I made it into Istanbul last night, albeit two hours later than I anticipated. My apartment is nice, but is not very soundproof. I can hear seagulls in the evening and people walking down on the street. This morning, at 5:30, I was awakened by the Muslim call to prayer as it was chanted from a nearby minaret. I was expecting it, however, and found it a romantic evocation of the Orient rather than a nuisance. Besides, the call does not go on very long and I simply rolled over and went back to sleep. Later, after I was up and dressed, I took the tram to the main historic/tourist area. I followed Rick Steves walking tour of the area, listening on my iPod. I visited the gigantic underground cistern, built in Byzantine times for water storage. It is known to locals as the Underground Palace because of the huge columns that support it. (See picture) Next I waited in a long line to get in to see the Blue Mosque. This gigantic mosque is so named because of the expensive blue tiles that decorate the inside, but I found the exterior to be more impressive than the interior. (See picture)
It is still an active mosque and visitors are only allowed to enter between prayer times (which occur five times each day). I visited the Turkish and Islamic Art Museum. It has examples of artwork stretching back 1500 years and includes ceramics, tiles, carpets, and more. There is a lovely courtyard and they serve Turkish coffee. It comes on a silver tray with little cup of thick coffee and a small side dish with a silver cover that is for the bite-size piece of Turkish Delight. (See picture) Suitably refreshed, I walked over to the Hagia Sophia. It was built in the 500s A.D. by the Byzantine Emperor Justinian. It served as a church until the 1400s when the Ottoman Turks conquered Constantinople and turned the Hagia Sophia into a mosque. After the First World War, when the Ottoman Empire dissolved, the building became the museum. Before my trip I did a lot of reading and looked at a lot of pictures, but I was still awestruck when I entered the Hagia Sophia. Photographs simply don't do it justice, but I will include one of mine anyway. I have long considered Istanbul to be the highlight of my RTW, and
so far it is exceeding my expectations. I cannot tell you how thrilled I am to be here!
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