As I am sitting on the hop-on/hop-off tour bus in the pouring rain writing this post, I can’t help but to think about the great day we had earlier this week visiting the Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque. We started our day at the Hagia Sophia which was once a Christian church building, but converted to a mosque in the 1400s under Ottoman rule. Istanbul is a city where the west truly meets the Islamic faith. Seeing the space with mosaics of the Virgin Mary and Jesus side by side with Arabic calligraphy and prayer spaces really brought home the idea of co-existence. The views of the mosque from the main floor are overwhelming with the intricate tile and marble work accentuated by the many immense chandeliers.
The views of the Blue Mosque and Bosphorous are great from the balcony as well.
The Hagia Sophia became a secular museum under Ataturk’s rule and a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1934.
Afterwards we made our way across the plaza to the Blue Mosque. This mosque was built to surpass the grandeur of the Hagia Sophia. I’m not sure if it accomplished that, but it sure comes close. As we entered the courtyard, of course, being a friendly guy, a “salesman” strikes up a conversation with me and I cannot get away. Unlike my experiences in Egypt, I decide to go with it. He repeatedly assures me he is not a tour guide as he tells me all about the construction and design of the mosque. Where is Shannon? As he follows me to the entrance collecting all the brochures for me, grabbing a plastic bag for my sandals, and a piece of cloth to cover my legs, he again assures me that he is not a tour guide. Help! After placing my sandals in the bag and wrapping the cloth around my waist, I enter the Blue Mosque. The detailed tile work is completely breathtaking. My friend leads me through the mosque describing the many parts and functions of the space. I stop for a moment to take it all in.
Deep breath. He leads me out of the mosque and begins to tell me all about his store and the perfect items he has for me. Really, where did Shannon go? I thank him for the great tour but explain that I have no room in my luggage for any of his furniture from his store. Thankfully, Shannon popped up at that moment and we left the grounds.
In the Hippodrome adjacent to the Blue Mosque, Istanbul hosts one of many nightly Ramadan, or Ramazan in Turkey, celebrations. Outside of the many tea and candy stands, there are many Turkish Coffee places. We were invited to sit on the “throne” in one such stand after making purchases of traditional coffee sets for a complimentary Turkish Coffee. It was slightly strange sitting on display in the stand where the employees were still working and brewing coffee. I guess there is a first time for everything?
To top off this evening, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to try a Turkish Delight. In my opinion, it tastes similar to a flavored marshmallow, but it is visually more appealing. Just look at the presentation displayed by this candy shop and bakery located in Sultanahmet.
I will go back now to looking out of the bus to a cold, grey, drizzly day here in Istanbul in hopes that tomorrow will be as colorful as these past days.