Tuesday, November 04, 2014

'Are we in Asia or Europe?'

... that was the most frequently asked question by my son when we were in Istanbul. Apparently the fact that we were in a city that straddled two continents simply blew his mind. But apart from the whole Continental Identity crisis, the city has so much more to offer.
Lets start with the mosques - and the Hagia Sophia: first a church, and a mosque for a brief period of time. Each one beautiful. Each vying with the other in terms of grandeur.
We went on a Friday, so the blue mosque was shut in the morning for visitors.  The Hagia Sophia was just a stone's throw away, so that's where we went first. Of course, as luck would have it, it was rainy and windy, so any place that involved spending large amounts of time indoors was welcomed by the family.
Now forgive me if I get a bit too enthusiastic about the description in the captions. But reading about Byzantine architecture and seeing it are two completely different things!
The mirhab in the centre was added when it was used as a mosque, but the Virgin Mary and Baby jesus Mosaic visible above the Apse is much older.(9th Century)

Yes, yes, I know it's just scaffolding, but the architect in me just got a bit carried away. 

The image on Santa Maria and baby Jesus made of mosaic in the upper gallery, these were earlier covered or painted over during its use as a mosque and later restored after it was converted into a museusm. 

We decided we just had enough time to visit the Grand Bazaar before a spot of lunch. Slight error in judgement on the part of the baa-lamb I think. He ought to know by now that once I enter a market, wild horses cannot drag me away from there unless everything has been seen, investigated, mulled over and sampled. And what a lot there was to please the eye!

Don't you just love the Ottoman Lamps and Sheeshas?

Porcelains, mosaics, ottoman lamps, musical instruments, trinkets featuring the 'evil eye'. *sigh* I'm sure Arun was sending up a silent prayer that we had baggage restrictions that prevented us from doing much shopping of any kind. Right. after a feast for the eyes, were were ready to feast our tums! IStanbul is one place where us vegetarians can happily delve into mezze platters, teas and yoghurt dips with gay abandon. And don't even get me started on the desserts. My favourite was the super sweet but delish Kunefe with a dollop of Dondurma (turkish icecream). Oh, yumm!! (I'm sorry I was so absorbed with the stuff that I forgot to click a picture before I polished it all off)

Yummy apple tea to keep it all down. 
With all of us duly fortified with such deliciousness, we headed on over to the Sultan Ahmet mosque or the Blue mosque. The kids (the biggest one included) were happy to clown around while I went slightly crazy with the camera and all the ooohing and aahing.

Even the stain glass has hues of blue. 
The dome interiors. beautiful. Sorely missed a zoom lens, though,
The best I could do without the zoom lens. Yes. I'm going to keep cribbing about the zoom lens for a bit. Live with it. 
Next stop - Istiklal Caddesi. The journey there wasn't without adventure, though. Thats because the map we had, kept showing us M1 stops. Which one would logically assume meant a Metro Line. And thus we spent a good hour walking to-and-fro Sultan Ahmet street looking for a metro (The baa-lamb, being a male, staunchly refused to ask for instructions/ directions or anything of the sort). Of course, having traipsed the length and breadth of the Street, we realised that we were supposed to take a tram (M1 being a tram line), and another and a funicular. Of course, this meant Child 2 threw a wobbly (heck, I was ready to throw a wobbly) and Daddy had to play jester, people pleaser, policeman and overall entertainer. Well, it was worth it, if only for a visit to Mado, for the amazing food, especially the desserts. It was also the place where child 2 drew the first of her many Turkish admirers. Which daddy found cute. For now. If he will still find it cute a decade later shall be seen.  :)
This is the only working coach of the old-style tram which runs form Taksim square to the other end of Istiklal Caddesi
The rains obviously not dampening the spirits of the happy shoppers

The following day, we made it to Topkapi, and I was sorely disappointed that we had just half a day for the palace. The place, the views, and eye-wateringly bejewelled ornaments and armour certainly deserved more than a day. However, this was not a place for a restless 8 year old, as he made so abundantly clear to me every 15 minutes during the entire duration of my visit.
This was the only thing my boy thoroughly enjoyed- mainly because I told him this tree was haunted and probably comes alive at night. 
Another quick lunch (Okay, so it was a not-so-quick lunch. I took my time with the mezze.) and it was cruise time for us- which we were told was the best way to see the sites. Apparently, we weren't the only ones to be told this. It looked like us and every other tourist in the city was making a beeline for the docks. We were being herded like Pied Piper's rats down alleyways to the boarding gate. Still,one must keep an open mind when visiting a city, and we decided to board one of the sturdier looking ferries to tour the Bosphorus. Apparently with an English tour guide. Hurrah. If only we could understand him. Don't get me wrong, his english was fine. It was his Megaphone that was the issue. Our chap insisted on screaming into it. so all that came out of it was incomprehensible noise. We managed to get the gist of it though by piecing together odd bits that the other tourists had understood- kind of like a massive game of Chinese Whispers. Good fun.

Gulls. Obviously they think bread is tastier than fish. Also easier to catch. 

the Clouds breaking over the mainland

The Bosphorus bridge
Jellyfish. This was a rather large one, spotted as we docked right next to the shore. 

And yes, it did afford a splendid view of the City's star attractions. It also excited Child 1 very, very much to say 'Now we are between Europe and Asia. To my left, Europe. To my right, Asia.' Yes. He is a bit quirky. Must get it from his father.

The evening was reserved for another lesser known, but bigger mosque- the Suleymaniye Mosque. This is situated on top of a rather steep hill and Child 2 in a spectacular fashion insisted that her 'tiny' feet just wouldn't carry her any further. Not for all the 'icecweem' in the world. Cue Daddy the Superhero, who swooped her up on his strong shoulders and carried her all the way uphill. *Snort* Really, men are such softies. The mosque is quieter and actually not as aesthetically appealing (to me) as the Blue mosque, but beautiful nonetheless.
The new mosque in the foreground with the Suleymaiye behind it.

The interiors were quite similar to the blue mosque as well, only bigger. 
Istanbul is running amok with cats. All very polite and well-fed. 

As we made our way back home, we took a detour through the spice market. A smorgasbord of sights, sounds and smells.
It's a miracle I didn't lose sight of the family. And the kids were sensible enough to hang on to the more responsible adult. 

Sponges. And Spices. 
More spices...
and more sponges
And as we head back to Bucharest, I leave you with the fun side of Istanbul. Enjoy. 

A Sultan and his Begum spend some quality time with their i-Pad

No, no... we did NOT go on this boat for the cruise. But we could have. If we wanted to.

Book bench. Nice, but completely random. 

Don't know if you can see the shoe seller in the background happy to flash 'V's as he photobombs
We are definitely going back for another visit. Even if its just for the Kunefe. 

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