16-20 September, 2011
Here I am in Istanbul (formerly Byzantium and Constantinople).
I took a plane from Odessa Airport (just a small single storey building) to Istanbul, not much more than one hour in flight. My idea of going by boat evaporated when I found the service was cancelled last year due to lack of demand caused by the recession. Never mind.
I am staying at a hostel in Sultanahmet, very close to the Hagia Sophia (Greek for Holy Wisdom), Blue Mosque and Topkapi Palace. I have had a look from the outside but the queues to get in were very long, so I think I will try to get there at morning opening instead.
The plane landed at 3.00pm so I had plenty of time to tackle public transport which proved easy. I took the Metro train to an interchange station where I switched to a tram. A short walk through the park between Aya Sophia and the Blue Mosque and I was there (Agora Guesthouse). They have a great rooftop terrace view over the Sea of Marmara. That is the body of water that leads to the Black Sea to the north (through the Bosphorus Straits) and the Aegaean and Mediterranean to the south (through the Dardanelles), and is the border between Europe and Asia.
The European side of Istanbul is divided by the Golden Horn estuary which passes under the Galata Bridge and flows into the Marmara. There are lots of cafes and bars under the bridge.
After my walk around yesterday I think I am the closest I have been to culture shock. Istanbul is very beautiful, with stunning views, but very big with crazy traffic. And that’s just the pedestrians!
The Blue Mosque was built in 1616 (architect Sedefkar Mehmed Agha was a student and assistant of Sinan the brilliant Ottoman architect Sinan). The name Blue Mosque comes from the colour of the interior, with 20,000 handmade ceramic tiles in 50 different tulip designs. It is one of only 2 mosques in Turkey with 6 minarets. There was criticism at the time on the religious grounds that the Ka’aba in Mecca already had 6 minarets and should not be competed with. So the Ottoman ruler paid for a 7th to be added there (from Wikipedia). The Obelisk of Theodosius was brought to Constantinople from Egypt and is 3500 years old.
The Hagia Sophia with its massive dome was constructed by Justinian in 532AD on the site of an earlier church. It was converted to a mosque when the Ottomans captured Constantinople in 1453AD and became a museum in 1931.
Among other meanderings, I visited the Grand Bazaar, the Egyptian Bazaar (Spice Bazaar), the Sulimaniye Mosque (Sinan was the architect), the Basilica Cistern (a large underground cavern with 336 marble columns, including 2 with Medusa head bases, one upside down and the other on its side for some reason, water coming from the Belgrade Forest 19km away), walked across the Galata Bridge (spanning the Golden Horn) to the Galata Tower and took a 90 minute cruise as far as the Bosphorus Bridge (and the next one) and into the Black Sea and back for A$6.