Sunday, June 30, 2013

Exploring Istanbul

Since we are heading to Singapore tomorrow, our heads will soon be filled with exciting new experiences in Asia, but at the same time, we will continue to reflect and post on all the incredible places we were fortunate enough to visit in the European region....  What better place to begin than with the "here and now"?

We spent over a week and a half in Istanbul!  That may seem an odd decision, given that Turkey is huge, with so much to explore.  However, after budget traveling around Europe for nearly four months, we were exhausted, and lucky we made it out of the city at all (to Cappadocia)! Fortunately, Istanbul is a place where each stroll around the same area seems vastly different each time, and thus, we were able to savor the sights and sounds of a completely new, fascinating destination disparate to any we had previously visited, and at a pivotal time in its history, to boot :)  Behold, Istanbul:

Disoriented after a long bus ride from Athens and an ATM mishap at the Otogar bus station, we wandered around Istanbul for a couple of hours before finally making our way to the Taksim Square neighborhood, walking past busloads of riot police, locals began to warn us to stay out of the area.  Soon, we began to smell the tear gas, and the air was hazy with dust and smoke.  Piles of rubble lay smoldering.  Broken glass from display windows littered the streets, and we picked our way past uprooted metal posts.  After a full night of struggles between protesters and police, the area had been closed to traffic.  A few pedestrians tentatively made their way through the area.  As we began to cough more frequently and the haze grew thicker, we turned around, went into a restaurant back down the hill (pictured above), and discovered an email from our would-be host, telling us not to come to Taksim Square.....  and we finally had breakfast while discussing the unrest with a local young Turkish couple and an Australian family residing in Istanbul.  We proceeded to book different lodging and headed to the Fatih neighborhood, thoroughly exhausted.....  (Two weeks later, we returned safely to explore Taksim Square.)

Our first glimpse of the Blue Mosque, or Sultanahmet Mosque.  As I learned when entering this mosque, although prayer is to be done five times daily in Islam, it need not necessarily take place inside a mosque each time.  There is no particular universal design of a mosque, and thus there is a great degree of regionalism in architecture.  Looking forward to comparing with mosques in Asian countries.

Roman aqueduct, in excellent condition.

The Globesters (with me in my "Crocodile Hunter" hat) and our friend Annika, who we were thrilled to meet up with in Istanbul after having explored Sofia, Bulgaria together.

The New Mosque.

A ferry terminal on the Bosphorus River, where the famous fish sandwiches are sold.

More fish sandwich joints under the bridge.

Goofing off with Annika outside of Topkapi Palace.  True to form, we did not go inside, as most of the fun was to be had outside, where the locals hung out.  We also thought the 20 USD price tag was a bit steep.

The Topkapi palace grounds used to house 4,000 people in medieval times.

Night scene, with the Blue Mosque in the background.

The Sultanahmet bar area, where the foreigners and some locals like to have a beer on the various terraces.

This picture is not great from a photography standpoint, but I like it.  The Blue Mosque is in the background.

Looking very hipster, eating musaka at our favorite restaurant in the conservative Fatih neighborhood, where we spent most of our time.

Looking for the Thai embassy to obtain our tourist visas.

Obelisk near the Blue Mosque.

Street life, with lots of Turkish flags.

Detailing on the lovely medieval architecture.

Almost ready to enter the Blue Mosque; just need to cover my arms.

Mosque coverage requirements.

Inside the wall of the Blue Mosque.

Blue Mosque.

Blue Mosque.

Blue Mosque.

Exiting the Blue Mosque.

Architectural marvel Aya Sofia in the background.

Blue Mosque in the sun.

Strolling the shopping streets.  Lovely lamps for sale.

Along the Bosphorus.


Galata Tower.

Walking home from the market.

Cats rule the roost in Istanbul.  They are collectively fed and watered in a long tradition of cat lovers.  It is debatable whether this is due to religion or other cultural factors in the area, but it is lovely to see so many healthy, plump, adored street cats.

Hotel Fatih.

Near the Blue Mosque.  Under construction, it appears to be a museum.

Not a worry in the world.

Dolmabahce Clock Tower.

Dolmabahce Palace gates.

Blue Mosque at sunset.

Cute little bus.  Never took one; it seemed to operate on a different system from the larger city buses.  Either way, we tended to walk everywhere, since the transit system was on the pricey side...

Stopping for a tea break by the river.

Stopping for another break in the park, admiring some of the flags Harold has accumulated on his backpack.

The Grand Bazaar.

Grand Bazaar.

Dolmabahce Palace from our packed-to-the-gills Bosphorus River cruise boat.  It was the cheapest one, and also featured free tea!

A wedding.

Bosphorus Bridge linking Europe and Asia.

The Asian side of Istanbul.

A palace on the Asian side.

Passing a much larger vessel.

The hazy, humid skyline.

A statue commemorating the Turkish War of Independence from the Allied powers, which ended in 1923.

Strolling the Taksim Square neighborhood, teeming with activity, a tinge of tear gas still in the air.

Fountain outside a Greek Orthodox Church.

Stringy sweets dripping with honey.

Catholic church.

Lovely colors in the Catholic church.

Fun street art.

Hand of Fatima, a symbol of protection from the evil eye.  Predating Islam and Christianity, and popular in North Africa and the Middle East, it is referred to as the Hand of Mary or the Hand of Miriam in some Christian and Jewish communities, respectively.

To enter or not...?

Winding streets near Galata Tower.

Who says only humans can sell jewelry?

Not meeting the minimum code requirement.

Taksim Square, site of recent unrest that expresses the deep political and cultural divide in Turkey.

Oops, construction gone awry.  Hit a pipe!  Taksim Square metro stop.

Wedding dresses galore, with some of the most beautiful designs I have ever seen (this one is not in that category...).

Whew, long day.

Cemetery entrance.

Cemetery stone adornment.

Saying goodbye to our regular eatery in Fatih.  Fair prices, tasty food, friendly service.

Tile work, inside the Blue Mosque.

It is 2am and I have a flight to catch tomorrow, so ciao for now, readers.  Peace out!