Of Mosques and Men

Turkey is a predominantly Muslim country, so it comes as no surprise that its capital city, Istanbul, has an overwhelming number of mosques whose domes dot the skyline. The hour-long drive from Istanbul´s Sabiha Gokcen airport provided us with stunning views of what seemed an infinite array of these holy structures. Liebling and I had arrived in Istanbul very early in the morning, after taking a three-hour night flight from Berlin. Our arrival was greeted by heavy rain, which admittedly dampened our spirits as we had hoped to see and do a lot in our three days there. We had previously arranged a transfer from the airport to our hotel, so upon exiting the arrivals gate at the airport, we were met by our driver, who, while nice, drove dangerously fast on the slick, rainy highway.

Upon arrival at our hotel, the lovely Hotel Sultania, Liebling and I charted out the day’s agenda. Luckily, by this point, the torrential downpour had let up and revealed grey (but dry) skies. We decided to take advantage of the rain reprieve and set out on a walking tour of the historic center of the ancient city.

Did I mention that Istanbul is a ridiculously sprawling city that is the only one in the world to span two continents (Europe and Asia)? If not, well, there you go. The historic center of the city is found on the European side, known as the Sultanahmet quarter. Sultanahmet is home to the two most famous attractions in Istanbul, the Hagia Sofia , and the Blue Mosque. The area is bustling. We grabbed a quick breakfast in a local cafe, where I had my first experience with Turkish tea (didn’t like it- too bitter and too strong).

From there, we walked over to the Hagia Sophia
, where we were wowed by its impressive interior. Apparently, this structure, now a secular museum after various past incarnations as an Orthodox Cathedral, and later, a Mosque, is reknowned for its huge central dome, supported by four hidden pillars. The lighting gave an enchanting, ethereal effect, hypnotizing Liebling and I, and rendering us almost numb to the large crowd of tourists who were also gathered in the building.

After snapping a few pictures, we continued on to the next monument on our hit list. The Blue Mosque is perhaps the most famous attraction in Istanbul, and dubbed as such because of the blue mosaic tile that covers its inside walls. The structure is still a functioning mosque, open to the prayerful and atheist tourist alike, so, ever observant and respectul, Liebling and I removed our shoes to enter, as did all others seeking entry into the mosque. To be honest, though, after the opulence and grandeur of the Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque was the poor country cousin. I wasn’t awed by it, despite the exterior being pretty impressive. It was the interior that didn’t strike me as anything particularly special, though Liebling was mightily impressed. But different strokes… Not to mention that I had to beat a hasty retreat as the overwhelming smell of stinky feet (you have to take off your shoes to enter, remember?) was making me feel nauseous. Yikes!

After getting lost in the nearly deserted streets of the old quarter of town, we finally found ourselves at the Topkapi Palace, which is known for being the primary residence of the Ottoman Sultans for upwards of 400 years. The grounds of the palace were massive, but by this time, I was both cold and a little wet (damn the inclement weather) so I didn’t enjoy visiting the grounds as much as I could, and took very few pictures as I was feeling too cold to bother taking out my camera. One of the highlights of visiting this palace happens to be the harem that is attached to one of the main buildings, but when we got there, we were dismayed to see that that section of the complex was closed!! Bummer! We still ascended one of outdoor stairwells that lead us to the top of one of the buildings and provided a very nice view on the city, however.

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  • Reply
    December 31, 2010 at 9:54 pm

    You have inspired me to go get my TESL or TEFL certification. I already have books waiting for me at the libray. My mom thinks it is a great idea. She does always tell me she thinks I should have been born in England, so I hope to venture to other parts of Europe next year. I would like to visit Wales.

  • Reply
    January 1, 2011 at 3:12 am

    I'm so envious of your trip! A friend of mine lives in Istanbul and was telling me all about it over Skype the other day….too bad Seoul is waaaaay too far away to go for a vacation :/ Someday!!

  • Reply
    January 1, 2011 at 11:31 am

    @Lei- That#s great!!! You go girl! It s always amazing when you have support from your family!

    @Naomi- You ll have to put Istanbul on your hit list… lol… Wait a minute, you re in Seoul now? Since when? How are you liking it? I hope that you dont mind that I added you to the blogroll!

  • Reply
    January 2, 2011 at 8:10 am

    Oneika, 1st of all BONNE ANNÈE!!! And 2nd, I did it!! I submitted my application for TAPIF! Pray for me that I get toulouse city! I dished about it in my blog.

  • Reply
    Mamacita Chilena
    January 2, 2011 at 5:18 pm

    Holy cow, the Hagia Sophia looks like that in and of itself would be worth the trip to Instanbul.

    And I had no idea that the city was so large, so you really did enlighten me 🙂 Thank you Oneika!

  • Reply
    January 3, 2011 at 12:35 am

    Hello! I'm Jessica! I frequent your blog quite often. I enjoy reading about your travels. Happy New Year!

  • Reply
    January 6, 2011 at 9:20 am

    @ugomma: fantastic! i hope that you get toulouse! ive never been (except for walking around the train station) but ive heard great things!

    @mama: i think that istanbul would be an AMAZING trip for an experienced photographer like yourself! the city is soooo sprawling and the bosphorous river provides a beautiful backdrop. it was a pity the weather was so crappy while we were there! it's my mission to go back when it's summer.

    @jessica: hi there, thanks for reading! i actually checked out your blog and it's really cool! i love your travel videos!

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