh
and shoes cannot be
as a sign of respect and humility.
interior of a mosque consists of row after
of prayer carpets, with everyone sitting and kneeling on
floor. There is no
furniture of any type inside.
women are separated from the men in a gallery in
back and the tourists are kept behind a gate
them from the worshippers.
of the Blue Mosque
has been the first Islamic country that we have eyes
the only visible part of their body. Having been
visited with 97% of the population
however Turkey is run by a very secular government
and military. The
tension between the two is
Seeing young Turkish girls in the latest Western
fashions next to women in full black chador,
the headscarf on occasion, I have definately
more respect from many of the men and women
I am showing respect for their religion.
But even just a headscarf can be a very divisive issue. For example, the
local university just decried that headscarfs were not allowed to be
worn, an issue in which the secular government decided to flex their
muscles. Some women were outraged that they were actually being denied
the right to wear a headscarf, if they chose.
only are the sights of Turkey alien but the
as well. Five times a
day, from every minaret of
mosque, you can hear the Arabic call to prayer.
fact, you can find the exact times in the newspaper,
as they change daily. Roughly,
they are morning,
lunchtime, mid-afternoon, evening, and bedtime.
Every minaret is topped with two or three huge
loudspeakers and having been close to one at the right
time, it gives new meaning to the word of God. At
times, many businesses close and the mosques are
closed to visitors, as people hurry to pray.
of the more unusual sites in Istanbul is the Yerebatan Saray or the
Underground Cistern. Descending the stairs, you enter into a vast
subterrainean world, a space dominated by enormous supporting columns and
elevated woeden walkway over pools of water. . Classical music can be
heard over the sound of perpetual dripping, as you wander through the
caverns. Such an unusual space is the perfect backdrop for art and
Turkish Bath Interior
Istanbul, we met up with the fabu Emma and will be
with her for awhile. Its
great to have a
pal especially when we visited the Turkish bath or
as its called. In Turkey, the bath is quite
Hygiene is an extremely important facet
the culture as ritual ablutions(washings) must be
before every prayer. One
should take care
the bath as a chance splash from an infidel(me)
cause them to have to start again.
a beautiful stone dome structure with
light piercing through stars shaped openings, has a huge
marble stone at its center. We first rinse
ourselves at the
perimeter faucets and then lay on the hot stone naked,
toasting and awaiting
massage and cleansing. That began with a loofah
that took off about three layers of
epidermis, followed by a lathering massage that
me drowning in bubbles. Lastly,
sitting under a
felt like a kid again as she shampooed my hair
clean. Afterwards, we
relaxed on the
they kicked our naked asses out.
on the trolley to Taksim Square
a hamami (remembering his wonderful experience
Hungary and not wanting to spoil that) was not
as much as a shave and haircut, Doug visited a barber instead, an experience not to be missed.
An craftsman, he spreads a foot
layer of foam and takes a straight
to within a millimeter of your jugular.
shaved every corner and crevice with such finesse
flourish that he never felt his nose to be in peril,
big as it is. And once the shave was done, he
on gallon of aftershave. Now that's a pick-me-up.
of our more spiritual experiences was
Sema Ceremony practiced by religious followers better known as the whirling
dervishes. The followers of the twelfth century
master Mevlana, they espouse love for all of
creatures and send themselves to another level
The ceremony is
actually an analogy
the creation of the world and the dervishes are
Their spinning is representative of the
and rise of humanity and sends them into a
trance that enables them to whirl indefinately.
enter the trance 'seeking annihilation in Allah'
become one with God. They first spin with their
tightly wrapped around themselves, and once they
enter into a trance, their arms are flung wide and their
fall to the side. They spin to the chanting
and haunting music til
the head sheik calls them back. The
ceremony is open on only a few occasions but a must-see if you can.
the melting pot of east and west, the hotspot on the trading routes of
old, Istanbul is a shopping mecca. Most tourists head immediately to the
Grand Bazaar, the largest covered bazaar in the world and a labyrinthine
city onto itself. It is a jumble of baubles and hookah pipes, carpets and
chess sets, gold jewelry and cheap trinkets and other exotic playthings to
tempt the tourist's eye.
a more authentic experience, we headed to Eminonu which draws city
residents to its more mundane houseware offerings and the always exotic
Egyptian Spice Bazaar. We scored Turkish Viagra (hmmm, it seems more like
a coconut candy) and authentic tea servings, the miniature hourglass
shaped glasses sitting in silver saucers.
Merchant in Eminonu
all the sights, it has actually been the people of
that has shown us the beauty of this land. Here
Istanbul, we were befriended by Atilla and his
Atilla runs a wholesale carpet shop and we
spent hours there playing backgammon, chatting it
drinking tea, and generally having a fabu time
together. He taught us the basics of backgammon, (he was the
Cappadocia area champion at one time) and then drilled us until the strategy was burned into our subconscious. He has made us feel a part of the city, a
of his life and we are eternally grateful.
Attila and friends,
showing off their wares.
generousity hasn't stopped there. There's
Murat at the
fish market. We wandered into the famous Fish market
in Istiklal Caddesi off of Taksim Square in the new part of the city. A
small shop off to one side served up fried seafood and these fabulous rice-stuffed
mussels and the owner Murat was a riot. We ate and talked and
generally goofed off and then he way undercharged us. We came back a few
more times, and each time, he refused to take money as hard as we tried to
pay. I even felt guilty for eating there but it was so damn good and we
had fun helping him hold down the fort.
for the bizarre:
Istanbul, the three of us purchased bus ticketsinto
to Cappadocia, in central Turkey. We
an overnight bus there. The
bus station is
of town and the bus company offers a shuttle
get there. Twelve of us,
complete with twelve
were stuffed as tight as could be into a
and off we go. Now we haven't mentioned Turkish
but it can be a harrowing experience,
with only a variety of different horns and
to keep drivers apart. Well, somehow, the 'I'm moving
lane' honk failed and we collided with another
Now this was not a big deal, mainly consisting of
lights and a few dings, but we pull over and
driver and the other guy get out and the pushing
shoving began. Now, there is really nothing we
or should do, as we are about wedged in like
sardines. The shoving and exchanging of words
only leads to enflamed tempers. OUR driver retreats to the
minivan, reaches across the driver seat and into the glove compartment and pulls
what looks like a long flat stick wrapped in
As he passes by twelve pairs offor as the other driver shrank away from the sight
of the dagger, another man arrives on the
its the police. He
confiscated the knife, yelled a lot at both drivers and then,
to the amazement of the twelve, now even wider pairs of eyes, he made the two combatants kiss and make up.
No joke, literally kiss and make up. A call was
wide-open eyes at the side of the van,
he unsheathes a foot long dagger. What
he intended to do with it, we can only guess,
to delay our bus and alls well that ends well.
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