Friday, April 10, 2009

Turkey - First Day of Touring

It was our first full day of touring and our guide, Murat, picked us up at Emine Sultan Hotel bright and early. But not before we were able to enjoy a sunny breakfast on the rooftop terrace. Turkey breakfasts include cucumbers, tomatoes (yeah!) and meat. Not an egg or sausage to be found. It is interesting to see how different countries eat breakfast. We started our walking tour at the Hippodrome. This is the ancient square was once a fourth-century Roman chariot racetrack. We admired the Column of Constantine, the Egyptian Obelisk, and the Serpent Column and tried to picture days of old when the area was a massive stadium cheering on the chariots.

Next up was the....drum roll please...Blue Mosque. We learned about the characteristics of a sultan mosque - the minarets, the fountains for washing, and the inner and outer courtyards. It was gorgeous with all the domes and details. When we removed our shoes and went inside, all we could do was gasp. It was enormous and the entire interior an artwork masterpiece of mosaic and color. Clearly, blue was the dominant theme. I LOVED the Blue Mosque. Probably my favorite of all we saw.

I could have stood there all day gazing at the ceiling and all the intricate decorations. But Connor became very antsy and when she resulted in lying on the carpet and squirming and asking "Where is Baby Jesus?" - um, we knew it was time to go.

We wandered a few more blocks to the Topkapi Palace. This was the home of Turkey's great sultans, as our guidebook says "where they hung their turbans!" We wandered around the many pavilions and through each of the 4 inner courtyards - each one creating another layer toward the sultan's most private quarters.

Connor napped so we were able to take in the jewels and Holy Relics on display and learn a little more about the Suleyman the Magnificent. My favorite room was the Circumcision Room. I know, gross right? But it was the room where for two centuries the ritual circumcision of heirs to the throne took place. Again the green and blue mosaic was mesmorizing. Guess that is what they were going for - for some distraction of the task at hand.

We also had a great view looking out onto Istanbul and over the Bosphorous Strait from Topkapi Palace walls.

After the palace it was over to the Hagia Sophia. Another one of Kirk's studies in his college art & architecture class - we were excited to have it come alive! This place was first a church (under the leadership of Constantinople), then a mosque and now a museum. Talk about a chameleon of a building! Hagia Sophia was built ~535 A.D. under the Byzantine Empire and for 900 years was considered the "eastern Vatican" of the Orthodox Christian church. The Ottomans, when they came to roost, converted the structure to an imperial mosque. We were impressed that while many of the mosque attributes are indeed more prominent, there are Christian mosaics and other symbols peppered throughout. As our book puts it, "Hagia Sophia epitomizes the greatest achievements of both East and West, rolled into one." Fascinating. Who knew we actually would find a Baby Jesus for Connor in Istanbul!

Murat led us to a yummy meatball shop for a quick lunch before we were off to the Underground Water Cisterns and then to the Grand Covered Bazaar. We cruised around the maze of halls and shops and I'm proud to say even though I was tempted, we left without buying a thing. Although the toddler belly dancing outfits were tempting!

I expected the Grand Bazaar shopkeepers to be even more aggressive with their lures to buy, but it was much more pleasant than I anticipated. In your face, but not in a scary or threatening way. More so in a festive, persistant way from the sidelines. Murat gave us the helpful advice to just walk by without saying anything. Even saying "No thank you" does egg them on a little more in reeling you in. Connor again slept through the entire experience. Bless you, my child! It was great fun looking at the carpets, Turkish lamps, gold, and linens at the thousands of stands.

Finally, at the end of a long day Murat led us down to the waterfront to the Egyptian Spice Market. There were people everywhere! Especially along the Galatas Bridge. It was a loud, in-your-face crowd but we were able to push through with our stroller just fine. It actually helped part the seas of people everyzhere! I truly enjoyed all of the colors and samples and elegance of the spices piled high in towering pyramids. It made me want to learn to cook better and to incorporate more flavors and herbs. What a day! We were all pooped and after another dinner of Turkish meats we snuggled in tight together and the day was done.

Click here for more photos of Turkey Touring - First Day(s) photos (full album)

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