Published: October 23rd 2012October 23rd 2012
It is only 5:20pm Turkish time and I am so ready for bed - unfortunately, I am forgoing a nap so that I can go to bed early as opposed to being up late writing about the day. If I stop making sense and I notice it - I will stop and leave it for later. We will see.
Ok, where to begin? Mom and I got up at a decent hour today so that we could fit in a bunch of things before our afternoon tour. We knew that we wanted to go to the Egyptian Spice Bazaar, so that was our main goal, but we decided to fit as much else as we could. We decided to tack on two mosques and a visit to a candy store that my fantastic Turkish doorman from home (shout out to Gurcan!) highly recommended to me. After plotting our four destinations out on the map, we decided first to head to a mosque called Suleymaniye Mosque at the top of one of Istanbul's seven hills (or at least I'm assuming this was one of the seven hills, because we basically trekked up a hill to see this thing). On the way
Suleymaniye Mosque Interior
Elaborate decorative ceiling
up the hill, we ran into an aqueduct which apparently was the water supply for the cistern that we saw yesterday and we also found a bunch of cattle hanging out in a pen on a side street. Naturally, we found this latter discovery to be a bit odd, but later in the day we learned that this week is an important Muslim four-day holiday called "Kurban" or the Festival of Sacrifice. I will let you put two and two together. Anyway, once we made it up the hill (we also passed Istanbul University's campus - very cool), we found our massive mosque at the top. I was surprised that I hadn't heard much about this mosque based on the sheer size of it, but then again there must be over 100 mosques in the city, so I can't hear about them all. We ventured into the courtyard (I am making the assumption now that all mosques must have some sort of courtyard area), and went to enter into the mosque. Before we could go in, however, we had to then cover up our heads with scarves and remove our shoes. I have never been in a mosque before, so
Busy Turkish Street
The throngs of people we ran into on the streets of Istanbul
I wasn't entirely sure what to expect. I'm pretty sure my mouth dropped open when we went inside. It was breathtaking. I have seen many churches and cathedrals as well as a few very magnificent synagogues, but there was something about this mosque that seemed to top them all. The space was enormously tall and was topped off with an elaborate dome made up of decorative geometric patterns and Arabic writing. In fact, all the ornamental features of the mosque where made up of these types of images because Muslims are not allowed to depict any type of religious icons inside of mosques. There are no chairs or benches, just carpet, because when the Muslims come to pray, the kneel on the ground. I literally just stood there in awe looking up into the big expansive space and ceiling - "wow" is all I really have to say!
Once we left the mosque, we went outside and saw a very nice view of the "Golden Horn" which is the bay area of the European side of Turkey. We then ventured back down the hill in the direction toward the spice market through a bunch random little streets. I was
amazed at the amount of stores they have here. Literally on the way to the bazaar we were bombarded by store after store that could have been part of some type of outdoor bazaar. There were throngs and throngs of people walking through - it was very interesting. After finally making it to the spice market area, we veered off to pop into another mosque (called the New Mosque) that was right next door. The New Mosque, although it's not exactly what I would call new, was built in the 1600's. (I guess that's new when your average architectural building dates back to the 5th century AD.) We entered in through the courtyard, took of our shoes, covered our heads and went into this mosque only to be awe-inspired again. There were many similarities between the two mosques in their shape, size, and carpeting, but this mosque was decorated entirely with geometric tile work. It was incredibly ornate and the thing that is amazing is that you would have absolutely no idea of this just by looking at it from the outside. Don't get me wrong, the outside is very nice architecturally, but at the same time very simple in
New Mosque Interior
Amazing decorative tile
its decoration. Now, I am not really religious in any sense, but if I had to pick a place to worship purely for the beauty of the building, I might have to venture to say it would be a mosque.
After the New Mosque, we headed down the street just a block or two and found Hafiz Mustafa, the candy shop that was recommended by Gurcan, my doorman. Oh, was this a winner. We have been sampling Turkish Delight here and there throughout our trip (both dinner restaurants that we have been to served it with the check) and I have enjoyed it, but that's about as far as I can go with it. Oh my, did I have no idea or what? The Turkish Delight here was made with all sorts of different ingredients that I didn't realize could go into Turkish Delight (my favorite turned out to be pomegranate with pistachios). Let me stop here and explain what my assumption of Turkish Delight was up to this point: all the Turkish Delight we have had have been these gelatin-like squares in different flavors (fruit ones mainly) that are covered in powdered sugar. My best description of taste
The Turkish delicacy from the candy shop Hafiz Mustafa
would be that they are similar to the American candy, "Dots." Hafiz Mustafa's Turkish Delight put the rest to shame. Mom and I ended up buying bunches (yes, I would say bunches) of this store's delicious Turkish delicacy. Now to make this excursion even more enjoyable, as they were packing up our Turkish Delight, one of the men who worked there had us sit down and brought us over Turkish tea, some sort of delicious meat pastry, and pistachio baclava to sample all free of charge while we waited. Everything was delicious (not surprised). They were so nice and it was such a wonderful little experience. I highly recommend this place!
After the candy store, we ventured into the Spice Bazaar and okay, if you could only do one bazaar, I would say do this one. This is the Grand Bazaar on a much smaller scale, but it has all the same things (with the exception of rugs, maybe) and then also has spices. (Disclaimer: The Grand Bazaar is quite the experience and okay, you probably should do it if you are in Istanbul, but the Spice Bazaar is much less overwhelming and people seem to be nicer -
Different spices in the market
just saying.) We got a few more Turkish trinkets and ended up in a spice stand where the owner let us try all the dried fruits and spices that we wanted, and alas, we are coming home with more dried fruit, nuts, and spices that one would think was necessary. All in all, this was a very nice experience and when we were done we headed back to the hotel to meet up with everyone for part two of the day.
I will pause here to tell you some interesting things that I have noticed so far here in Istanbul. Number One: I have been very fortunate to be able to travel many places in Europe, having studied abroad and having been able to go on trips with my family. Istanbul is probably the first place out of the country that I have been where I haven't seen another American tourist. (A slight exaggeration, maybe, but honestly - not by much!) It's amazing - the tourism here seems to be mainly European and I don't know if it is because of the time of year or because people don't tend to think of Istanbul as a place to vacation,
Cats are EVERYWHERE
This cat was hanging out on a "windowsill" leading into a Mosque cemetery
but this phenomenon is amazing to me. Actually, I think it's fantastic and I also think it is one of the reasons I am enjoying myself so much - there is nothing worse than an obnoxious American tourist giving the rest of us a bad rap. Number Two: Fresh fruit! It is everywhere! There are stands everywhere where people make fresh juice for you to drink. Pomegranates are everywhere (yum) and I actually tried the best combination of fruit juices today - Pomegranate and Orange juice - I don't know why they don't make that in the U.S. Number Three: CATS! I have never seen more cats in my whole life. They are literally everywhere. Stray cat central, except that they seem to be well-fed and friendly. Our tour guide even told us that they are lazy cats and don't catch the city's mice because they are spoiled. We see them by the bunches - sometimes five at a time - and they are literally everywhere. Mosque courtyards, city streets, sitting on cars, you name it. Crazy. Number Four: Elevators. I have yet to see an elevator that can fit more than four people. It's just a weird thing I've noticed.
I have decided to spare you all and myself with continuing today's blog post. I probably will do part two after dinner tonight, but I cannot physically type anymore. Plus, nothing is worse than an obscenely long blog post (which this one may already be), so I will give everyone the option of reading it in two sections. Elveda (goodbye) for now!