We had a jam packed day touring around the fascinating sites of Istanbul. Istanbul is definitely a city that warrants a lot longer visit!
We met our guide Arzu first thing this morning and took the tram to explore. There was only the 12 of us on the tour And it was a walking tour which is the perfect way to explore this piece of Istanbul. Istanbul is a huge sprawling city that spans two continents with at least 18 million people. There are probably more that aren't registered. Their largest border is with Syria and Turkey has taken in 2.5 million refugees so far and will take more. It is definitely a challenging time for the country.
We visited the Blue Mosque, the hippodrome, Topkapi Palace, Hagia Sofia, and the grand bazar with a stop for lunch. We also discussed the January 16 bombing where it happened by one of the obelisks. Arzu was very close by when it happened guiding another group.
There was barely a line up for the blue mosque and aside from school children, none of the sites we visited were very busy. This was great for us but not so great for the tourist industry. Arzu told us that hotels are operating at 20%. She has a small child so she doesn't mind spending the extra time with him this year but hopes the tourist drought doesn't last long.
The blue mosque is grand and Arzu explained some of the practices of the faith. She relayed stories about her grandfather who prayed five times per day. I especially liked the explanation of the two angels that sit on our shoulders recording all that we do to decide how much time we spend in hell before we are allowed into heaven. There are specific calculations for things like drinking wine, missing prayer or having a bacon sandwich. Arzu is not a practicing Muslim and is concerned with how religious and conservative Turkey is becoming. She does not agree with many of the Muslim teachings related to women. She feels Turkey is becoming a poorer country and she is considering leaving. Her sister lives in Canada.
All of the sites are stunning and the history of the city from Constantinople to Istanbul (in 1453) with the Ottoman rule and then the exhale of the royal family and the beginning of the republic in 1923. And the change from Christianity to Muslim. My favourite site today was the Hagia Sofia. It was built in the sixth century and it's huge! It was an Orthodox Church then mosque with the Ottoman rule and now it's a museum.
Our lunch was really good. Most who tried the Turkish coffee didn't like it. I don't drink coffee but I can say the tea was very good.
There are stray dogs on the street. They are spayed or neutered, vaccinated, tagged and then left to live free. The colour of the tag on their indicates what area they are from. None of them looked underfed.
The grand bazar has4500 shops and about 20,000 people work in the bazaar. We only had 30 minutes so we only saw a snippet.
Oh I also learned why St. Paul was driven out of Ephesus. The goddess Artemis was the mac daddy of the goddesses in Ephesus so lots of little statues were sold depicting her. St. Paul started preaching about one God and that pagan worshipping do many gods and goddesses was wrong. This made the Artemis trinket sellers mad so that's why the scuffle broke out and St. Paul was put in to protection.
That was our day in a nut shell. We are getting ready to set sail back towards Greece. Tomorrow we are at sea and our next stop will be Rhodes.
I'm on our deck frantically typing before we leave and I hear the call to prayer in the background.
I'll post more photos when I have better internet.