Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Istanbul Review - Day Two

On Saturday, we visited a few of the main sites of Istanbul. It was a very busy day.

We saw the aforementioned Blue Mosque. Visiting is a pretty simple affair. We stood in line for almost ten minutes, removed our shoes and filed in. My big concern was that the bags they provided to carry one's shoes were one-time use. Fortunately, they are recycled. Breathe easy.

The Blue Mosque is basically a big open hall. It's domed and tiled and elaborately painted. It's got stained glass windows. And it's got lots of wires hanging from the enormously high ceiling. The wires support giant rings of small lights. It's a nice look, but all those wires really obscure what would otherwise be an amazing sight. It's impossible to avoid them when taking pictures, so they become a part of the shot.

Strange thing about mosques is that they don't have any seats or pews or chairs. And the carpet is a pattern of little prayer rugs, all pointing towards Mecca. That may not be news to you, but it always surprises me. It was very beautiful, almost worth all the fuss and hooplah. (Everyone says, "You have to see the Blue Mosque.") It's called the Blue Mosque because of the blue tiles on the inside. Now you know.

The next building we saw was the Haghia Sophia. It was a Christian church for 100 years and then a mosque for 500. Now it's a museum. It's just emense. It's got peeling paint and things that desperately need to be repaired, but it's just beautiful. Plus, I got a few nice snaps reminiscent of those famous old Penn Station photos with the light streaming in the window through all the dust. I even got a snowglobe with a representation of Haghia Sophia inside. I was quite taken with it. Old mosaics, birds flying around, scafolding. It's sort of a mess. I recommend a visit.

The other thing that I enjoyed quite a bit was the Grand Bizarre. It's also very old. It's a maze of streets and shops - 4000 they say. It's huge and easy to get lost. Just the massiveness of it and all the people and stuff made me smile. We bought a few things and then Fred wanted to leave. After a while it seems like there's no air. Lots of cool stuff to see, really Turkish stuff. Lamps, rugs, pottery, shoes. I bought a pair of houseshoes there. The guy wouldn't come down on the price at all. I paid 25 lira, which is about 17 euros. I'm terrible in situations like that. Fred is ridiculous offering 15 when the guy says 30. I tend to want the negotiation to be over quickly. I would rather state a fair price and leave it. We left a great rug behind because Fred wouldn't budge. It was a grid of cowskins, really nice. Pity.

We ended the day by going to a Turkish Bath. The one we went to was sort of touristy. I was listed in 1000 Places You Should See Before You Die. (I know: Warning! But the one we wanted was full up) Still, it was an interesting experience. We went for the full € 30 treatment. It's segregated, so our side was all men. It included a rough massage, a quick scrubdown with a loofa-type thing, soaping with a rough cloth, a dousing with lots of warm-hot water, some stretching and the guy asking me for a tip. It was pretty cookie cutter, assembly line as Turkish bath treatments go. Still, the building is 300 years old. It was funnish.

We finished the evening off with another disappointing meal. There's a trick to finding a good meal and by Saturday evening, we were not yet onto that trick.

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