We were staying in a neighborhood called "Sultan Ahmet" or Sultan Ahmed, which was in the midst of all the really important monuments of Istanbul; we were minutes away from the Blue Mosque and Aya Sofia; two of the most visited monuments in Turkey and to tell you the truth they're so worth the queues and the smelling tourists(although I would recommend carrying some perfume on you, because sometimes the smell is overwhelming)
but first, let me tell you about the first site we visited in Istanbul. By the time my family had lunch and rested a while from the plane trip, all the aforementioned sites were closed for the day, we waltzed to the Grand Bazaar, which was closing up as well. After buying some socks, we walked aimlessly around the city; and to tell the truth an aimless walk is the best walk ever. We stumbled upon another mosque that was really serene and it was time for el ma3'reb prayer, so we went inside.
The mosque is called Bayezid Mosque, after a Sultan. The mosque is right in front of the Istanbul University, which was quite abandoned because of summer vacation.
(Entrance of Istanbul University)
So, the next day we got up early and headed for the blue mosque and Aya Sofia.
Even though the blue mosque seems huge from outside; as if you can get lost in its grandeur.Inside, the mosque is quite lovely, warm and very homey. The mosque seems to invite you into a world where religion is a smooth addition to life and a much needed recuse from the hectic living of humans. All over the inside walls, the mosque is decorated with blue tiles (Turkish Ishany), signature of Ottoman mosques. The serenity of it is overwhelming and yet duly noted. It's a definite must-see and the architecture of it makes you wonder how we're capable of living in our hideous concrete cages.
Pieces of advise:
1)Go there early because it gets crowded fast.
2) Don't wear shorts or tank tops, because then you will find the mosque's security will cover you up with peaces of cloths.
3)Make sure you wear shoes that can be taken off easily, because you will take your shoes off.
4) Praying in the blue mosque is really hard as they close off the mosque to tourists and you kinda have to prove to the guy in charge that you ARE in fact a Muslim so that you can pray.
(Outside of the blue mosque)
(Inside the blue mosque)
(Al Manbar-The place from which the Imam calls for prayer)
Well, Aya Sofia is a totally different case, it used to be a church and then it was transformed into a mosque; something that the Ottomans were famous of. You'd think that you shall witness the clash of religions when you enter it, but the contrary is quite true. Aya sofia is a wonderful place of wholeness, yes wholeness is the right word for it; it portrays the patience of Christianity as well the Islamic surrender to God; it makes you feel like you want to cry and laugh all at the same time. You just have to surrender to its emotional history; of grandeur, suffering and human misunderstanding, mixed with the acknowledgment of a higher power and finally the surprising outcome of fate. Some people say it's more of a church than a mosque, others say the contrary is true. Yet, in my opinion, it is a true "house of God" and God needs no definition or labeling, He just exists and it's up to you how you view Him.
To sum it up;it has the feeling of peace after a long unwanted war.
(I apologize for being emotionally religious, but when I remember a place, I often remember the emotion of it as well. You see, I can sense the emotion of places rather than the emotions of people.)
Notes about Aya Sofia:
1) They don't allow the use of flash in many places of it, so a professional digital camera would proof very useful in such a situation.
2) In order to get to the second floor, which is filled with great views, monuments and paintings, you have to climb up some stairs that are quite steep and closed up, so anyone who has difficulty breathing in closed up spaces that go up, I wouldn't really recommend it. Yet, if you are willing to bear it, I promise you that it will be worth it.
3)Wear sneakers, because any kind of slippers, high heels, or dressy shoes will not work and you might slip while going up or down.(A bunch of Asians were going to fall to their deaths right in front of me, to tell you the truth I stepped to the side because I was afraid they'd take down me with them)
(Aya Sofia from outside)
(Picture of Jesus made of Mosaic)
(View from second floor)
(Tablet of Mohamed, they had tablets for all the kholafaa2 all around Aya Sofia; a tribute to their good deeds and their great rule)
Monuments in Istanbul close around 4 I think and shops close around 8 (grand bazaar closes around 6), so don't expect the city that never sleeps. They sleep very well there and although the streets are really quite after 8, they're not threatening and I assure you that if you scream a lot of people will gather and hit whoever is bothering. This is in addition to their really terrifying police officers; they have some officers called dolphin police (I'm not sure of the name), but they ride on motorcycles and they're very quick in arriving to a scene that has altercations.
The Dolmabahçe Palace: No place can be more beautiful or grand.If you've ever been to one of the palaces in Egypt like Mohamed Ali palace or the Mansterly or El 2obba Palace, then you've seen something, but until you've seen the Dolmabahçe, you haven't seen a palace or what they like to call "Saray".
After Attaturk came into power, he took the Dolmabahçe as his headquarters and then he gave it back to the people. He said that such monuments belong to the people of Turkey and they should be opened for the public to witness their own history. It was built by Sultan Abou al Majd "Abdülmecid" a la European style.
First thing you notice is the huge clock tower; so huge it's difficult to actually capture it in one shot, although if you were a bit of an experienced photographer and were not me, I think you might have a fighting chance.
(lo and behold my crooked shot on the left side)
As you delve inside, the gardens start to materialize; great spaces of greenery accurately decorated with exquisitely-made marble statues and man-made ponds. The whole grounds overlook the great "Bosphorus".
The Palace is huge and although it's a European-styled palace, you still have your basic Selamlik (place where men reside), and haremlik (place where women reside). As expected as well, the Haremlik is much smaller, yet still very big on its own, than the Selamlik , but that's because the Salamlik is used for formal visits and stuff like that.
Inside any of the two, use of flash is prohibited(you have to buy a ticket for your camera with your own ticket), so the photographing process was a bit dodgy. Below are some of the shots that turned out OK:
(One of the many vases)
(The marble bathroom)
Paintings of the Dolmabahce:
Ataturk's death bed(in haremlik):
I think that's enough, although to tell you the truth, it isn't. The place is huge and I have so many hazy pictures that I feel I am obliged to advise you to visit wiki and get a better look at the Saray, because believe me it's worth it.
notes about Dolmabahce:
1) Go there early of course because the tours inside both Selamlik and haremlik are timed and they take a specific number of people and there are a specific number of tours to be made each day.
2)Don't forget to buy a ticket for your camera, even though it's not the best place to take photographs, you'll find that outside there are great opportunities of family shots. Also, if you have a mother that's interested in decor, it's worth it to try and picture the doors she thinks she can recreate, or the painted ceiling that she's going to emulate.
Ok, up next: The Topkapi Palace, an oriental saray.
It felt a bit smaller than Dolmabahce, but I don't know if it is, but it's much more crowded than Dolmabahce because the tours aren't timed and everybody goes in whenever they like, wherever they like.
Topkapi has huge grounds, so huge they have golf carts that pick up people from the entrance of the grounds and takes them to the entrance of the grounds of the buildings. It's more oriental than the Dolmabahce and you get the feeling of the citadel when you're there;courtesy of the huge Grey rock buildings. It's much more Islamic and it actually contains the slippers of the prophet Mohamed. There are a lot of buildings and in and outs, so you can miss seeing something or get lost (don't worry, it's filled with people, but the hardest thing is finding somebody who speaks your language; you got chinese, french,spanish,turkish and several Eastern European languages).
It also overlooks the Bosphorus, but the main things to see in Topkapi, are the artifacts they have on display; gems incorporated in fabrics, a wonderful collection of weapons (shields, swords and canons, as well as other things )
(A shield for the elephant's face, hehe)
(a shield made of mother of pearl AKA Sadaf)
and finally the poor guard standing in the heat, with people trying to make him laugh:
I don't really have any notes regarding Topkapi, except watch out for groups of smelly tourists and being squashed between them.
The Princes' Islands:
To get to the princes Islands, you have to take a ferry from Sirkeci or Eminönü(both are metro stops); the ferry ride costs 2 turkish lira and believe me it's quite cheap and totally worth it.
(The view as we were leaving the pier)
The ride itself is exciting (although there was a creepy guy who kept trying to talk to us, but eventually we escaped), also watch out for the excessive presence of lovers on the ferry, they're everywhere. Try to get a seat outside,by the rail, but away from the sun (I got sun burnt and it's not a nice feeling). There are vendors of juice and big pretzels(or what we like to call Semeet) all over the ferry. People buy the pretzels to eat some and feed some to the seagulls, who expect to be fed as they hover around the ferry, waiting for the stupid humans to toss them a free meal. Although all zoologists say that we should not feed wild animals, I couldn't resist, after all I am allowed to be stupid as a tourist.
(one persistent seagull )
There are nine Islands and the ferry makes several stops. We stepped off at Büyükada, but this island is quieter than Kınalıada, so if you want a lot of action go to Kınalıada. How do I know? As we were heading back to Istanbul, my lovely sister pointed out that this is our stop, which of course wasn't. A couple of minutes later, we realized that and we ran to catch the ferry, we actually had to jump from the pier to the ferry (my mother was horrified)
Pictures of Büyükada:
The Zalabia (dumplings) Vendor:
Well, I think that's it; the end of Turkey-related posts and a hope for the beginning of Greece-related posts.
Note: this post took me 3 hours(remembering, writing, reviewing and uploading) to write; I am exhausted, but I feel like a weight was lifted from my shoulders. Now, I can breathe easy.