Last of the Istanbul Series

Wow, what a long hiatus!  I have broken every rule about successful blogging…stay with theme (almost failed), write regularly (oops!), tag it so that it ranks high amongst search (so failed here…).  But then, this is more of my own online journal so visitor stats are not de facto success measures.  There… I feel so much better now that I have made the excuse! (big smile on my face!)
  When I first started this blog a year ago, I was hoping to make it through the first anniversary and would have given myself a good rah rah for that.  As with anything else, life happens and  this blog was in the danger of being extinct but a quiet weekend afternoon offered an opportunity to pick it up.
This entry will also serve as a test of my gray matter so please God let me pass it (it doesnt have to be with flying colors), I will light incense.

We had saved the best for the last couple of our days in Istanbul.  We started our day a bit too late from Ciragan palace and by the time we got to Hagia Sophia it was noon and the lines were 300 deep just to get in.  My companions went in search for a pomi juice (fresh squeezed, really delish – a must have from one of the street vendors) while I held our place in the line.  It was a perfect mid afternoon to people watch, especially the color coordinated orange and red chinese tourists.  There was a group of american families with teens and the overenthusiastic mom (listening to her talk was almost like looking in a personality mirror for me) was trying to quiz her kids from a guidebook and making a desperate attempt to convince them as to why it was important that they tour the Hagia sophia.  The Dad was conveniently disengaged.  After about 40 minutes, it was our turn to enter the gates but my company was nowhere to be found (I spotted them far away taking pictures of each other with all manners of backdrop).  Now if it was anywhere else in the world, the guide would have asked me to wait there but this was Turkey and the people here define “niceness”.  The guide asked me to go search for my companions so we could enter whenever I would find them.

Once inside, we had to wait for a few more minutes to go through security and another 20 minutes for the audio guides (which btw were well worth every penny). As you go through the main entrance, you get a small glimpse of the gild and marbles used to construct this place but…….

Entrance Hallway to Hagia Sophia
nothing prepares you for the grandeur that awaits you.  If you are into history, architecture, art, religion, you name it…take your time with the audio guide and explore every nook and cranny of this place.  Most tourists enter and stand by the dome, maybe take a few pictures near the mihrab and head out and there is nothing wrong with that but if you do not have the time to explore the naves or the side galleries, then stand under the dome and look up, down and all around you and each vantage point of the church/camii (can i even call it either?) will surprise you with yet another mosaic, stained glass window, painting, decal that you did not expect to be present.  The Mihrab is like none other I have seen.
The mihrab viewed from the dome

I just loved every wrought iron chandelier and the sense of intrigue that the lights created inside the dome.

 

Sultanahmet Camii from inside the Hagia Sophia
The dead center of the dome, looking up through the chandelier
The walk between the Hagia Sophia and the Blue mosque is nothing short of a destination itself.  The wrought iron lampposts, the ablution fountains tucked here and there, all offer you a chance to take it slow and enjoy the surroundings.
After a busy day at the Hagia Sophia we treated ourselves to none other than Cagaloglu Hamam.  The 300 year old bath offers an atmosphere where the vanities of modern day are left behind and one is forced to be comfortable in one’s own skin.  Though I must say, it is another great place to people watch (nope no starring but subtly observing from the corner of the eye).  You can easily spot the americans struggling to keep their coverings on and being modest, while the body builder turkish women who bathe you snatch away the ever so tiny towel.  just let go and enjoy…
We also had some time to catch up with a bit of window shopping at the Grand bazaar.  It was a little disappointing.  Other than a few turkish fabric crafts and the lovely calligraphist who made us each a tile capturing our essence, most goods were from anywhere but turkey.  The market was too large and too overwhelming for me.  I would take the spice market any day over the grand bazaar.  To really truly enjoy the essence of the market, one needed a full day which we could not spare.
As we headed back from the market, we caught a glimpse of Constantine Column originally dating to 328 AD.

If you have the time and can explore some of the back alleys next to the blue mosque toward Kennedy Avenue, you will be able to glimpse the wooden houses of the old turkey…restored to some extent but still capturing the imagination as portrayed by Pamuk in any of his novels.


The last evening in Istanbul was spent on the Asian side, high above a hilltop overlooking the city and eating horrendously bad food in a hookah restaurant (so bad I do not even remember the name and am just glad that the taxi driver got us there in one piece).  The views were spectacular though.


We spent our last morning exploring the cafes (especially Ara which has a great collection of his photographs on the wall),  music shoppes, bookstores and baklava shoppes in Taksim.

I am a bit sad to end this series here as I know I can continue it forever and ever (who knows I might be able to squeeze in another trip to that fabulous country in this lifetime).   My gray matter needs to remember few mor of trips that have happened since Turkey….so Hoscakal until next time…..

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