Istanbul: "Sunday in the Park"

Istanbul, Turkey

13 October 2009

Dear Family and Friends,

Fortunately, I chose to be in Istanbul on Sunday.

Fortunately, my hotel was a ten minute walk to the Sultanahmet area and the Blue Mosque and The Haghia Sophia – two of Istanbul's most historic and most visited sites.

On Sunday, the visitors included hundreds of residents of Istanbul and other Turkish tourists and their families who swarmed around the grand mosques, picnicked on the grounds, and entered the halls for prayer. It was Sunday in the Park and I was happy to meander among the multi-colored crowd as I admired once again the lofty minarets, the colossal domes - the superb architectural achievements of mighty Istanbul.

The next morning I took a long walk past the mosques, through the markets, along the commercial district, down the hill towards the river, around the Yeni Camii (a four hundred year old mosque called the New Mosque), across the Galata Bridge that spans the Golden Horn, and finally up a steep hill to the distant Galata Tower. "Alhamdulillah," the Galata Tower has a lift inside.

The original cone-shaped stone tower was built by the Genoese in 1348. It sits 35 meters (115 ft) above sea level and is itself another 67 meters (220 ft) tall.

The view from the outdoor circular walkway of the Galata Tower is the panoramic view of an energetic capital city of more than ten million: impatient, noisy street traffic, the Golden Horn waterway that joins the Bosphorus, cargo ships and tankers lumbering north to The Black Sea or headed south to The Sea of Marmara and the Mediterranean, cruise ships docked along the river, swift ferries crisscrossing the waterways, and suspension bridges that carry traffic from the European side to the Asia side of the city. In the distance, in all directions, the dozens of tall, slender hillside minarets that pierce the misty sky call out to the faithful and seem to welcome all of us to this modern crossroad of commerce and culture.

It's no wonder that Istanbul (pronounced, by the way, with the accent on the second syllable) is a favorite with travelers. There's so much to see. I found the Chora Church with stunning mosaics of the life of Jesus and Mary. I wandered atop the old city walls. And there's so much to buy. I managed to avoid the beguiling carpet shops but I couldn't resist the coffee shops and the seductive sweets.

I met Rosario and John Walsh, a charming and generous couple from Dublin. At an outdoor restaurant near our hotel, we had dinner together twice (more accurately, they invited me to be their guest).*  The Walsh's were looking forward to returning home to Ireland. I was anticipating my flight to Van, a city deep into the heart of Eastern Anatolia and the first stop of a long journey across southern Turkey.

PS I'll buy a rug later, but not in Istanbul. Seven years ago, in Istanbul I found a small rug I liked. I bargained hard. I insisted on my price. The dealer came down but not to my price. I insisted again and again. Finally, all red-faced and all Italian-opera-dramatic-like he relented, packed up the rug, took my credit card in disgust and practically tossed the rug at me. I was happy with my purchase. Until, in Cappadocia, I found the same rug, for, you guessed it, half the price I paid in Istanbul. Is there a lesson here?

* Ayasofya Kebap Hause

* www.eminesultanhotel.com

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