7 Sides of Istanbul

We left Armenia after a little over 2 months there and we were very sad to leave. We made good friends and saw a lot of churches and experienced a unique culture. It was a special place to be.

Taking a midnight train going anywhere. Actually to Batumi, Georgia.

Now we are on a road trip for the next few weeks. We went by train from Armenia to Georgia, followed by a bus from Georgia all the way across Turkey to Istanbul. We paused for about 5 days in Istanbul and got a feel for this huge city at the crossroads of Europe and Asia. It is a city where you could spend a month doing something different everyday, learning about its history, geography, and religions. Here are 7 of the many things we enjoyed in Istanbul:

#1 Ramadan and the Blue Mosque. It was the Muslim holy month of Ramadan during our visit to Istanbul. People fast during the daylight hours which in summer makes for a long day without food or water. Each evening the fast is broken (called Iftar) and people gather with family and friends outside to eat. In the picture below you can see everyone wating to eat outside the famous Blue Mosque. It was powerful to see this act of devotion, especially because we have been thinking a lot about the relationship between faith and food over the course of the year. Next you can see a man vacuuming inside the same building.

#2 Mosaics. Istanbul was Constantinople, formerly the beating heart of the Christian world. Mosaics remain in some of the churches and they are spectacular. The first one of Jesus in the Hagia Sophia is especially striking. In the second Jesus is sharing a message in Greek from Matthew 11:28: “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.”

#3 Sema (whirling Dervish ceremony). In Istanbul there is a Mevlevi order of dancers who participate in the Sema dancing ceremony, spinning to special music as part of this mystical ritual. They are known in popular parlance as whirling dervishes. Hard to describe just how amazing this was. It is a unique part of Islamic tradition in Turkey.

#4 Colorful Tiles. These tiles are found in palaces, mosques, and tombs throughout Istanbul. They are pretty firmly attached to the wall so the security guard figured it was safe to do a little texting. Anna is staring at them like one of those 3-D pictures that they used to have at the Dakota Square Mall. I think she saw a sailboat.

#5 Leather Work. Shoes, bags, and anything else you can think of. The leather crafts in Turkey are very nice. This picture is at the Ramadan market where this older fellow is making shoes.

#6 Homemade Food. We have been traveling for about 10 months now and sometimes we are eager to find some routine or something that feels like a home, at least for a few days. There was a tiny restaurant near our hotel in Istanbul and we frequented it. Simple food and these two really friendly guys to serve it up.

#7 Hagia Sophia (Church of Holy Wisdom). The Hagia Sophia is one of the most beautiful churches around. It started as a church for the first thousand years of its life, then became a mosque, and now it is a 'museum' (which I guess means they can charge a lot of money to get in). Some Christian art remains as well as some elements leftover from its days as a mosque.

We left Istanbul and we are looking forward to some traveling in Bulgaria and Bosnia for the next few weeks.


2 responses to “7 Sides of Istanbul”

  1. shirley Place says :

    very interesting, we are wondering . When you arrive at a new country are you met by guide or someone that shows you around?

    • petespeiser says :

      Hi Shirley, we have been traveling independently so we do some research about the various locations and use guidebooks. Beyond that, people are always willing to help with directions, recommendations, etc.

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