Probably my most eventful day yet.
Jessica’s place, where I’m staying, is near a metro stop called Şişhane, which, apparently, according to any normal person, is not within walking distance of Sultanahmet, the old part of Istanbul/Constantinople where the most famous historical attractions are. Not being deterred by this, I set out on foot towards the neighborhood that houses the Hagia Sophia and the other essentials.
After crossing the bridge (see GPS track) the first stop was the Spice Bazaar. The Grand Bazaar, which I visited later, seemed to actually have a higher concentration of spices.
My digital watch had all but stopped working in Tel Aviv, since I believed its claims of water resistance, so I took a look at a few of the hundreds of watches for sale in the bazaar. I paid 10 lira ($5) for an obviously counterfeit “CASIQ” F-91W. Whoever made it created a functional replica of the actual Casio model, although I don’t know if it’s quite as good for bomb-making. Oh well, I guess I’m not a real terrorist. Either way, I probably shouldn’t wear it through customs when I return to the US after having been to the Tajik-Afghan border regions. Al-Qaeda watch on wrist (seriously, the first Google Images result for the model number is a picture of Osama bin Laden wearing one) I carried on.
The Basilica Cistern is a huge underground space full of water (presumably there used to be more of it) and old Roman columns.
It also has fish. It’s basically the coolest thing ever.
Istanbul, or at least that area, really has an embarrassment of riches in terms of historical attractions.
The Blue Mosque, which is so big that it didn’t fit in any of my pictures, is positioned squarely in front of the Hagia Sophia. It has hordes of tourists, but is also in constant use as a mosque.
Since it receives so many non-Muslim visitors, the walls of the courtyard are plastered with information about Islam in English directed at Christians, describing, for example, the lineage of Biblical characters and about Jesus the Messiah’s role in the Quran.
The final must-see for the day was Topkapı Palace, the former residence of the Sultans. The Sultan’s apartments are known as the Harem, a term they are milking for all it’s worth. It’s not inaccurate; he did indeed have many concubines from all over the territories he conquered, those of whom he slept with were called his “favorites”.
As I walked from the palace to the Grand Bazaar, I stopped to buy a bottle of water (it’s hot, though not as hot as Israel!). The man selling the water was explaining to another Westerner that as for himself, because of Ramadan, “I am looking at the water but I cannot drink.”
Despite Ramadan and the possible impropriety, I eventually decided to get something to eat (after all, why are the cafes open if no one is supposed to go there?). This turned into a half-hour conversation over tea with the proprietor, who really wanted to sell me some silk scarves, about my life and family. He said he learned English (which was relatively good) within the walls of the bazaar.
Having underestimated the time to get back, I ended up missing a Bosphorus boat tour with Vince (who I met the day before), but instead we ended up watching a World Cup game at the French Consulate. A few hours later, with another guy we met there, we were sitting on Taksim Square illegally drinking wine, talking about life, with children coming up to us to sell water, while hearing the muezzin’s late-night call to prayer. Not something you do every day.
Posted from Istanbul, Istanbul Province, Turkey.