Its been a bit quiet around here because I've been busy celebrating my birthday week. Last weekend Steve took me to the cool city of Istanbul for my birthday. We stayed in the old city around the corner from the Hagha Sophia and the Blue Mosque (above).
We took Friday off work and caught the three hour flight early Friday morning. On Friday night we went to Rami - a restaurant with a roof terrace overlooking the Blue Mosque. There was the sound of turkish music floating up from the coffee shops in the markets below and later in the evening the eerie sound of the call to prayer sounded out from it and other neibouring mosques in answer.
We set out on Saturday morning to visit Haghia Sophia but the Armenian Arch Bishop was visiting so about 1000 police were out in force keeping tourist away. We made our way down to Topkapi Palance instead. The highlight was a tour through the Harem, although our militaristic tour guide (necessary for this part of the palace) kept us going through it at a trot. "Ladiiiiies and Gentlemen we have only 20 minutes. Follow me please. NOW!" was her mantra throughout. I managed to take a whole lot of photos still and am very grateful for the invention of digital camerals yet again. There are apparently over 300 room in the harem but we only ran through about 20 of them - but all spectalularly tiled and decorated with stained glass windows and inlay wood cabinets.
We also went underground to the cool, dark Cisterns where I moronically asked Steve why there was water everywhere. huh?!! Well the Cistene Chappel doesn't have water all over the place! This was a massive underground building with 336 columns supporting the roof. It was built by the Romans at the same time as the Haghia Sophia and forgotten, only resdisovered in 1545. The purpose is obviously to store the city's supply of water and it is mind blowing that it still works 1400 years later.
In the afternoon we went to the Grand Bazaar after being waylaid by a hopeful carpet seller on the way who was disappointed when we didn't snap one up. We did enjoy the apple tea though. It was good preparation for bargaining in the market though. After saying "no" a few times the prices came down dramatically. I used this technique to snap up a couple of leather handbags at great prices.
We made it back to the Haghia Sophia on Sunday morning. I don't think I've been to another building as old - built in the 6th century which makes it over 1,400 years old and its spectacular. Originally a Byzantine christian church, converted into a mosque in the 15th century and then deconsecrated and turned into a museum when the Greeks and Italians were trying to turn it back into a Christian church at the fall of the Ottoman empire in 1934.
Finally we went into the Blue Mosque for a brief gawk after removing shoes and covering hair and shoulders. Most of it is roped off for men only, women are allowed to hang out at the back.