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Istanbul: Combining Europe and Asia

Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque

hagia sophia mosque

The Hagia Sophia has brilliant murals inside.  Kevin and I had mainly taken the kids to Turkey to visit the mosques and learn about Islam.  Mert was the greatest guide for this.

The Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia are next to each other.  Both are now mosques and take turns when it is time for the Call to Prayer.  One of the two Imams will read the first line and then the other will read the first line.  The call to prayer takes twice as long right here so both mosques can do it without trying to yell over the other.

There is a fountain between the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia that lights up at night. It’s perfect to watch during a Call to Prayer.

On our first day, we walked to both of these buildings.  In mosques, women need to have their head covered and wear long pants or skirts.  If a woman isn’t wearing that, there are generic scarves and large gunny sack skirts you can borrow at the entrance.

There is also a carpet at the entrance of each mosque with a sign that shoes must be taken off before stepping on it.  You can put your shoes in clear bags and you carry them with you.  Sometimes you can leave your shoes at the entrance.

Teaching the kids to respect other religions is never a bad thing.

Inside the Hagia Sophia, there is a famous cat named Gli.  I’m not exactly sure why she’s so famous, but I linked to her Facebook Page.

The most famous cat in Turkey graced us with her presence. Along with one of her kids.

I think my kids liked the cat more than the mosaics.

In front of the mosques, there are faucets and benches for people to be able to clean themselves before they pray at a call to prayer.  Before praying, a person needs to be clean.  These faucet areas are empty until about ten minutes before a call to prayer.  Then they are packed.


Imagine how important communicating with God/Allah is for Muslims if they are to be clean every time they pray.

Istanbul is broken in half by a body of water called the Golden Horn; half is in Europe and half in Asia.  We took a cruise around this part of the Bosphorus Strait.  We saw palaces, the most expensive house in Turkey and the night club that was attacked on New Year’s Eve.  The cruise started in Europe and we got off in Asia.  I can’t think of another place you can do this.

Bosphorus Cruise

Istanbul from the Bosphorus Strait.

Mert Taner, our wonderful guide, kept talking with us, even though our heads bobbed a couple of times.  The kids fell fast asleep while Kevin and I fought it.  I kept asking questions to stay awake and get my brain active and because there was so much to learn.

When we got off, we walked through a food festival.  This was where we learned about the referendum up for vote soon.  It’s about giving the President of Turkey more power.  Because the President wants this and has the money, the yes campaign is huge.  There are billboards and banners and huge buses covered with EVET (yes) and the picture of the President.  Outside the spice market, very loud music is played to attract attention to the table of information.  The No side doesn’t have as much money and doesn’t advertise at all near the same scale.

I felt like I knew the Turkish President personally after a week of giant pictures of him.

Nothing was dangerous about the campaign.  It was just like campaigning here.  People have very strong opinions and want their side to win.  There was nothing unsafe about it, though.  (Unless you have megalophobia – the fear of large things. The President’s ads were massive.)

Day 2

We toured the Topaki Palace and Harem, but I don’t have any pictures.  There were certain places we couldn’t take pictures, like the room with religious artifacts.  It was really too bad, because the sign below a stone bowl said “The Saucepan of Abraham.”  I thought it was the best placard in the world.  I have no idea if Abraham truly owned the stone bowl, but I loved the idea he had a saucepan.  There is also a staff of Moses and the sword of David.  I hope all of these things were real.  I want to be able to say I’ve seen a staff of Moses.  And put it on my resume.

I’ve never seen so much tulle as I did on the streets in Turkey.

We then walked to the Grand Bazaar for lunch.  We walked through some of the busiest streets we had been on.  Sunday is a holiday in Turkey, but the closer we got to the Bazaar, the busier the city became.

We ate at two different stalls and had the most amazing lemonade.  At the first stall, we had beef with liver and peppers.  My first bite was spicier than I expected and I made a face.  The police officer standing nearby laughed at me.  He nudged his partner and they both watched me take the next bite.   I decided I now loved hot spices and smiled while I chewed.  They still laughed.  (I wrote a post about the food here.)

The gold at the Bazaar is amazing.  There are storefronts just full of gold.  We asked the price of a bracelet and it is all done by weight.   The bracelet was about $2,000.  I didn’t get it.

Commodities are also traded in the Grand Bazaar.  Instead of the pit on Wall Street, they use a couple of alleys in Istanbul.  You can buy a lunch of meatballs then walk behind the stall and buy a few million dollars worth of securities.  Mert had taken Allen Greenspan around the city.  He wasn’t recognized anywhere until they got to these alleys in the Grand Bazaar.  All of the traders here knew who he was and treated him like royalty.

You can spend $$$$ on gold in one store and then across the aisle, buy keychains for a dollar.

Day 3

We visited where the head of the Greek Orthodox Church is located.  Mert told us about Saint Nicholas and how he was the original Santa Claus.  He then took us to the grave of Saint Nicholas.  When he showed us where the bones are kept, my 9 year old responded, “Wait.  Santa Claus is dead?”

“Is Santa Claus real?” “Look over there at the ornate carvings.”

Thinking back, we never actually answered him.  Huh.

We walked around modern Istanbul during the afternoon.  I got my Hard Rock pin and we enjoyed window shopping.  We ate some more and I found some comfy, stretchy pants for $7.  I figured they could come in handy if I kept eating two pieces of Baklava a day.

Nothing is better than an arial view at dusk.


That evening we hopped on a flight on Turkish Airlines and headed to Cappadocia.

No matter where we go, the kids love feeding the pigeons!  We could save a lot of money if we just fed pigeons in Montana.  But these are more exotic.


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