Istanbul – cosmopolitan, clean, historical and pleasing. Home to 1800 mosques – the only city in the world to rest on 2 continents (Europe and Asia) with 17,000,000 citizens (1/5th of the country’s population).
The Bosphorus and the Golden Horn run through Istanbul and are bustling with ferry boats, cruises and cargo carriers.
It is still Ramadan so our impression of the city is based on the religious holiday – a time of meditative prayer and self-reflection – with that said it could only get better.
Since fasting during daylight hours is encouraged sunset brings out diners and festival goers in droves. The streets are packed shoulder to shoulder. Their is no order to which side of the street you should walk on so we walked like bumper cars at a carnival. Men popped up in the swarm like clowns in wind- up boxes – selling carpets, perfume and black market items. “How can I spend your money?” – “You break my heart come look in my store.” – “You need carpet – my store a museum – come take photo.”
Cafes line the streets (seating both inside and out) and each restaurant has a peddler worse than any timeshare salesman you have ever encountered!
It seems the Burqa is worn by older women with their beautiful faces exposed. However, the primary dress is a colorful headscarf and modest clothing – a long cotton coat buttoned from the collar to ankles.
A 1/2 hour of being covered from head to toe sent me into a complete meltdown – a necessary distraction I experienced when we visited the Blue Mosque. Completed in 1616 it is the largest Mosque in Istanbul – built to hold 10,000 people although today only 50 or so worship there at any time…..prayer is in Arabic and not Turkish.
Legend has it that when the Sultan Ahmed the First ordered it to be built he asked for the minarets to be altin (gold) and the contractor heard alti (six). This caused a BIG problem with the folks in Mecca – only Mecca could have 6 minarets!
The fix??? Mecca built another minaret! How did the Sultan miss this?
If you wanted your own private cemetery you had to build a mosque – lay people were allowed one minaret – the higher position you held in society the more minarets….
Minarets are tall and built with a minimum of one balcony (some have up to 3). Before electric speakers the balconies served as platforms for men to shout the call to prayer – height allowed for more distance.
Istanbul is also home to the largest covered bazaar in the world. You could get lost within its 66 streets and 4,000 shops – the spice bazaar is separate.
Turkey made headlines a month ago when mass protests started in Istanbul’s Taskim Square and Gezi Park. It spread to 67 cities throughout Turkey in 5 days. Peaceful protests about opposing the development of the only remaining green park – turned violent when the government pepper sprayed a women on day 2 and dismissed the protesters by calling them hoodlums.
CNN Turkey played a 3 hour documentary on Penguins instead of airing the protest – in rebellion the Penguin with a gas mask became the symbol of the people. You can see protest symbols spray painted on the sidewalks, streets and walls.
The park opposition blossomed – citizens tired of the “governments increasingly heavy-handed approach – toward civil liberties, secular lifestyles, opposition critics and, not insignificantly, urban planning” quotes Istanbul Today’s magazine, stood up and demanded change.
Paved paradise and put up a parking lot…………
A memorial to the fallen is on display in Gezi as well as many stray inhabitants are still sleeping in the park – the police vans ready nearby. All is calm for now.
Time for our 14 hour train to Sofia, Bulgaria….