Saturday, June 9, 2012

Turkey Day 1: Wanderings, the Blue Mosque and Catamarans

Merhaba! It means hello. I've almost got the hang of thank you (tedeshekkurler, sp.) and now I just need to memorise a few more words like excuse me and sorry-I-stepped-on-your-foot. It's amazing how you can mutter a word over and over and over to yourself in your head, but when it comes time to use it, it's completely gone.

This morning I got up rather late (explaining to myself that, as Turkey is two hours ahead of the UK, I was actually getting up early) and had breakfast in the hostel cafe, sitting on cushions around a little table. Breakfast was interesting, so I'm sorry but I have to detail it: feta, two kinds of olives (I thought one kind was huge blueberries and got very excited until I bit into it), cucumber, bread and apricot jam. Just as I was getting ready to go, they were carrying large TVs outside and attaching them to their mountings. When they turned them on, there were the All Blacks doing the haka! It was a live game against the Irish at Eden Park with what I think was Turkish commentary - funny to hear Turkish-Turkish-Turkish-Man of the match-Turkish-Heineken Cup-Turkish. I watched about ten minutes of that and then decided I should really get out and find the hotel where my tour starts. I wonder what the score was.

Again, I managed to find the hotel with only prior consultation of a map. Unfortunately, the tour had changed the hotel so I got directions from the first hotel that I didn't really listen to and then spent about half an hour wandering to the right hotel, situated three minutes walk from the first one.

Bags dropped, I set off for the turquoise sea I'd seen down one of the roads (had a revelation today - turquoise must come from Turkey, right?) and crossed over a bridge to what I thought at the time must be Asia, but looking back on it probably wasn't (Istanbul is situated on both Europe and Asian continents, but there are three parts to it, two in Europe). There were lots of fishermen throwing their lines off the bridge and coming up with multiple small iridescent fish, and people selling bait and bottles of iced water.

I wanted to go back to Sultanahmet to check out the Blue Mosque, and I was reasonably confident of my ability to get back because you can see the Blue Mosque with its six minarets from a long way off, as well as the Hagia Sofya beside it. Just look for the two gigantic Mosques, I thought to myself.

No one told me there were more than two gigantic mosques.

At one point I got four gigantic mosques all in my camera shot at the same time (though some were very tiny), and none of them were the Hagia Sofya or the Blue Mosque. Surely they don't need that many gigantic mosques - what about a few smaller ones? Must be to confuse lost tourists...
The actual Blue Mosque

I did find my way back (just follow the tram tracks...) and bought myself a turquoise scarf so I could go into the mosque. I took lots of pictures of the courtyard, with its marble paving and pillars around the edges and latticed fountain in the middle, and then found that the mosque had just closed for midday prayers. So I sat against a wooden door in the shade of the courtyard corridor roof and listened to the call to prayer from the minaret loudspeakers.

It's a haunting sound. The Blue Mosque call was answered by another mosque further away, and then another one beyond that, so there was a kind of layered echo fading into the distance. While prayers are on, they have a lecture in another building for tourists wanting to know more about the Mosque, telling you why it's called the Blue Mosque (blue tiles inside), showing pictures of other mosques including an open-air one, and translating the calligraphy. It was really interesting (and there was a teeny tiny kitten outside). I'd noticed before that mosques are decorated only with flowers or calligraphy or abstract patterns, and this is because they do not want to have any representation of anything that might be worshipped (no idols etc.), while flowers are supposed to remind you of the gardens of paradise.
Teeny tiny stray kitten outside the mosque

To get into the Blue Mosque as a tourist you pass through a small arched passageway, take a plastic bag for your shoes and make sure you're properly dressed. It seems it's more important to have your legs and arms covered than your head (as a woman), because lots of people were using the scarves provided as shawls or sarongs and not covering their heads. No one was yelling at them, so I assume this was acceptable (though I'm not sure about the girl using hers to do a sexy pose for her boyfriend's camera...).

Everything in the mosque draws you to look up. The domes stretch high above, coloured and patterned, and beautifully-wrought iron frames hold golden lights just above your head. I should mention at this point that my camera does not talk to my iPad, so I don't have any way of posting pictures at the moment. I plan to put them up when I get back! (now done)

When I was finished staring at the huge pillars and beautiful paintwork, I made my way down the hill to the sea, where about a dozen catamarans were having races. There was quite a bit of wind, and at times one side lifted out of the water as they sped along.

I walked a bit further and found many, many people sunbathing and a few happily caught in a very strong current that was carrying them parallel to shore. In one place a man had set up a frame of balloons and a gun, and I guess you could pay to shoot the balloons, or the ferry that was just beyond the balloon frame. Your choice. Later, I saw another man doing the same thing in front of what looked to be a major water pipeline. Possibly they weren't real guns.

We had our first important meeting as a tour group back at the hotel. There are quite a few Australians on the trip, and I'm sharing a room with a New Zealander. There are also a few Americans and English people, so i think it will be a good mix. We went out to dinner at a nice restaurant where I had Adana kebab and baklava (I've been walking past windows full of baklava all day going mmmmmmmm). I think I possibly haven't drunk enough water today because I have a headache, but hopefully that will go away with sleep...

I'm very much enjoying the air conditioning in my hotel room.

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