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Istanbul

Even old New York was once New Amsterdam

sunny 67 °F

Istanbul straddles Europe and Asia, connecting the two continents with bridges, mosques and the Turkish flag. However, it’s hard to reduce Istanbul to the only city that can boast being simultaneously Asian and European. Istanbul has been so much for so many for so long. This city of 12 million people, the 4th largest in the world, has been home to more recorded and restored history than any country we’d been to.
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We had done some studying before arriving in Istanbul, but any books we poured through didn’t capture the frantic pace of the city, the traffic, the diversity nor spirit of the locals. We found the city to be very European and concurrently highly Muslim. 99% of the city is Muslim, but 99% of the folks we saw on the street were European in appearance. Folks all over town dressed sharply European regardless of the day, and we found a walking street near our hotel (the Hyatt) that was packed to the gills with upscale stores, and folks walking the town until dawn, (literally). The boys found a nice street spot near the hotel to skate, within the mass of people cruising the streets, and the locals seemed amused by the boarders, not irritated, which was a welcome surprise.
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The old part of town is where we spent the lion share of out time. We were staying in Taxim, a relatively modern section of town, so we would need to taxi our way into the old city each day to get to the various sites we intended to visit. Once we were in the old town, where the majority of Istanbul’s history resides, it was pretty easy getting around by walking or public transportation, but not quite as easy traveling from our Hotel. Throughout Istanbul we met many folks that spoke great English and wanted to talk to you about America, and the trips they had made or were planning to make, or whether Hillary or Barack were going to be the next president. Once again we were shocked to see how much citizens of another country know about our government.
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Istanbul has a long history dating back well before the Romans and we found museums and archeological sites that took pleasure in recording and telling the stories. We visited the Basilica Cistern that Constantine had built to ensure water was plentiful for the palace (later enlarged by Emperor Justinian). We drove underneath the ancient Roman aqueduct that filled that same cistern. We walked around the chariot race track that housed 100,000 people and saw many deaths. We gazed on an Egyptian Obelisk that was over 4,000 years old. We did this without entering a mosque, cathedral, or palace. We of course did that as well. We visited the Hagia Sofia which was built by the Roman Emperor Justinian in the 4th century AD and still stands quite proudly to this day. It has been a church and a Mosque and is now simply a museum – a gawkers paradise. We were amazed how well this structure has held up over the centuries. Considering that this building is over 1,600 years old, the architecture, and the mosaics within its walls are stunning.
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Next to the Hagi Sofia stand the Blue Mosque, which was built roughly one thousand years later, and it is perhaps even more stunning from the outside, but the inside just made us uncomfortable. It is the first mosque we had visited and we are not used to taking our shoes off to enter. Parker commented first about the smell of feet, and we all gave him a silent but acknowledging nod – it did smell like a dank closet. And the thing that bothered us all the most was the way the women were stuffed into two small areas at the back of the mosque. Men worshipers had the run of the place, but women appeared to have domain over only two small galleries in the back. The men seemed to have an open invitation to show the tops of their heads to god, but the women had to wear a scarf over their head. In fact all women had to wear a scarf including Carol. This segregation of males and females made us uncomfortable, (beyond the pungent olfactory issue) and we all scrambled for the exit for a breath of fresh air and an equal footing. I can’t claim to understand nor to have ever studied the reasons for the different treatment of men and women in mosques, but it made us very uncomfortable. We also cruised over to the Topkapi Palace to see how the Ottoman Empire’s Sultan and his Harem lived hundreds of years ago, and it was pretty amazing to see the wealth dispensed by the royal family, and to see more evidence of the unequal footing between men and women. None of us were shocked that 300 women were kept for the Sultan’s needs and wants hundreds of years ago, but the recent memory of the Blue Mosque made this seem like another piece of evidence that something just ain’t right from a western point of view. It was pretty apparent that this isn’t really Europe, is it? We read an interesting article before arriving in Istanbul that detailed the tension between an Istanbul that wants to become a non-secular Muslim country and an Istanbul that wants to become part of the EU. There is so much happening in this country to pull it further east, and simultaneously pull it further west, it caused us to wonder whether the fabric of the country can hold together. Or will it rip apart at the Bosporus straight, creating a European Turkey and a non-secular Muslim Turkey. Only time will tell.
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We took some time to go through the Archeological museum in Istanbul as well that is literally right next door to the Topkapi Palace. This place is amazing featuring treasures from Africa and Saudi Arabi, as well as local Archeology. There seemed to be scores of 4-2,000 year old sarcophaguses dug up in simple farmer’s fields. There were fabulous Mesopotamian relics and artwork. And there were some of the most significant items I’ve ever seen at a museum. For instance: The staff of Moses, the sword of Joseph, the sword of Mohammed, the turban of David, and the baseball bat of Joe DiMaggio, (ok just kidding on that one). It was the first museum that produced eerie shivers down my spine, confirming that people I thought were just folkloric, actually lived and held possessions. Beyond bizarre.
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Carol and I spent some time in the Grand Bizarre, which, if anything is perfectly named. It was a giant and grand maze of tiny shops selling everything you could want to take home from Turkey: faux Monte Blanc pens, Turkish Delight candy, leather satchels, rugs from every corner of Asia, jewelry, antiques, spices, food, bobbles, bangles, etc... The aisles and stalls seem as if they will never stop, and getting lost among the brightly colored aisles is expected. Even a GPS wouldn’t help you here. The grand bazaar could hold your attention for hours and turn almost anyone into a shopper. The men and women working in the shops are more than accomplished sales people with a mastery in an English language derivative known as “come into my shop”. It is a highly effective language. We walked away from the Grand Bazaar with some very cool things, some of which we are now asking ourselves “What the hell were we thinking when we bought that? “That’s yours, not mine” “No it’s not. You bought that thing – you carry it home.”
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For our parting shot of Istanbul, we did what everyone told us was a must. We cruised up the Bosporus straight which connects the Marmara Sea to the Black Sea. It is considered to be the narrowest straight used for international navigation, and we saw some massive ships cruising it. We also got a taste of other parts of Istanbul that were beautiful and tawny. We caught our boat in Bebek, which is the highest end neighborhood in Istanbul. If you shielded your eyes from the occasional Turkish flag, bebek could have been on the French Riviera. Beautiful homes sat on the shores. Large boats and yachts bobbed in the choppy waters. Exotic cars cruised the streets in stop and go traffic lined with pedestrians. The pedestrians were the giveaway that you weren’t in the Riviera. As much as we loved the people of Turkey for the friendliness, they don’t look European like French or Italian. They look Turkish which is entirely different. Strangely, I was being talked to in Italian throughout the trip which seemed quite befuddling to me until I stepped foot on Italian soil, which will be explained in the next entry… but I digress. The boat we took was an all wooden boat that served a fantastic lunch on board and cruised both sides of the Bosporus, avoiding the occasional and massive wakes of tug boats, and cruising under the bridges connecting Asia to Europe. We anchored and had lunch outside a school and watched with amusement as children ran into and out of the school at the sound of the bell, (which sounded more like a ring tone). The boat was awesome and the lunch was great. It would have been nice to have an English speaking guide, but we had a map showing significant palaces and forts, which was a great help.
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After nearly 7 months of travel, we have finally made the turn into the Northern Hemisphere again and we all feel like we are entering our final leg of the trip. Istanbul, while not “really” Europe signals the end to our Asia, Australasia, and Africa legs of the trip and the beginning of our European segment. As we meander through Europe over the coming months, we’ll likely start pining for home as places begin to look feel more familiar. So let’s sign off to Istanbul with a song that we were singing for our entire stay in the fabulous city, raising a few eyebrows as we did… The song was first recorded in 1953 by the “Four Lads” and remade by “They Might be Giants” in 1990. Sung to the tune of putting on the ritz…

“Istanbul was Constantinople
Now it's Istanbul, not Constantinople
Been a long time gone, Constantinople
Now it's Turkish delight on a moonlit night

Every gal in Constantinople
Lives in Istanbul, not Constantinople
So if you've a date in Constantinople
She'll be waiting in Istanbul

Even old New York was once New Amsterdam
Why they changed it I can't say
People just liked it better that way

So take me back to Constantinople
No, you can't go back to Constantinople
Been a long time gone, Constantinople
Why did Constantinople get the works
That's nobody's business but the Turks

Istanbul (Istanbul)
Istanbul (Istanbul)

Even old New York was once New Amsterdam
Why they changed it I can't say
People just liked it better that way

Istanbul was Constantinople
Now it's Istanbul, not Constantinople
Been a long time gone, Constantinople
Why did Constantinople get the works
That's nobody's business but the Turks

So take me back to Constantinople
No, you can't go back to Constantinople
Been a long time gone, Constantinople
Why did Constantinople get the works
That's nobody's business but the Turks

Istanbul”

Posted by Blakei 00:47 Archived in Turkey Tagged family_travel

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Comments

Great info there, next time you might also want to try some backstreet tours, check out http://www.bitinya.com

by bitinya

Hola Mme./Mr.,For Your Information Basilica Cistern Was Built By Byzantine Emperor Justinian I And Not By "Roman" Emperor Constantine As You Stated. Too Hagia Sophia(Third Basilica)Was Built On The Orders Of The Byzantine Emperor Justinian I. IT LOOKS TO ME THAT YOU DO NOT LIKE WORD BYZANTINE BUT INSTEAD LIKE TO USE ROMAN. WE KNOW THAT ALL THAT TERRITORY WAS ALL GREEK LAND BEFORE Ottomans Took Over In 1453 CE. Please Do Not Distort History For WhichSoEver Side You Work.
Thank You For Your Attention.Dovidjenja,Ciao&Shalom.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hagia_Sophia
http://en.wikipedia.orgbasilica_cistern
http://www.cafepress.com/wafflershop.81073115

by aspalathos

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