Istanbul and Israel: Bölüm I

Honestly, I have spent so much time thinking about how to break this down for you, and I have little to no clue where to begin. First, let me just express how lucky I am. Thanks be to the big man upstairs for watching our backs in a somewhat stressful part of the world. Before leaving for Turkey, I was mildly worried about going to Jerusalem, but it faded quickly as I heard many other English speakers on our plane and around us the whole time. Not that you can prevent something from happening to you, but .. we’ll discuss that more later on in the story.

John and I had a rough start to the trip. We went out Friday night for some drinks and before we knew it, it was a little later than we had anticipated. When I went home, I knew I couldn’t fall asleep for fear of missing the departure, so I did the dishes, cleaned up and got packed up. The first leg of the journey was a connecting flight from Gimhae’s airport to Gimpo (in Seoul) and we hopped a bus to Incheon. Upon check-in we learned that the airline messed up, so we got bumped to business/first class. It. Was. Fantastic. I think I will have to pay for the space in the future. When your income is fairly expendable, it’s a luxury you can afford – right? I’ll just keep telling myself that.

Bumpy landing, but we made it to Istanbul. After passing through their ‘VERY RIGOROUS’ customs – cough, it was the absolute most lax routine I had ever been through – we were bamboozled by a swift speaking Turkish man into paying a lot more for a cab than we should have. But, how were we to know. There was no way to contact my friend or his flat mate. The ride was nice though. We passed over a bridge and were greeted with a lit up view of Aya Sofya and the Sultanahmet Mosque, better known as the Blue Mosque. Finally, my eyes rested upon what some speculate to be a Wonder of the world. Just as quick as they appeared, they were lost in the hilly terrain. We reached our destination and took a little walk around the area. Shops and food, Christmas decor, balloons, crazy drivers, amazing smells, well dressed Turkish men and women. It was a neat atmosphere – not really what I expected, but alas, not much of the trip was expected.

My brother Michael Oghia was currently in Bulgaria visiting a friend, so we met up with his flat mate Kenny. He showed us to the apartment and we went out for a couple of pints. Not the biggest fan of Turkish beer, kind of lower on the scale than even Korean beer. But, beer is beer is food. Having hardly any sleep at all, we headed back to the apartment around 1:30.

The next morning John and I woke up VERY early after being so very tired, so ready to hit the trail. We made our way to Haliç, or the Golden Horn. From there, we honestly weren’t sure if we were to go left or right. We saw a mosque way off to the right and went for it. It was about a 2.5km hike of very steep hill. (As I type this, I’m going back through our path to try and estimate how much walking we did this day… It was a lot.)

This first mosque was absolutely breathtaking. As we walk around the outside of Yavuz Sultan Selim Cami Mosque, we discover prayer just let out and there are literally hundreds of beards walking past me. My beard felt right at home! We weren’t sure what the protocol was for going inside, and at risk of being smited down by Allah we kept walking. By now we were pretty hungry and stopped a shop to have kebab – as if we would eat anything else. The young man working could speak English pretty well and was asking us where we come from. He asked us to guess his age. John guessed 27, expecting him to be older, and I guessed 23-25ish. He was 19. This man-child was shredding the meat off the skewer like a 30+ year old might do. We were blown away. He has one more year of high school and mentioned some of his friends have been to America. He joked that water in the US is $1 a bottle and here in Turkey it’s essentially 0.15TL or $0.06USD. He asked us why it was so expensive to fly there and we had not an answer.

We made our way towards the Blue Mosque. Insert several more kilometers. There is a picture I took from about where we were towards the Blue Mosque and upon revisiting that picture later I almost pooped myself thinking about how far we walked. We passed the Aquaduct of Valens and FINALLY, we reached the Blue Mosque. In all the glory, we were just agape. This time there is a sign outside explaining the process of entering. Proper dresscode, no shoes, no photos during prayer. We enter. Looking around, I notice…there really isn’t that much blue in here. Yep, you guessed it, this wasn’t the Blue Mosque. But, this was the first mosque we had gotten to enter so it was neat nonetheless. The Şehzade Mosque was quite spectatular. By now it was around 12:00. We made our way on and discovered the tomb of Suleiman the Magnificent. I have to admit, that was prettttttty awesome. The Süleymaniye Mosque is the largest in the city. It also had some captivating views through it’s courtyards.

From here, we discovered the bazaar. It was filled with literally everything. There was a store for various scissors, fake money, spices, toys galore, Christmas decorations. Creeping out above the streets was the Beyazit Tower, used as a fire-watch tower. We had another snack and continued onward. Coming out of the bazaar we got to hear our first call to prayer.

And so finally, we found it. THIS really was the Blue Mosque, except prayer had just started so we couldn’t enter.  Would we ever actually see the Blue Mosque?!  Instead, we waited in line for the Basilica Cistern. It was an underground cavern with numerous columns (336). There was a shallow amount of water and fish were swimming. We didn’t use a tour guide or anything a single time, so much of the information I learned was from online research after we visited a site, or right now as I type this (heehee). It was built to provide water sometime between the 3rd and 4th century. The most interesting part would be two column bases each made from the face of Medusa. One is turned upside down, while the other is at a 90 degree angle.

We rushed to Aya Sofya because the museum closed at 4PM and it was roughly 3:30. It was unfortunate, but understandable, that almost 25% of Hagia Sophia was unviewable due to restoration scaffolding. Nonetheless, I was able to see several amazing mosaics and enjoy viewing one of the most significant seats of leadership in the entire world. We then made it just in time for the last entrance into the Blue Mosque. Luck was on our side. Admiring the BLUE ceilings and designs, this time there was no mistake where we were.

We stuck around the area for a couple more hours so we could take some photos after the sun set. Finally we arrived back to the apartment, grabbed some dinner and hit the sack pretty early.

I guess I’ll stop there for now. I’ll continue on tomorrow. Multiple entries people, multiple entries.  I feel like I am forgetting things… We’ll see.


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