Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Full On Istanbul

The photos that correspond to this post can be found here for album 1 and here for album 2.

I live to write again!

I was very worried about Istanbul, actually Turkey in general. Was it safe? I am a devout Catholic Christian & my scapular was always hanging out around my neck. It was too late anyways, i was on the plane, not understanding a thing and freaking out! In 4 hours i would be in Turkey! I arrived, got my visa and hopped on the Metro. The time was 10 p.m. Sitting on the metro, all 6'4" white guy with huge bag that i was i tried to relax, but to no avail. Everybody (like 10 Turks) were just looking at me. I was trying to figure out if i was just a novelty to them or an annoyance. When i looked their way, they quickly shifted their eyes away and when i look away, back they came. Especially freaky was these 3 youths on the metro right across from me, they just stared at me and grasped at an imaginary object around their neck ( my scapular) and pointed at me. I thought about making the sign of the cross, but prudence and self preservation took precedence (i had grown attached to my head after these 25 years...but of coarse in retrospect i am being overly melodramatic, the Turks are a warm people). I saw anther backpacker and quickly went over to him as the metro came to the end of the line and my transfer and made friends. 2 Germans, sweet! We tried to transfer to the tram, but the last one ran at 10:30...just missed it. So now we have to walk on the dark streets to my hostel (they hadn't booked one) which was who knows how far away. As we were walking we saw a tram roll by us and were just floored, that is the tram we needed..."all well" I though, "this wont be the last time i get owned in Turkey." So we manage to find my hostel after a 20 min walk, not too bad and i got to check in and Adem (this awesome young Turk dude) says he doesn't have a reservation for me and the hostel is full. Well i crapped my pants a little, regrouped and thought about the prospect of sleeping on the streets again (it would be a little warmer and a crapload scarier then Galway, but whatevs). As we were walking away to find another prospective place he called out to me and said he had found the reservation, it was written in the book b/c i had made it only 10 hrs before. I just went to sleep, what a day!

Well i was awoken to the Muslim call to prayer at about 10 or so (it lasts about 5 min and is broadcast out over loudspeaker at every mosque). and headed up for my complimentary breakfast. As i grabbed my unusual breakfast i noticed perfect American to my Turkish laden ears! The young man was C.J. from Jersey! As i ate my breakfast (a strange continental one indeed with a hard boilded egg, 4 black shriveled and salty olives with pits, cucumber and tomato slices and french bread with the Turkish equivalent of Nutella) i gazed upon the Bosphorus straight and Asia. I think now i will explain (using wikipedia b/c i a don't want to type it all out) why i chose Istanbul.

"In its long history, Istanbul served as the capital city of the Roman Empir (330-395), the Byzantine Empire (395-1204 and 1261-1453), the Latin Empir (1204-1261), and the Ottoman Empir (1453-1922). Byzantium is the first known name of the city. When Roman emperor Constantine (Constantine the Great) made the city the new eastern capital of the Roman Empir on May 11, 330, he conferred on it the name Nova Roma ("New Rome"). Constantinopl ("City of Constantine") was the name by which the city became soon more widely known instead of Nova Roma, in honour of Constantine I.

The location of Byzantium attracted Constantine I in 324 after a prophetic dream was said to have identified the location of the city; but the true reason behind this prophecy was probably Constantine's final victory over Licinius at the Battle of Chrysopoli ( Üsküda) on the Bosphorus, on September 18, 324, which ended the civil war between the Roman Co-Emperors, and brought an end to the final vestiges of the Tetrarchy system, during which Nicomedia (present-day İzmit, 100 km east of Istanbul) was the most senior Roman capital city.[8] Byzantium (now renamed as Nova Roma which eventually became Constantinopolis, i.e. "The City of Constantine") was officially proclaimed the new capital of the Roman Empire six years later, in 330. Following the death of Theodosius Iin 395 and the permanent partition of the Roman Empire between his two sons, Constantinople became the capital of the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire. As well as being the centre of an imperial dynasty, the unique position of Constantinople at the centre of two continents made the city a magnet for international commerc, culture and diplomacy. The Byzantine Empire was distinctly Greek in culture and became the centre of Greek Orthodox Christianity, while its capital was adorned with many magnificent churches, including the Hagia Sophi, once the world's largest cathedral. The seat of the Patriarch of Constantinople , spiritual leader of the Eastern Orthodox Church, still remains in the Fener (Phanar) district of Istanbul.

In 1204, the Fourth Crusade was launched to capture Jerusalem, but had instead turned on Constantinople, which was sacked and desecrated. [9] The city subsequently became the centre of the Catholic Latin Empire , created by the crusaders to replace the Orthodox Byzantine Empire, which was divided into a number of splinter states, of which the Empire of Nicaea was to recapture Constantinople in 1261 under the command of Michael VIII Palaeologus.

Following centuries of decline, Constantinople became surrounded by more youthful and powerful empires, most notably that of the Ottoman Turks . On May 29, 1456, Sultan Mehmed II "the Conqueror" entered Constantinople after a 53–day siege and the city was promptly made the new capital of the Ottoman Empire. In the last decades of the Byzantine Empire, the city had decayed as the Byzantine state became increasingly isolated and financially bankrupt, its population had dwindled to some thirty or forty thousand people whilst large sections remained uninhabited. [10] Thus, Sultan Mehmed's first duty was to rejuvenate the city economically, creating the Grand Bazaar and inviting the fleeing Orthodox and Catholic inhabitants to return back. Captured prisoners were freed to settle in the city whilst provincial governors in Rumelia and Anatolia were ordered to send four thousand families to settle in the city, whether Muslim, Christian or Jew, to form a unique cosmopolitan society. [10] The Sultan also endowed the city with various architectural monuments, including the Topkapı Palace and the Eyüp Sultan Mosqu. Religious foundations were established to fund the construction of grand imperial mosques (such as the Fatih Mosque which was built on the spot where the Church of the Holy Apostles once stood), adjoined by their associated schools, hospitals and public baths."

It is the History, both empire and religious. Looking over the Bosporus i understood why so many people had fought for this, the enchantment of the place, beauty and serenity. Walking down the streets, viewing the ancient buildings and their varying architecture according to the culture of the builder, smelling the sweet air, feeling the hot sun and watching the city flow through the blood of the Turks was exhilarating! Istanbul is where East meets West in an amazingly creative way that is just to deep to really describe.

So, Day 1

I was staying in Sultanahmet which is in the center of it all. I first went to the Blue Mosque and it was amazing. This is the first time i had ever been inside a mosque and it was huge. The ceiling was ornate and the carpet soft. Out of huge support pillars were water spickets to wash your hands and face. Huge chandeliers hung down and illuminated the inside. Pictures will do more justice to this than i can. I then headed over to the Hippodrome, which contains the Obelisk of Theodosius which was erected in 390 a.d., the Serpent Column in 4th cent. a.d.and the Column of Constantine in 10th Cent a.d. This was all in front of the Blue Mosque contained in a vast park with a huge fountain, vender's selling cooked corn on the cob and water. Wanting to do some bartering, i headed over to the Brand Bazaar. They are not joking about the Grand part. This place is a consumerists dream with anything one could want. Leather, jewelery, hookahs, pipes, rugs and the list goes on! I did a little shopping and haggled some good prices (a tip, always offer half of what they ask, they will grimace and wave their hands, but if you go to put it back, they will deal!). I took a load off on a chair by a shop and saw a guy walking around with some apple tea (very big in Istanbul...but more like tourist tea) and told him i wanted one. With 2 lumps of sugar i waited for it to cool and it was delicious! I asked him where he wanted the cup and he said on the ground by where i was drinking it and he would come back and get it later...crazy!
When i travel walking is my mode. I don't usually take mass transit unless i have to. There is just something about walking the streets, meeting the people, hearing the noises, smelling the smells and eating the local cuisine. On my way north i noticed a huge old aqua duct. I saw some people on it and so i found the entrance. I did have to climb on a ledge through a restaurant and through a gate that looked formidable and was not supposed to be open, but i just needed to get the view. What a view too, it was worth it. I could see all of Sultanahmet and the Golden Horn. Coming out was a little more tricky then getting in. Those cats who had passed me on the way in, locked that huge barb wired gate behind me and so i had to shimmy over it and get out...which of coarse i did like a cat! I hit up the University of Istanbul and it was huge, not much to tell there but was really nice and on my way North. I also went to the Fatith Mosque (Faith) which was very cool. But my main reason for going North was the Orthodox Patriarch. As i wandered around aimlessly trying to find it i got further and further from the main drag and people looked more and more Muslim (Turkey is very westernized, but in the backstreets here, women wear the black robes with only their eyes showing). Well, i didn't find the Patriarch, but i did have a huge meal on my way back for only 6 bucks!. They eat really organically in Turkey, a lot of rice, meat, and tons of veggies.

Well i dropped my stuff off at the hostel and after walking for the whole day i decided to go to the Turkish Bath and get a wash and massage. It was crazy, i was wearing only a towel and this huge hairy Turkish dude worked out every kink in my body. I never knew i had so many vertebrae in my back to crack. He then washed me and gave me a good scalp scrub and i rinsed off. He took a towel and put it on my head like a turbin and i changed into my clothes. After feeling like 100% better and more relaxed i headed over to the bar Cheers where C.J. worked and got a Raki (pronounced Rocky). This stuff is potent, so potent in fact that you have to mix it with half water and it turns a milky color. It smells and tastes like black licorice and is like honey on the tongue. I also had an Efes (made in Ephesus) beer and that was really good too. We BSed about tons of stuff and on my way back to the hostel another dude from Jersey came stumbling up to me and said, "Come with me, i will buy you a beer." Well faster then you could say free beer i was having one with him and some of his friends. I talked with a devout Muslim from the North of Africa and we had a very interesting conversation. We just both were happy that we believed in God and we left it at that.

Day 2

Well as your eyes are probably bleeding right now, take comfort in the fact that my fingers are too, but i must finish this before i head out to Paros (Greece). Everything is the same except i went to the Aya Sofya (Chruch of Divine Wisdom). This Church was built in 537 a.d. and was the biggest building in the world. It was converted into a Mosque by the Ottomans in 1453 but now is a museum. One can see the mosaics of Christ, Mary and other Saints in tandem with the Muslim art. It is very strange in deed, maybe they should make it a Unitarian church? (Bad joke, sorry if you are Unitarian). I also went to the basilica cistern. This underground water world is supported by 336 columns, 2 of which have huge marble carved upside down heads of Medusa. The lighting is very eerie with reds and greens and fish streaming by the walkways. After the cool cistern, i finished up some shopping at the Bazaar and picked up some Raki for the road and headed to the airport for i was off to Ephesus.

I will write soon about Ephesus so stay tuned. Thanks everybody who has responded, it is good to hear that you are enjoying these and that things are going good in your lives too!

Love and Prayers,


Post a Comment

<< Home