The Hagia Sophia was across the street from the Blue Mosque. Originally built as a cathedral in the sixth century AD, it has served as a cathedral, a mosque, and now as a museum. It has the most intriguing artwork found in the church. Our tour guide’s explanation about the church history, facts and architectural significance was a mind-broadening experience. However, the light emerging from the stain glass window, gave me some spiritual yearning. After a guided tour, I went to the second floor to see the mosaic of Jesus Christ etched on the wall; it was one of the most haunting religious arts I have ever seen. It brought me back to my reality and put me to tears for I remembered and missed my mother – a very religious woman, who would have loved to see such site.
I enjoyed the visit to these sites not only for admiring the beauty of the architecture and the arts, but it was an enlightening experience from the historical and cultural perspective. Our tour guide talked like a professor or an intellectual who had written a dissertation on the subject of politics and religion. [Subjects that I’m intimidated now to talk about in this blog, but I may post something about our tour-guide later].
After the guided tour of the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia, I joined a Canadian couple to explore the city on our own. We decided to do our own walking tour. We started at the Basilica Cistern, another site that has a colorful history and a bust of the Medusa.
We then proceeded to walk uphill to visit Topkapi Palace - a massive place. It was a long uphill walk before arriving at the Palace gate. There were long lines at the ticket office and a big crowd of tourists and schoolchildren by the entrance. The historical significance of the palace, the mosaic tiles and the artwork from the ceiling was amazing, but my interest in seeing stuff found inside the palace diminished, perhaps from having visited so many museums and palaces in Europe. The Sultan’s swords and guns that were made of gold and jewels or that the royals bathed in diamonds and gold did not interest me that much. They’re so far removed from my daydream and my reality. Nevertheless, the royals or the sultans’ choice of location where to build their palaces was impressive. We get to see the spectacular views of the city from the palace grounds.
visit to the palace, we walked to the Grand Bazaar, the oldest covered market in the world. In my early years of travel, I collected trinkets and brought souvenirs for everyone at home. The trinkets I collected for myself are now in storage collecting dust. So now that I travel a lot and wanted to rid myself of material things, I’m no longer one for souvenirs and shopping. However, I recommend a visit to the Grand Bazaar even though you’re not a shopper. The Grand Bazaar has a place in the history and culture of Istanbul. And for those who love to shop, there’s no better place to practice your bargaining skills than the oldest mall in the world.
Overall, Istanbul is a great walking city. Getting lost in the midst of a cultural center and beautiful natural setting was one of the joys of the city. As we tried to find our way back to where we started, we ended up where we meant to go in the first place and led to some more mosques and other discoveries. Walking on hard surface (stone) was equally frustrating though.
The walk back to my hotel was the longest ten-minute walk of my life. Every time we asked someone how to get to the hotel, we got the same response, “it’s a ten-minute walk from here." We memorized and followed the direction and ended up finding ourselves in some random place. Considering that we got lost a few times and asked more than five people how to get to our hotel, the ten-minute walk took more than an hour. It turned out to be the longest walking city tour I had ever experienced, measured not in terms of the distance walked, but the blister on my feet and the damage done to my Cole Haan shoes.