Istanbul, TURKEY 6.30.2007



A few hours later, sharp raps on our train car door startle an awakening.
On the other side, customs agents confiscate passports for review.
An agent requests three US passports be brought to the police station outside.
Walking across the tracks, an American voice calls from behind, “Can I get my passport, please?”
Trailing from the train is a man in his late 30’s dressed in sandals,
hibiscus printed Bermuda board shorts, and a white t-shirt printed with a Greek flag.
We enter the station where the officer on duty demands 20 Euros for each visa.
After protesting, the man pays and I return to obtain the money from my effects on the train.
Irritated, the bills are tossed onto the officer’s desk.
The rude behavior is not well received.
The officer does not accept the cash and prepares to eject us from the train.
After some significant backpedaling and apologies, the insult is forgiven, and the journey continues.
Daylight awakens us to look out the large windows.
The ancient city of many names, Istanbul, wraps around
as minarets identify the 98% Muslim population of the country of Turkey.

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Unsure of what to expect, I cover arms and legs to be sure to follow possible laws.
Outside on the platform, the clean station begins to ring
with the wail of the spiritual sound of the Islamic call to prayer.
The Qur’an echoes throughout the city.

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Sitting down to take in this novelty,
the man in the board shorts approaches once again.

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He has covered his Greek flag t-shirt with a polo,
due to the poor relations of the Turks and Greeks, he later states.
You guys know where to find a good hostel?”

Two becomes a trio as the man joins the search for Hotel Ipek Palas.


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Once found, he decides it’s too expensive, says he will find another room,

and meet up with us again in 30 minutes.

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Ipek Palas

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The hotel appears to be swanky, with white shirts and bow-ties,

but the rooms are tiny and typical.

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The view from the room with a construction zone below.

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The construction sign next to the sidewalk cafe at street level.


 While I shower, the guys reconvene downstairs

where he comforts a Dutch girl

who has lost luggage at the airport from days earlier,

and she is due to leave to the coastal city of Izmir the next morning. 

Thus our trio becomes a quartet off to a cyber cafe for telephone and internet.


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No word on her bags, so we go sightseeing

instead of worrying about lost luggage.

He opts out of the group activity

after checking his email to find he has a very important “business meeting”.

No further information of the meeting is allowed,

other than he has never been to Istanbul either.

Using her guide book, the group heads directly for
the historic central Sultanahmet district to Hagia Sophia.
Originally the third version of the Byzantine cathedral,
Hagia Sophia was constructed in 537 AD by Justinian.
In 1453, Constantinople was conquered by the Ottoman Turks
and besides changing the city’s name to Istanbul,
they converted Hagia Sophia into a mosque.
In 1935, the Republic of Turkey changed the site into a museum.


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Noted for the enormous dome, Hagia Sophia was the largest cathedral for one thousand years.

In the gardens surrounding, evidence of the second church make elegant ruins.


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Byzantine Christian mosaics side by side to intricate Islamic motifs

grace the ceilings and walls at strategic points.

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Framing the dome,

giant disks are inscribed with the Arabic names of

Allah, Mohammad, and the first four caliphs.

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   Byzantine mosaics gradually being freed from their plaster prisons

of Hagia Sophia’s days as a mosque.


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Out one of the windows open to receive light, the Mosque of Sultan Ahmet I,
nicknamed the Blue Mosque can be seen in the distance.


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Outside Hagia Sophia, flowers bloom among the ruins,
and across the grassy fountain mall, both the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia can be seen.

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The domes, minarets, and columns accompanied with the bright sky and spraying fountains

give off an almost fantasy appearance.

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To the Hippodrome, the ancient site of horse races.

Only fragments remain, including Dikilitas, the Obelisk of Theodosius,

carved in the time of Pharaoh Thutmose III (1500 BC)

transported here by Theodosius in 390 AD, almost 2 thousand years after it was made.


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Yilanli Sütun, the Serpent Column.



Ormedikilitas, Walled Obelisk,

or the Column of Constantine Porphyrogenetus.




The next point of interest is largest mosque in Turkey, Sultan Ahmed Mosque, or the Blue Mosque.

The Blue Mosque received its nickname not because of the exterior color,

but because of the blue hue of the tiles on the interior dome ceiling.

Construction was completed in 1616.

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Certain doors are identified as non-Muslim entrances.
Shoes are not allowed, and women’s bare shoulders
are to be covered with a scarf provided by the mosque’s operators.

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Interior: covered in ornate patterns and colors.
Low-hanging chandeliers breaks up the visual space.
The ornate interior is a sharp contrast to the organized perfection of the exterior.

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A segregated prayer area for women.


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A model of the Blue Mosque.

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IMG_4937 Young sultans on the steps,

and what appears to have been more Mosque than the man in the foreground could handle.


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Hedges cut into the crescent and star of the Turkish flag

add to the fantasy appearance of the domes and minarets.

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We weaved through the cosmopolitan city’s streets back to Hotel Ipek,

where he is already enjoying an Efes beer at a sidewalk table.

“So was it blue?” he asks of the Blue Mosque.

And all we could reply was an awestruck, “No…”.

Not too phased by what he missed, he has another “meeting” later in the evening,

and invites our whole party.

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Informed her baggage has arrived,
she excuses herself for a change of clothing – the first in days.
After a few beers and some playful harassment by the servers, it’s time for the “meeting”.

 A sign we passed numerous times in our wandering,

“Don’t Think too Much.”
Sound advice.
Our marching band theme music.
We just couldn’t shake these guys.
We let ’em tag along because
they could play Average White Band‘s “Pick Up the Pieces” like a dream.
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Another stroll back to the old town between the two massive historical sites of

Hagia Sophia and Sultan Ahmed Mosque is The Four Seasons Hotel.

Originally a Turkish prison, the facility was renovated

and is now is a stylish and luxurious western-style oasis.

He orders beers with fresh tapas delights of goat cheese and roasted cashews.
Conversation and laughter are interrupted when he stands to “go play for a minute”
at the shiny black piano in the corner of the bar.

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Sandals and board shorts, he beautifully lays into the keys
for an amazing forty minute improvisation!
Astounded, we wonder who he really is!
Helping the piano man light a smoke.
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After his performance, he dodges personal questions

about his inspirations and background.

He only claims his skill is actually God’s.

After the important business meeting with the piano at the Four Seasons,

He leads on next to

the Istanbul Youth Hostel at Cankurtaran, Kutlugün Sk. No:37,

and the Magnaura Sarayı ruins.

An interesting four story building where the top two floors are an open air restaurant-bar

with views of the famous Bosphorus, Asia, and of course, Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque.

The Istanbul Youth Hostel also overlooks Nakşıdil Valide Sultan Fountain (1788)

at the corner building of The Four Seasons where he just jammed…



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Canada Day in Istanbul comes complete with a cool crowd of Canadian tourists.
An evening of excellent food, great music, cold Efes beer,
Raki (the unofficial national drink of Turkey), breathtaking views, and local color.

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Full moon over the Bosphorous with a ghostly piano man,

and walking passing the Blue Mosque lit up for the night.

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To be sure we didn’t get lost, and barefoot by now,

He walks us back to Ipek Hotel for late-night Raki

where we all grow annoyed with the local servers’ attitude of female ownership.

Otherwise, one night in Istanbul could never be enough!

Ah, well, up to bed – the plane leaves early the next day for Düsseldorf, Germany.



Virtual Cocktail Bar

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