Istanbul, TURKEY: 6.30.2007

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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, James, joins the search for Hotel Ipek.

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Once found, James 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.

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 While I shower, the guys reconvene downstairs

where James comforts a Dutch girl, Veronique,

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 Veronique’s bags, so we go sightseeing

instead of worrying about lost luggage.

James 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 James has never been to Istanbul either.

 
Using Veronique’s 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.

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Ormedikilitas, Walled Obelisk,

or the Column of Constantine Porphyrogenetus.

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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.