Thursday, June 20, 2013


It's 3am now. I fell asleep at 6:30 last night :). Not horrible jet lag, but should be able to sort it out over the weekend and be good by Monday. So....back to my trip. I think I'm at around June 3rd on my trip timeline. Apologies, but there's lots to talk about with Turkey. I'll start with Istanbul.

My flight left Nairobi at 3:45am. It was a long, long wait in the airport and I was tired by the time we boarded. I slept almost right away and almost the whole way. I received lots of comments to stay safe in Turkey and wasn't sure what to expect when landing. I arrived around 10am with a transfer waiting to take me to my hotel.

My first impression was how nice it looked as we drove in along the coast and there was a park between the road and water and lots of people enjoying the day. Then as we neared the city we went through some old city walls that are still standing in many parts. You get the feeling of quite a bit of history. 

The roads were tricky to maneuver a big passenger van through (narrow, hilly, not well labeled) but my drivers were always experienced and we had no issues. I stayed in Sultanahmet which is the historic touristy area and a river away from Taksim Square where all the nonsense was going on. What is really nice is that it is all very walkable but if it's a little too far, they have a great tram system (i.e. cable cars). The shop guys are pushy but in a muted way. Everyone asked you to have tea, apple tea specifically. They could chat your ear off forever! Then you sorta felt bad if you didn't buy anything. So it was more of a guilt trip than the hard sell. I told one guy I only wanted postcards, so he gave me them for free. Having the excuse of "meeting friends" and being late for that was a big help in getting out of those discussions easily :). 

Turkey's population primarily practices Islam. However, Istanbul's history includes lots of fighting and conquering and power changes. In fact, because it is located across three different after access points (Black Sea, a river I can't remember and the Mediterranean Sea), it was easier to attack. For this reason some smart guy finally moved the capital from Istanbul to Ankara to be able to better protect the capital. However, Istanbul remains a huge city and important port. It has 15 million people and all the problems that come with cities so big. 

I digress. My earlier point was that now Istanbul's skyline is dotted with mosques, many old and very beautiful mosques. However, some were previously churches! At one point Turkey (or maybe Istanbul) was largely Christian. The most famous is Hagia Sofia which was a great church/cathedral remade into a mosque later. They plastered over Christian mosaics which have now been uncovered and somewhat saved. A great example of the mosaics is in the Chora Church which I visited on my last day. The Blue Mosque is another beautiful sight (it is just a mosque). 

Sorry for the long post, but lots of history in Istanbul that is now woven into a huge, modern city. I really loved Istanbul and it has got to be one of my top five cities now! Some pics....

Blue Mosque (built around 1610):
From inside the courtyard

Beautiful designs inside with a lot of blue (hence "blue" mosque) - Islam does not allow use of people, animals, etc in their designs. Thus, there's lots of flowers and geometric designs. Specifically in Turkey the tulip represents God (Allah) and you will see tulips everywhere in Turkey. 

The stained glass was beautiful as well. Tons of natural light.

Hagia Sofia:
It was partially under construction so I didn't get great pics of the outside. It was neat to see the mix of Islam and Christian presence inside. 
The uncovered angel above and the large round Arabic sign referring to Allah.

You can see a few of the archways uncovered to see Christian mosaics and some still intact that were for the mosque. 

One of the partial mosaics uncovered. 

A close up to see the tiles used. Very intricate work. 

One on the treasured mosaics from Chora Church:

Fishing on one of the bridges in Istanbul (New Mosque in the background):

Asia across the way (yes, Turkey and Istanbul span two continents) with Hagia Sofia to the right (look for spires):

Sections of the old city wall:

Ceiling mosaics from Chora Church:

Basilica Cistern that held water - details in the sign below :)

I wandered the streets of Istanbul one day and found a glass blowing studio. I bought a fun vase and talked to the artist himself. Very nice and fun guy. 
(The dark spots on us are shadows from the sun coming in the front window.)

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