Sunday June 3, Day 1
We were greeted by a woman waving a short red fuzzy pitchfork and she sported chin-length bright fluorescent red hair of the same eye-gouging shade. The metallic stud through her lower lip looked uncomfortable but she seemed to ignore it. In her short black and white dress, Derya did not seem like a particularly devout Muslim, which I guess should not be surprising in historically-secular Turkey.
Amongst her guiding qualifications was a three-year intensive training program, which gave her the history of the world, which is as far back as Byzantium/Constantinople/Istanbul goes. Our tour started in the Blue Mosque. We saw the rows of faucets for the men (women are on the other side of the building…) to wash their hands and feet. There is quite an elaborate process of cleaning oneself, involving washing various parts of the body 3 times each in very particular sequences. The guards are very particular about tzniyut and have fabric at hand to cover the exposed shoulders of women and to wrap around their legs. The guard seemed to like his job…
The mosque is active, really big and beautifully decorated. We learned about the importance of tulips to Moslems and several other articles of faith (5 to be precise — much easier than our 13…)
Next was the Hagia Sophia. Was a church for about 900 years, then a mosque for 400 years and now it’s a museum. Even more impressive than the Blue Mosque. Four different types of marble from various sources. Curious how the muslims had covered up (but not defaced) the previous christian artwork. The museum had a gorgeous collection of islamic caligraphy. (Note: Tamara really like that they used ostrich eggs that somehow keeps spiders away).
Visited the Spice Market. They had cool collections of spices and other items. Our shuk is more lively and our vendors much louder, but interesting nonetheless.
Topkapi Palace. Palace of the Sultans. Huge grounds. Overlooking Bosphorous (river from Black Sea to Mediterranean — key crossing of the ancient world (and still important today)) and Asian side. Very impressive arms museum, with axes, maces, every variety of sword (scimitar! — remember Conan the Barbarian?), a diamond and precious stones the size of eggs, the Harem, palace of justice, huge kitchen with a dozen industrial-sized chimneys, a throne that looked like a four-post bed, and many other sections and exhibits that we didn’t have time to view.
Circumcision. In Turkey they circumcise the boys from around 5-8 years old or whenever they feel like it. The boys are dressed up in fancy silk and fake-fur that’s all white with some blue embroidery and wear a fancy white hat with a pointy edge in front. They walk around town dressed up like that, have a party and then — chop.
Friends of my parents then picked us up and drove us to Asia. It is really cool to cross the bridge and see the “Welcome to Asia” sign. We drove up and down the side of the Bosphorous, taking in the views and then returned to Europe, with an equally cool sign greeting us.
We ate in a beautiful restaurant right on the water (reminded us of Deck’s by Tiveria), had sea bass grilled in aluminum foil and I drank a lot of Arak. I then proceeded to recite poetry and have a beautiful time. We then made it in time to the airport for our overnight flight to Shanghai.
End Day 1