We left Avery with a couple friends last weekend and Ivan, Evelyn and I went to Istanbul for a few days. It’s crazy, but Istanbul is only a 2 hour flight from Budapest. It was only a little longer than flying from Salt Lake to L.A. and shorter than my flight from Dallas to L.A. last spring. Anyway it was a whirlwind trip and way too much fun.
We got to Istanbul at about 3:30 and took public transportation to our hotel. We got to our hotel just at the first call to evening prayer at about 5:30. I really liked the calls to prayer and they were one of the things I was saddest about leaving when we left. I don’t know how to describe them. All the mosques call at roughly the same time. One will start and within a couple minutes you can hear probably four or five of them all singing in Arabic. There are mosques EVERYWHERE. Our hotel was right next to one. It’s like Mormon church houses in Provo. You can’t escape them, and they all have megaphones on their minarets. Anyway, I loved the calls to prayer.
That night we ventured out and took pictures of the Aya Sofya and the Blue Mosque at night as it was already dark by the time we were settled in enough to leave again. We walked down the street leading to the sites and were quickly made aware that Turks LOVE babies. Over the course of our trip we got free turkish delight, postcards, and I don’t think I ate a single meal with Evelyn on my lap. Everyone wanted to hold her.
On Friday we started at the Aya Sofya. The place is huge. It was built by the Romans in the fifth and sixth centuries (I think) and was the largest enclosed space for a thousand years. It’s now a museum, but it’s a neat place because it was originally a Christian church and was converted into a mosque under Ottoman rule, so it has artwork and signs of both religions. It was really an impressive place and has some nice mosaics upstairs. Apparently the mosaics were made to be seen by candle light and the pieces were placed at slightly different angles which created a neat effect in flickering candle light. Unfortunately they’re only seen in natural or electrical light now.
After the Aya Sofya we went down underground to the basilica sistern where water was stored for a nearby palace. It’s a huge underground room with lines and lines of columns holding up the ceiling. It was a really neat place and one of my favorite places we went I think. For any architecture nerds out there, the columns were kind of interesting. Most were standard doric or ionic (mixed with no apparent pattern. I kind of want to know why…) but there were a couple special columns. One had peacock eyes shaped like tears both to protect against the evil eye and to commemorate all the slaves that died building the sistern, and two others had heads of medusa (don’t worry she was upside down and sideways so she wouldn’t turn you to stone) that were apparently a kind of protection for underground structures.
After the sistern we went to Topkapi Palace where the Ottoman rulers lived during their rule. If you like big jewels or fancy thrones this is the place to go. It’s really a huge palace and the treasury is impressive. Unfortunately we didn’t have time for the harem section, but we did see the relics of the prophets, including a hair of Mohamed and the staff of Abraham. There were also some very nice examples of the famous Iznik tiles there and some very nice views of the rest of the city and the Golden Horn.
After that we were a little late to go see the Blue Mosque so we headed down South of our hotel to see the small Aya Sofya, which was pretty from the outside, but we didn’t go in. We found a nice little place to eat on the way back (if you ever go, do not eat on the main tourist streets. You can find little Turkish places a few streets back that will charge you a third or a fourth the price for the same food.) and called it a night.