Saturday, November 2, 2013

Istanbul Sightseeing

After 4 days of rest, my mom was feeling better and was able to walk much better. We moved to an apartment and my friend Janjira arrived in Istanbul! We celebrated with a beer! 

The next morning, it was time to see the sights of the city. We started walking and exploring the neighborhood near Istikal Caddesi. Mom and Janjira found a comfortable step to relax.

They enjoyed the quiet street early in the morning. The only activity was the cable car clanging down the street. 
Over the next few days, we explored the sights of the old city. We took a 2 hour cruise of the Bosphorus Straight, separating the Asia and European sides of Istanbul. It was a nice and relaxing way for Janjira and mom to get an overview of the city.
It was a beautiful day, the sun was shining and the sights were beautiful. 
Early the next morning, we visited Aya Sofia. It was built in 537 as a church and converted to a mosque in 1453 and converted to a museum in 1935.
The size of the cathedral is unbelievable, the Statue of Liberty can fit under the dome. But the beauty of the cathedral is stunning. Many of the Christian mosaics were covered with stucco when the building became a mosque. As I explored Aya Sofia, I was taken back by the grand size and the beauty of the sun streaming in through the windows in the early morning.  
Our next stop was the Basilica Cistern, my favorite sight in Istanbul. A ?? century underwater basilica that was lit with soft lights. It was a spectacular sight. 
The area was quiet and serene, even with tourists filling the interior. I think everyone was in awe. The guidebook and websites sounded like the steps were difficult so, mom decided to relax on a park bench and would look at photos afterward. Janjira and I wandered to the wishing pools (made our wishes) and to the back of the complex where the 2 large medusa heads were waiting.

Before we could leave the Basilica Cistern, Janjira insisted we do the tourist thing and dress up for a photo as Sultan's harem. I finally gave in.
It just isn't me! I kept waiting for someone to ask me for a ride on my magic carpet or to grant them 3 wishes. Ha ha! 

You can't go to Istanbul and not visit the Blue Mosque (Sultan Ahmed Mosque). It was nicknamed the Blue Mosque due to all of the blue tiles adorning the interior walls and domes.
As we approached the exterior of the mosque, we saw separate  areas for men and women to wash before entering the mosque. The people wash their faces, arms, hands and feet. They finish by washing their mouths with water before entering for prayer. 
Tourists are only allowed to enter the mosque at certain times of the day. It is closed during prayer times. Upon entering, we removed our shoes and placed them in the bag provided to tourists. All women were required to wear a headscarf to enter. Here is my mom in the Blue Mosque with her headscarf. She looks beautiful. 
The tiles of the mosque beautifully adorn the domes and walls.

As we exited the mosque, we were approached by salesmen wanting to sell us carpets and to visit their shops. I realized quickly how to keep them from bothering me. I told them I am a poor backpacker but my friend Janjira loves to shop! She had lots of men wanting to help her part with her money! I don't know why she wouldn't play along.

We also visited Topkapi Palace, home to the Ottoman Sultans for 400 years. After losing mom and Janjira for 2 hours (I lost my museum card and had to buy a ticket), I found them and we toured the grounds.  The grounds and museum are large and included an 82 carat diamond, guns and swords, a tour of the Harem and holy relics. I am a bit of a sceptic. The museum supposedly has the staff of Moses and turban of Joseph. I am skeptical they are real, not sure how you could ever prove it. Yes, I am a scientist and I don't believe anything without proof. 
Janjira and I went out for a goodbye dinner and drinks. Early the next morning, Janjira left on a flight. I had a fun time with her and it was good to see a friend. 

Mom and I decided to stay 2 more days to wait for the end of Bayram and then book travel to Ephesus, Turkey. We explored the Grand Bazaar which had shops with everything for sale! Ceramics, rugs, tapestries, spices, nuts, jewelry, leather & clothing. You want it, this was the place to buy it! 
As we returned to our hotel, we saw women making gozleme....mmmmm! I love the Turkish food. So delicious!

Istanbul is a beautiful and amazing city. I love it! I can't wait to return at the end of our trip. 
We changed our minds and decided to buy bus tickets north to Plovdiv, Bulgaria. We were leaving in an overnight bus. Goodbye Istanbul! Hello Bulgaria! 

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