This is a shot of the Sultan Ahmed Mosque (aka "The Blue Mosque") behind a rug store on our first night in Istanbul. You can see Margaret and James looking at a rug in the store window. My photos do not do the mosque justice -- it's spectactular.
We arrived in Istanbul late Thursday afternoon. It’s Margaret’s Fall Break at the University of Pecs, so we decided to use Hungary as a launching point to visit some places we’ve always wanted to see.* We’ll be here until Monday, then we take a quick flight to Athens for 6 days — the plan is to spend 4 days in Athens, then 2 more someplace else in Greece (a nearby island, perhaps? we’re taking suggestions), before heading back to Hungary next Sunday. Our first two days in Istanbul have been absolutely fantastic. The weather was sort of lousy (rainy and chilly) on Thursday and Friday, but today the sun came out and brightened things up.
We’re staying at a terrific hotel in the Sultanahmet district that is owned by Lynn Yeoman (an old friend of Margaret’s) and her business partner Hakan Kocatürk –it’s called The Apricot Hotel and it’s right in the heart of the old city, a short walk to many of the major sites. We’ll be posting full reviews of the hotel on Trip Advisor soon, but suffice it to say that it’s a WONDERFUL place and we’ve been treated like royalty since they picked us up at the airport. And from what we can tell, everyone gets the same treatment.
Today I’m posting images from our first two days here — I’ll post again before we leave. As you can imagine, there’s LOT’S to see and photograph here.
Our first night here, Hakan and Lynn took us to a fish restaurant up on the Bosphorus Strait nearly to the Black Sea. Here are a few photos from dinner:
Our new friend, Hakan -- he owns The Apricot Hotel with our friend Lynn -- pours out glasses of Raki, the "national drink" in Turkey. It's an anise-flavored spirit that is clear until you add water and it becomes cloudy - very nice flavor - licoricey... and STRONG.
Margaret and Hakan -- we're all at a seafood restaurant on the Bosphorus Strait. Those are the various salads that started dinner. Fish came later, but I forgot to photograph it. Darn!
As I mentioned, the weather was pretty lousy, so I didn’t get many good outdoor shots of two main sites we visited on Friday — Topkapi Palace and the “Blue Mosque.” I’ve linked to the Wikipedia entries because I don’t really have any good photos and they go into detail about the historical significance of each.
Topkapi Palace is HUGE. Built beginning in 1459, it sprawls around this beautiful piece of land that overlooks the Bosphorus. It holds many of the most important Ottoman treasures and holy relics of the Muslim world, including (allegedly?), bits of the prophet Muhammed’s beard. I certainly won’t be able to do it justice here, so I encourage you to take a look at the Wiki entry.
View of the Bosphorus Strait from Topkapi Palace. Note the hawk...
Margaret and James on the grounds leading into Topkapi Palace. The area behind them contains the kitchens. You'll see the enormous chimneys in the next shot.
This section housed the kitchen - those are chimneys rising up in the background.
Margaret and I at Topkapi Palace. We're getting ready to leave and walk over to the Blue Mosque.
Here's a rainy shot of the Blue Mosque. Those are loudspeakers on the minarets - the Muslim Call to Prayer is amplified through the speakers. Five times a day, you can hear the muezzin summoning Muslims for their prayers - the sound, which gets mixed with muezzin calling from other mosques, is really something else. Margaret recorded a particularly loud call to prayer while we were out today -- I'll try to find a way to post it here soon.
This young man saw me with my camera and told me it was okay to take his picture. Worshippers have to cleanse themselves (including washing their feet) before entering the mosque.
Shot from farther away - there are probably 20-30 of these stools/faucets along this wall. Behind me several men were washing themselves in preparation for entering the mosque.
Here's a pretty gloomy shot from inside the courtyard of the Blue Mosque.
A man praying inside the Sultan Ahmed Mosque (Blue Mosque). They do not allow visitors inside during services, so I would imagine that this space is packed during those times. It took this photo from behind a guard rail -- there are probably 250 visitors in there with us.
And now, drum roll please…. …. … the reason why the Sultan Ahmed Mosque is called “The Blue Mosque…”
Sultan Ahmed Mosque -- ceiling domes. Blue is a major theme....
More Sultan Ahmed Mosque ceiling details...
Margaret and James inside the Sultan Ahmed Mosque. Women are "encouraged" though not required to covered their heads out of respect. Everyone must take off their shoes before entering. You can't see from here, but there are about 250 people inside the mosque, in their socks. And it was raining outside. I won't say anymore. About the smell...
I did not take this photo. Actually, I did "take" it - from a travel website. I just wanted to make sure you saw what it really looks like.
Here are some random images from the first two days:
There are very friendly cats EVERYWHERE in Istanbul. Here's a shot of a couple of kittens, sleeping on a stack of rugs in a shop window. Awwww....
A produce truck drove past our hotel yesterday - I imagine this guy drives around and sells produce to the restaurants.
James yawns on the train ride from Pecs to Budapest to catch the flight to Istanbul. LOVE the trains, but this one was an early train - left Pecs at 5:20 am...
The fact that there are many rug shops around Istanbul didn't surprise me, but just how cool some of the shop windows are did -- I love the display of this GIANT rug.
Had baklava with tea yesterday afternoon. Delish!!
That’s it for now. Went pillowcase shopping today in the Grand Bazzaar, walked to the Spice Bazaar, crossed a bridge into an area called The Golden Horn and took a walk along the Sea of Marmara. Lots of photos to process… more later.
*James and I are NOT on Fall Break, but the ANK school knew that we’d be gone this week and we had their approval. So we’re playing hooky, but it’s okay.