"Maybe Istanbul was the city in the sky where the people who were our reflections lived."
Burhan Sönmez .................................
More prosaically, Istanbul is fascinating, utterly bonkers, a bit smelly, noisy, hot and slightly disconcerting – all at the same time.
We were in our taxi (more about taxis in a mo) at about 08:30. The plan was to head to Sultanahmet (an historic part of the city) to see the famous Blue Mosque, before the crowds had finished their scrambled eggs. This was a good strategy. There were a few hundred there already but looking at the rows of ‘queue management bars’ we’d done pretty well.
Since this is a real, live mosque, our shoes had to be removed and there was a dress code which is basically no skin (apart from face and hands) or body shape (eg no leggings) showing. And women had to wear a headscarf.
Inside, there was quite a lot of repair scaffolding up unfortunately, but you could still see its scale and feel its power.
Quite staggering Iznik ceramics.
We then walked across the formal gardens to another huge building, Aya Sofya. This was built as a Christian church but after the Ottoman armies captured Constantinople (as the City was then called), it was turned into a mosque. It’s now a museum. In its day, the largest unsupported dome in the world.
Hopefully, the pictures speak for themselves but I'll add some more to the gallery in due course.
One more visit for our morning trip was the Basilica Cistern. This is a vast water storage facility, built but Constantine but finished by Emporor Justinian in the 6th century. It is vast, and water still drips into it. My iphone wasn’t really up to a decent pic but hopefully it gives you an idea. Also in the cistern were two column bases, carved as Medusa’s head.
We meant to go to the Grand Bazaar but we’d been a little to quick, what with our early start. We vowed to go back to the hotel, have some lunch and return late afternoon. What a change. The streets were full to the brim of people (mostly Turks, rarely foreigners) and traffic was in ‘total gridlock’. People were leaving for home on the ferries across the river and trams were crammed with humanity. The noise was indescribable, And we hadn’t even made it to the bazaar yet!
After zigzagging our way through, we made it to the bazaar. It’s a hive of 60 streets and 4,000 shops, and this excludes the people just laying stuff out on the floor and attempting a sale. It is utter madness, knock off branded goods heaven, mobile phones, nuts, cockatiels – you name it.
I missed a shot of 5 women dressed in black chadors. The stall above where they were walking had on display French maid’s outfits, frilly knockers and all sorts of glamourwear. Seemed strange. We reckoned that about 80% of non- tourist women were wearing a headscarf, or more modesty-based outerwear – more than I expected.
We had a couple of incidents with taxis. The first, booked via the hotel (not a limo, a standard Istanbul taxi) was fine – the right rate. The 2nd one was also fine but drove like Fangio and nearly killed a cyclist. The 3rd, when I asked why he hadn’t put the meter on, said something about the Novotel being only 15 lire. But when we arrived, he asked for 35 and started saying he didn’t realise it was this Novotel (we’d given the street). Lots of shouting and hand gestures later, we gave him 30 – which is the price it should be and just left him. The 4th driver in the street said there was loads of traffic and it’d cost 70 lire. He refused to put on the meter. We left him. The 5th, was absolutely fine and charged as per the meter. So, I’d suggest everyone refuses a ride unless the driver switches on the meter. It’s generally not a massive potential loss of money once converted back. I just don’t like being treated like an idiot and a source of easy pickings. So there!
I really liked Istanbul. There’s an edginess about it, loads of history and oodles of energy. I’m looking forward to seeing a few of its other offerings (such as the whirling dervishes) on the way back.