XXX - Karl - rehash this and put logistical info on a separate page? So many threads to a story....patient (nei, captive?) readers are a godsend....
Turkey, ahh, Turkey. This was a wonderful, wonderful trip, and this little story just covers the first couple of days.
Flew into Amsterdam via Copenhagen, and met up with Jared, Nerida, Morgana, Matt and Paula. I'd heard a lot about Morgana and Matt, but it was my first time meeting them. First time meeting Paula too :) Beers in the lounge, then off to Turkey. Lots of happy campers getting on the plane, an overabundance of dreads, beads, and swirly rainbow t-shirts. People running into old friends, "Are you going to the festival too?!"
Met at the airport by two groups. Ben and Jesse, our advance recon team, and also a man from our car rental company, who led us off on a mission over to the domestic terminal, but basically without any hassle at all, we were off, in a 9 seater (plus 3 jump seats) Hyundai starex. Off into the dark of night, ready to brave the alleged terrors of Turkish driving.
Only got stopped by the police once. So far so good. Ben and Jesse skillfully navigated us to "The Big Apple" a pretty dodgy little hostel. Nominally 15 YTL per person per night, but If you push them, 12 YTL. clean rooms and beds, changed daily, but pretty grotty toilets and showers, and hard to get a hot shower with a decent water flow. Lockers, but not what I'd call high security ones. Includes a Turkish breakfast (tomato, bread, jam, turkish cheese, olives, boiled egg and tea) It sufficed adequately.
Went for a bit of a walk after arriving, we were staying in Sultanahmet, which is an old part of Istanbul, near the old Sultan's palace. These days it's an area full of hostels and touristy establishments, as it's within walking distance of most of the major attractions in Istanbul (beyond the merely cultural attractions, which are found all over the city)
So the walk, yes. We walked up and had a look at the Blue Mosque and the Aya Sofya from the outside, all lit up nicely, and quiet and all to ourselves, at 2am. Gardens, flowerbeds full of pansies, huge spires, domes, fountains, quiet inspiring.
Slept in a bit, then went off for a day exploring. Went up to look at the sights of the night before, the Blue Mosque and the Aya Sofya, and the grounds around them both. The Blue Mosque, or Sultanahmet Camii, is pretty neat. We soon came to realise that, like churches, they are all laid out pretty much the same, but, like a cathedral amongst churches, it's a damn big mosque, and richly decorated. It's also got fences on the floor, a jungle of wires hung off the ceiling lighting atmosphere lights hanging only 10 feet above the floor, and a throng of white tourists taking pictures, hopping fences to take pictures, and a few dedicated muslims solemnly (?) contemplating religious issues. I'm sure it's different at prayer time, but apparently it's still got lots of tourists. It is however, one of the few tourist attractions in Turkey that was free.
The Aya Sofya was next, a church built by Emperor Justinian in five years, finished in 537 AD. Allegedly the biggest enclosed space in the world for the next 1000 years, (Rough Guide makes no mention of what superseded it) it's a damn big church. Or is that a mosque? Or heathen place of worship? The "other" catholics sacked it in the fourth crusade in 1204, then Mehmet the Conqueror converted it to a Mosque when he took the city in 1453. It stayed a mosque until 1932, and was opened as a museum in 1934. It's spires do still have speakers mounted for call to prayer.
It's a damn big space, and it's got some pretty cool tilework, but it's pretty badly damaged. And darker than it all deserves. (Apparently the work of later builders restoring portions) A lot of areas of mosaics and frescoes are simply tiny and distant figures, though they must be huge and beautiful when seen up close, and particularly fresh.
The yard has a truly beautiful foot washing area. All the mosques have one of these, basically a pagoda or gazebo, with a bunch of foot washing basins and taps, situated in the outer courtyard of the mosque. As this had originally been a church though, it's more of a detached facility outside one of the entrances. Beautifully lit, preserved, and largely ignored, as the hordes file out past it to the exit.
Related is the interesting tidbit that this was a building used as a mosque, that wasn't purpose built as one. Thus, it's mihrab an alcove/niche that indicates the direction of Mecca is not aligned with the axis of the building. I'm sure this is more common in modern mosques, repurposed from other city buildings, but it was a little odd to see a large ornate portal sitting in one end of the building, strangely offset from the axis.
From there we headed off up towards the street markets. The grand bazaar itself was closed for sunday, but the alleys and streets nearby were certainly in full swing. We fairly rapidly splintered into two groups, 8 simply being too unwieldy to shop in crowded alleys with. Jesse took the three girls and shopped for beads and jewelery. Jared, Matt, Eugene and I wandered around looking at viagra and cialis stalls. (Wow, just like spam, but in real life!) Eating all sorts of food, dried fruits, figs, dates, apricot and pistachio fruit leather, pistachios, not buying jeans. We certainly found a jeans buying area though.
Ended up near the university. Had a look in Beyazit Camii. This is a slightly smaller, older, almost as well decorated and much quieter mosque than the Sultanahmet Camii. No conga line of tourists taking off their shoes and traipsing around to go out a second door. Saw a lovely old man sitting in a sunbeam here reading a book propped up on a reader frame.
What next? The Hippodrome. Site of an Arena built in 200 AD, and now preserved as a long narrow strip of park. Unusual more for it's incongruousness. Istanbul, nee Constantinople was obviously greko-roman in the past, but it's generally been built over. But in the hippodrome stands a 20m tall obelisk, decorated with hieroglyphics. Apparently built in the 16th century BC it commemorates the campaigns of Thutmos the III in Egypt. It was brought here in the 4th century, and had originally been 60m tall, but broke in shipment. Neat, and unusual. Another big pile of bricks, not nearly as pretty as the Egyptian piece, was apparently sheathed in gold and copper originally, but those charming crusaders decided they had better uses for it.
Will this day ever end? Or would it involve beer, jenga, raki, nagile and a friendly Kurd, owner of the Metropolis cafe and bar? Only you can guess at the final outcome.