My father is a fanatic of Rome, Crusades, and the fall of Constantinople ever since watching the film Kingdom of Heaven. It remains his favourite film alongside the band of brothers franchise. He says that it was faithful to the history and stayed very neutral in the political sides of things and blah blah blah, but I don’t buy it. He was only interested in Byzantium and the crusades after watching the film. I’m convinced that he liked it (at least at the beginning) because he found Eva Green hot.
Let the record state that I am yet to watch the film in its whole length – mostly because I get disgusted just by hearing my father talking about it all the time. Nonetheless, thanks to my father’s influence, I grew a keen interest in the Ottomans while discussing the age long Islamic-Christian conflicts and World War I in my high school human science classes. Istanbul became even more irresistible after my Art history class in College – which put heavy emphasis on the architectural achievements of early Christians and the Near Eastern Muslims (Mostly Turks).
After spending a night in Kapadokya, we took a fairly early flight (around 10 AM) to Istanbul. We traded the opportunity to visit Ankara on a bus with the time saving convenience of taking a plane straight to Istanbul.
After a quick lunch, we visited the Aya Sofya Museum and Topkapi palace. Unfortunately, Aya Sofya was under restoration and a considerable portion of the building was covered by scaffolds, making it a bad time for photographers and travellers alike. However, I was able to see some Byzantine mosaics that used to be concealed underneath the fresco, previously unavailable for the naked eye.
After seeing the collections in Topkapi, we had a quick dinner, followed by a night time walk-around of Istanbul.
First, we walked about the streets of Taksim – the main shopping district of Istanbul. There were a lot of non-muslim/sacrilegious (and less restrictive muslim) Turks and tourists already filling the streets 24/7. Combined with the recent demonstrators and more conservative Muslims coming out to find a place to dine as soon as the sun goes down to break the fast, the street got as packed as it could be.
After walking about in Taksim, grabbing another cone of the famous Turkish ice cream, and having a sip of tea, we moved on to see the lit-up scenes of post-sundown Istanbul.
We first crossed the Galata Bridge, and caught the most spectacular sight of the Yeni Mosque.
The Galata Tower was also at sight over the other side of the bridge. My mother and I swore at that place that should we make another visit to Istanbul, we will make a reservation at the Galata Tower Restaurant, facing the Old Europe.
After crossing the Galata bridge, we took the train to Sultan Ahmet, and took witness of scene only available at this time of the year.
Around the Blue Mosque and Aya Sofya, there are gardens and other places where people can sit and loiter about. During the Ramadan (Turks call it Ramazan), you can see people coming out to break the fast and share the food with family, friends, and even strangers.
The sign that reads “Hiç Kimse Kimsesiz Kalmasın” means ‘let none left alone (orphaned/homeless)’. It symbolises the love and kindness (mostly that of food) shared during Ramadan.
The Turkish economy has recovered since the adaptation of new Turkish Lyra, but the issues of poverty and homelessness is still prevalent in Istanbul. Recent political unrest and the addition of refugees from Syria had made things more severe since the past few years. If I were there on my own with no time constraints I would have brought food to sit down and share with (hopefully english proficient) Turks and maybe even few of the refugees from Syria. I have hopes, that some day, I learn Turkish and Arabic (and make enough money) to visit Istanbul and Damascus on my own, or with some fellows that may share my goals.
At the conclusion of the little tour, our group pressed on for a drink at a Meyhane nearby, and checked in to our last hotel in Istanbul.
The following morning, we were to visit the Grand Bazaar and the Sultan Ahmet’s Mosque (more commonly known as the Blue Mosque).
Before the Bazaar, though, we first got on a boat which would take us around the Bosphorus and the Golden horn. It is here where I told myself; “It would be a real damn shame if I don’t backpack this place before I die.”
The Grand Bazaar was mostly for gift shopping. Even so, I knew that there were plenty quality goods found in the Istanbul Airport, so I avoided purchasing anything. (Later I realised that most of the souvenir items were from the same national tourism/souvenir brand, and the fellows from the Bazaar were ripping tourists off with the same goods). There was a small market next to the Hipodrom Obelisks. These products were made by individuals and unique to the shops. However, I did not have the money, time, and interest for particular products in the market, so I did not purchase anything. I instead bought some of BKG’s Istanbul-Branded postcards and coasters: The water-colour paintings were just too pretty for me to resist. I did not take or purchase that many photos in the major tourism spots (ironically) because I knew that there were photographers who are a lot better than me who had taken the photos at the best lighting at the best conditions. I instead, looked around to observe, to help me later choose a book that will allow me to best appreciate the architecture and the decorations of the buildings.
After the Grand Bazaar, we entered the Sultan Ahmet’s Mosque as our final stop.
The interiors were, of course, just as magnificent as I had thought.
With the memories and magnificence behind us, we all retired to the AtaTürk Airport to return to Korea. The lady who had her passport robbed thankfully received her temporary documentations in time, and had no trouble getting on the plane.