Breakfast in IstanbulAfter a surprisingly productive night of sleep, we enjoyed a light breakfast at our hotel, the Karslioglu. Freshly boiled eggs, olives, meat and cheese, honey, and a loaf of bread each – not bad at all. Your body has trouble adjusting not only to the new sleeping pattern, it also gets a bit confused about the new eating times. But we had a long day ahead of us (as usual) so a good breakfast is always appreciated.

IMG_0623Leaving the hotel we walked around the Spice Market, admiring the colors and smells of all kinds of unrecognizable spices. One popular item was blooming jasmine tea which sounded wonderful – I’m just not sure it would make it home in one piece!

 

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We wound our way past the Market to the Blue Mosque (Sultanahmet Camii). Still functioning as a place of worship, the Blue Mosque is closed during the five daily prayers. The rest of the time, visitors can walk through and gawk at the blue-tiled domes after taking off their shoes and (for the women) covering their head and chest. If you didn’t bring your hijab, you can use a scarf or pick up one of the coverings the mosque lends visitors. The Blue Mosque is richly decorated in patterns and script but has no other figures or icons. This is a place to meditate on the ethereal.

DSC_1009Less than a mile away stands the impressive Hagia Sophia. After a few ruinations, the building we now see was erected between 532-537 by the Emperor Justinian and was the largest cathedral in the world for a thousand years. The name “Hagia Sophia” has a Greek root (in fact, was designed by Greek scientists for the Greek Orthodox Church) and means “Shrine of the Holy Wisdom of God.”

DSC_0025In 1453 the church was converted into a mosque, plastering over the mosaics that depicted Jesus and his Mother Mary and adding Islamic features such as the minarets. Finally, in 1935, the Hagia Sophia was re-opened as a museum. At 180 feet high, the Hagia Sophia rivals the Pantheon in Rome (142 feet, rebuilt by the Emperor Hadrian in 126) and even the Duomo in Florence (although 376 feet high, the Duomo was built a thousand years later in 1436). This is an amazing feat of architecture!

DSC_0036We paused for lunch at a nearby rooftop restaurant overlooking the Bosphorus and new Istanbul. While we feasted our eyes, we fed our growling stomachs with hummus, olives, eggplant, and a variety of appetizers. Perfect for a short break.

 

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Afterward, we made our way to the Topkapi palace and wandered through the treasury, harem, and armory rooms. The primary residence of the Ottomans, this palace is expansive and richly decorated. At its peak around 4,000 people lived here, including the sultans’ harem of wives and concubines (who had over 400 rooms). The palace is also home to many Muslim relics – and if you have the luck of walking through the museum with a devout Muslim, as we did, you’ll get the pleasure of seeing these objects with their full impact.

DSC_0084We took the long way back to our hotel, visiting the Basilica Cistern and the Grand Bazaar on our way. Istanbul, like Rome and Jerusalem, was built on seven hills – yet somehow it seems like you are always walking uphill! The Basilica Cistern gave us a welcome break from the sun. It is expansive with 336 columns each 30 feet high for a total area of 105,000 square feet. The Grand Bazaar seemed just as large, except teeming with jewelry, knickknack, and carpet stores. One could easily get lost in the Bazaar – unless one was as disinterested in shopping as we were.

This trip is a fact-seeking mission, and part of our job is figuring out where everything is so we don’t get our groups lost! What this means in reality is that we get ourselves lost a lot before we get it figured out. We did a lot of walking today and were blessed with amazing weather so complaints about sore muscles are only softly whispered.

IMG_0625When it came to dinner we were too hungry and tired to go far but we found just what we needed: a little restaurant right by the hotel that served us salad, lintel soup and fried fish, followed by chai tea. Just what we needed to wrap up a very busy day!

Tomorrow we will visit the Istanbul Archaeology Museum, pick up our rental car, and drive 7 hours to Pamukkale to visit Hierapolis. This will be Sarah’s first time driving in Turkey so be sending good thoughts our way!