EuroAdventure15: Miles of Mosques

(posted by Emily) 

28 June 2015
Istanbul, Turkey
31,252 steps (13.5 miles walked)

We managed to wake up early, in order to achieve our goal of making it to breakfast right when it opened and heading off to our sightseeing destinations early, in order to beat the crowds. As a part of our reservation with Black Tulip, we are able to have a complimentary breakfast on each day of our stay.

There were so many delicious options, like meze, fresh fruit and vegeables, pastries, olives, toast, jams, spreads, and  cheese and cold cuts. We definitely ate our fill!

Our hotel is within walking distance of the Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque area. Rick had read a bit online about long lines to get in to the museum, so we wanted to be sure to be there early. We arrived in the square around 8:25, and it was calm, with very few people. We walked around the area to get our bearings, since we had some time to waste before getting in the (non-existant) line for the mosque.

In front of Hagia Sophia
Rick and Hagia Sophia
This little fella walked right up to me--he must have known we are puppy people! There are lots of stray animals here.
An obelisk from 390 AD, when Constantinople was a part of the Roman Empire
We got in line for the museum around 8:50, and walked right in when it opened at 9. So much for the "crazy" line! Maybe it was because it was Sunday, but it was no problem to get inside. Tickets for the museum were 30 TL each (3TL per $1) and we also rented the audio guide (shocking, I know!). We decided we wanted to know a bit more about what we were seeing, and the audio guide definitely helped us take our time. 

Hagia Sophia was originally a Christian church, that was converted into a mosque and now a museum. It reminded us of the Pantheon in Rome, which was originally a temple that was converted into a Catholic church. Unlike the Vatican's practice of removing original art, when Hagia Sophia was converted, special care was taken byt the new Muslim owners to preserve the original Christian moasics and frescoes.

View from the upper gallery

Mosaic of Mary, Jesus, and John the Baptist

Another mosaic of Mary
After Hagia Sophia, we walked over to the Blue Mosque, which is an even larger building. Because it is an active place of worship, visitors are asked to show respect for the space by removing their shoes, covering arms and legs, and women covering their heads. 

The tile work inside is stunning, with blue on almost every surface you can see. We learned from a Rick Steves' show that the Europeans were so impressed with this blue color that when they replicated it later they called it "the color of the Turks" or turquoise :)

(someone was wearing shorts)
When we finished up with the Blue Mosque, we walked through the streets nearby, stopping for a glass of tamarind sherbet, a local specialty. We stumbled upon the Grand Bazaar, which was closed today, but we are excited to visit tomorrow. I may or may not have made a shopping list already..... :)

After a bit more walking, we stopped at a cafe for a glass of Turkish coffee. The coffee was thick, strong, and bit grainy, but delicious. 

We continued our walk and stopped next at the New Mosque. More beautiful architecture and blue tiles. 

Right next to the New Mosque is the Spice Market, an L-shaped building filled with stalls selling spices, pottery, clothing, jewelry, dried foods, and much more. The prices were great, and dropped even lower when we exited the "official"marke building and wandered through the stalls nearby.

We picked up a quick snack of dolmas or stuffed grape leaves, and then headed up the hill to the Süleymaniye Mosque, a UNESCO World Heritage site. We stopped for a quick sit break in the shade and did not end up going inside the mosque, because afternoon prayers were occurring while we were there (at 13:14 today, actually!). It was fascinating to hear the call to prayer coming from minnarets all over the city at the same time. Because we were up on the hill, we could hear many all at the same time--fascinating.

On our trek back down the hill, we stopped again near the Spice Market to pick up some cherries (only 6TL for a a kilo--that's about $1 a pound!) and stood in the shade for a quick fruit break. Then, it was off to Topkapi Palace museum. 

Topkapi Palace was the traditional home fo the Sultan and has some of the best views of the city. 

We spent time walking through the palace rooms filled with beautiful tiles and stained glass, and the grounds full of rose bushes. We also went into a few of the Treasury rooms, which reminded us of seeing the Crown Jewels at the Tower of London. The ony big difference is the lack of movng walkway to keep the throngs of people moving here--in fact, we opted out of a few of the rooms because the queues were just way too insane.

In one of the final areas of the palace, there are a number spiritual relics, kept safe here because of a sacred trust. King David's sword, Moses's staff, and keys to the Kaaba in Mecca. There are a number of items associated with he prophet Muhammed, including a letter written by him, his ceremonial robes and swords, and even pieces of his beard. It was clear that these items were very significant to many of the visitors to the museum.

After the palac museum, we decided to head to dinner at Erhan, one of the highest rated restaurants on Trip Adviser. In fact, it's the most highly rated spot in the Old City. 

We ordered meze for two and a vegetable stew. The service was great, and we even received baklava and Turkish tea on the house for dessert.

The damage :)

After dinner, we decided a nap sounded great. By this point, we had been walking like crazy and felt pretty tired. Despite our best intentions, we slept a bit longer than we anticipated. I woke up around 10pm, and Rick was up soon after. So, we decided to walk a bit in the nieghborhood near our hotel. We stopped for dome garlic bread, hummus, and Turkish tea at a restaurant across the street from Black tulip. 

Remember those stray animals I mentioned? Well cats: Turkey like monkeys: Thailand. cats are Eve.Ry.Where and they are friendly, crafty, and bold. Of course, we love it :)  

Can't wait for the Grand Bazaar tomorrow! 


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