The Tour Officially Begins - Day 1 in Istanbul - October 12

The following morning we drank our fill of Nescafé and ate all the cheese and olives we could stand then headed out and explored another small portion of the Sultanahmet, the name of the neighborhood we called home for three nights. We headed back towards the restaurant from the previous night but took a left instead of a right and discovered a row of shops, like an artist's walk, which ran behind the Blue mosque.

The brilliant blue of these ceramic pieces caught my eye.

Sally is contemplating making her first purchase of the trip, a beautiful scarf. She decided yes. Scarves and pashminas are everywhere and the prices are very reasonable. I picked up a few for 15 TL each. They make beautiful gifts and are easy to pack for the trip home.

Sally eyed these pages from vintage books but no shop keeper was to be found. That is just plain rare. Anywhere we went in Turkey we were greeted by just about every shop keeper. Makes sense, they want our business. Sally would have given them the business, as it were, had anyone bothered to be present for it. We walked out but returned on the return stroll - still no merchant. No merchant - no sale.
The main point of our exploration was to locate the hotel we'd move to as members of the tour, the Obelisk Hotel. Every building in this photo is a hotel. Lots of hotels in the Sultanahmet. It's a great area. Lots to do, all the classic sites, restaurants everywhere, shopping ops at every turn.

At night all of these buildings were lit with different colored lights. It's really pretty. And the streets are lively at night, people are out walking, dining, getting to and fro.

Here is the view from the hotel terrace. We would eat breakfast up here but inside because of the chilly morning air.

Here is a view looking to the Bosphorous Strait and the Ahirkapi Lighthouse.
By 3 pm we had met up with the tour for our introductions and an orientation. Our guide was Mine (MEE-nay) and she was really great. Knew everything about anything.

Afterwards, we headed straight for the Blue Mosque. On the way Mine gives us some basic orientation. That green house in the background is where we would eat dinner later.

The Blue Mosque is a working mosque, not a museum, so we respected the customs - no shoes and women must cover their heads and shoulders. No bare legs for either sex but Mine said pants, at least as long as capri pants, are allowed.

It was pretty crowded. Tourists from all over the world were there. I heard several languages coming at me from all directions. And just as many Muslim visitors as any other group.

What struck me upon entering was the height of the dome, the prominent feature. But an instant after my mouth fell open because of the dome, I was more awestruck by the details. No human or animal images are allowed or any image of Allah in the Islamic faith. But the calligraphy is elaborate, ornate, stylized to the nth degree. I can't read Arabic but I can clearly understand the level of artistic skill that went into the calligraphy. Turks, by the way, speak Turkish, which sounds pretty much nothing like Arab languages.
Click on any photo to enlarge.

Yes, here I am in the mosque. Some observations I made while wearing a head scarf:

  • I chose too heavy a material but who knew the weather would be unseasonably warm?
  • I didn't like even the slight impairment to my peripheral vision.
  • I didn't like the slight impairment to my hearing.
OK, let's keep in mind that I was not wearing the style of scarf a Muslim women who wears a scarf would wear. I'm also not wearing it in the manner a Muslim woman would wear it. So my observations come from someone wearing the wrong scarf in the wrong way. In regard to women covering their heads and modes of dress, these customs ran the gamut. Istanbul is a huge metropolis, like New York. I saw women who looked like they were auditioning for MTV (is there still MTV?) and a few women in the full deal - covered from forehead to toe in black, with only the face exposed (I assumed these women were visiting Istanbul because this is not at all the norm in any of the places we visited) - and everything in between. Business professional, business casual, totally casual shorts and tanks, in between modest slacks and long-sleeve blouses, with a scarf, without a scarf, and different kinds of scarves tied in different ways.

Some women cover their heads, some do not. There are any number of ways to cover the head with any number of styles of scarf. Some women cover the head and the shoulders. Some cover their heads but wear very Western clothes while some cover their heads and wear very modest long-sleeved coats and slacks, in spite of the temperatures in the 80's.

The women in the villages are all together different yet the same. Modest but practical. The vast majority cover their heads with very light scarves wrapped loosely. After all, they are doing their share of manual labor. Again, long-sleeved shirts. And almost all of them wear the big baggy pants with the MC Hammer-like legs, called şalvar (shahl-vahr). Şalvar are probably worn because they are modest, comfortable, loose enough to work in the field and around the house, and don't reveal the shape of the body (not appropriate in Islam for either sex).
Some places were more conservative than others, which was illustrated in one way by how the women dressed. In more conservative places I saw more women with head coverings and the long coats. And a few more women dressed in the full gear. I don't know nearly enough about Islamic dress codes and regional customs to declare this that or the other. These are observations only. I wish I had a light set like this in our house. The lights cast such a soft glow. There was an oddly soft brightness inside the mosque, if that makes sense. Bright but not bright. Illuminated, I should say, but subtle. This photo of this man praying was blurry and dim. So I took advantage of those "errors" and ramped up a few simple elements in iPhoto and I'm pleased with the results. I was trying to convey his solitude. What you can't see is that he is surrounded by people. But he found a spot to make his own while he prayed. The photo doesn't have to be sharp, bright or perfect. And the man didn't need the perfect place to pray, he just needed his place. Perhaps wherever he can pray is the perfect place for him.The carpet was really soft and smooth. Mine told us that they replace it every five years. One of the things I noticed after entering the mosque was the slight foot smell. Don't misunderstand, I realize that the place is full of people not wearing shoes. And I do have a sensitive sniffer. It's just an observation.Our first look at the famous Iznik tiles which grace so much of Istanbul. The Turks love tiles. Anyone would love these tiles. Iznik was formerly Nicaea, as in First Council of Nicaea. More on that later. For now, just know that the tradition of tile making in Iznik goes back to the 12th century. The heyday for Iznik tiles came after the Ottoman's conquered Constantinople (which they named Istanbul). Here is a shot from the courtyard. Pretty difficult to get too much of the place in a shot because I was standing in the middle of it. Spotted this detail on one of the huge doors to the courtyard. A word about the cobblestone - be careful! You know, nothing in Turkey is even. You have to actually watch where you step. And once in a while, one of these big cobble stones is missing or is sitting up out of its space. OK, while looking for a place to eat the night before, we spotted three Mini Coopers (real ones from back in the day, not ones with CD players and airbags) tooling down the street. On each was painted this map. The cars are on a road trip from Switzerland to Thailand. On our way to dinner this night we spotted two of the three. I've checked online for info about this road trip but came up with zilch. If anyone knows anything about it, please share? I'm really curious about it. Our first dinner as a group was at The Green House (Yeşil Ev). A really pretty dining room and very good food. We had cheese filled "pastry" for a starter. I neglected to get the name of the cheese but it was delicious, with a slight tang. We then had dolmas cooked in a small crock. I regret not getting some of these crocks. They were lightweight and inexpensive. We ate several dishes cooked in crocks, all of them delicious. Dessert was two styles of baklava, a candied fig, a candied apricot and a zippy creamy cheese. Like a thick whipped cream but more of a cheese flavor. Whatever is was it was the star of the plate as far as I was concerned. Return to Main Page or go straight to Day 2 - Istanbul.

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