Where Are You From?... Australia?

Trip Start Nov 01, 2006
Trip End Aug 01, 2007

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Flag of Turkey  ,
Sunday, June 3, 2007

With only two days to spend discovering this huge metropolis in Turkey I couldn't spend much time recovering from the hellish bus ride. Who needs sleep anyway? A quick shower and off I went. Staying in a hostel centrally located to all the highlights of Istanbul, it wouldn't be hard to get around.

Being Sunday the Grand Bazaar and Spice Bazaar would be closed the next day, so I rounded up Katie and Becca for some leather bag hunting and Turkish Delight sampling. In comparison to India, the Grand Bazaar was a huge let down. A covered area with stalls as far as the eyes can see, but the quality and authenticity of the products was not up to par after being in India. I left not purchasing anything, basically because it was all the same as India (jewelry, leather bags, shawls...) and way over priced! Becca and Katie, avid shoppers, also found the bazaar to be unimpressive. Having had enough, we made our way further into the city toward the Spice Bazaar.

Now this is what I was looking for! Not as big as the Grand Bazaar, basically all along two intersecting walkways, but the color is what was most striking. Overwhelming amounts of nuts, spices, Turkish Delight, and tea lined the numerous stalls as you walked the bazaar. The girls and I were having a blast tasting the samples being handed out left and right. I must say, Turkish Delight is not my sweet of choice. Passing up those samples for the wonderful chickpea with soy made for a great free lunch and fun time with everyone. Daniel was along for the ride, but once inside the colorful bazaar he disappeared to make use of the camera gear he lugs around. After one more perfume purchase Daniel and I gathered up Katie and Becca and we made our way back toward the hostel. Falling straight into bed, we looked at the clock (6pm) and realized wandering all day just wasn't going to happen.

One-day left, now feeling fully refreshed, I got into my auto-sightseeing-pilot and headed for Topkapi Palace. The highlight here being the harem where the sultan kept all his concubines and children (122 to be exact). The tiles were the most impressive I have seen anywhere, the colors so vibrant and the patterns so detailed, it was truly amazing. After an entire morning spent at the palace I still had so much to see!

I headed back to the hostel to see if the girls or Daniel were awake and sure enough by noon they were about ready to head out. Daniel had fallen ill with food poisoning (never buy caviar from a Turkish bazaar), so we left him at the wastebasket and went to the Blue Mosque. Covering our heads we walked in to this magnificent structure decorated with beautiful tiles lining the walls and woven rugs on the floor for pray. Must say Muslims really know how to decorate their places of worship. It was going to be a full day of religious sites with Hagia Sophia being next on the list, therefore I parted with Katie and Becca as they were headed for the palace and we made plans to meet up in the evening.

Hagia Sophia or Church of Saint Sophia is the building Sultan Ahmet wished to outdo when he ordered the building of the Blue Mosque. Although originally built as a church, it was transformed into a mosque, so when you are inside you get this sense of both Catholic and Islamic styles in its decoration and wall paintings. The contrast between the Islamic tile work and the Catholic mosaic works is quite interesting. You lose a little sense for the interior structure because it's under construction, but overall the feeling is one of complete uniqueness.

Now having covered the main attractions or at least the ones I was willing to pay to see, I headed further out in the city to discover some other mosques and soak up some Turkish culture. As I walked the streets trying to figure out where I was going, a young Turkish man who was walking in my direction asked me where I was from. Having been sick of this question, I shortly answered; "Guess!" and so started a new friendship with Cuma (pronounced Juma). Just so happened this was his day off and he asked to spend it with me, I told him I was trying to find various mosques and highlights of Istanbul and he offered to be my guide. What a day it turned out to be!

We must have covered several miles of the city before returning back to my hostel, but Cuma didn't miss anything. I saw at least 15 different mosques, tasted many different Turkish delicacies and got to wander the streets no tourists usually care to find. This truly is the best way to see a city, I only wished I had more days in Istanbul. After the entire afternoon spent with Cuma we parted ways exchanging emails and hugs goodbye. I had made plans to meet up with everyone back at the hostel for a farewell evening before flying to Milan. It would be sad saying goodbye to my traveling companions, but Italy was definitely calling my name.

Final thoughts on Turkey would be, "I must come back!!"... that's all there is to say really!!
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