Istanbul: Prayer and food

We arrived to Istanbul yesterday evening and took the metro to our hotel. Being spoiled in Western/Central Europe with languages, we did not prepare a cheat sheet with useful phrases in Turkish. We were those annoying American tourists that can only speak English and hope the locals can understand us. We were not able to find a good map of Istanbul at the airport, gave up and headed to the metro station. Using our fingers and blurting out “Tickets, Sultanahmed”, we were able to communicate with the metro attendant that we wanted tickets to go to Sultanahmed, the old city of Istanbul. He was nice and patient with us since I had an Argentinean soccer jersey on. He was all happy and said: “Pele?” No I said, Maradona/Messi. He smiled. I couldn’t help but laugh, fútbol can unite us all!

After checking in to our Magnificent Hotel, we headed straight for food. We’ve been eating kebabs all over Europe but were excited to be at the source. However, we opt for famous köfte that night, a specialty meat plate and a bean salad. There are no words to describe my happiness at this moment. The food is exquisite and only $5 USD!

We decide to walk around at night, with no guide book and a sucky map. We get lost in the Old City but only for a short while. Sara and I thought that Turkey was a mix between Muslims, Christians, Jewish, and other religions, part of it because Agyasofya used to be a cathedral, then a mosque and now a museum. However, as we walk around the city we see many women have their hair covered wearing a hijab and find a mosque in almost every corner [similar to Rome where you find a church in every other corner]. We learn that Turkey is 99% Muslim, instead of a mixed culture of many religions like we thought. Boy did I feel stupid … but only for a second. As soon as we get home [isn’t it interesting how I call a hotel “home”?] and we pop open our computers to learn more about this wonderful city we’ve come to visit.

We learn that Agyasofya is the oldest church [built a 1,000 years before many of the famous current churches] and was converted into a mosque when the Ottoman Empire took over. Istanbul, previously called Constantinople, was the Eastern Roman Empire’s capital and has a rich history between all the Greeks, Romans, and Ottomans Turks invading it and leaving their mark. We learn that Istanbul has over 10 million habitants [the equivalent population of the WHOLE country of Hungary!] and that it spans for kilometers east and west. We feel guilty because staying only in the old city for 3 days in Istanbul is like visiting only North Beach when you go to San Francisco Bay Area. However, not that guilty because there are tons of great things to do in this beautiful peninsula and we’ll be heading to the Asia side when we go to Ankara, the capital of Turkey.

Today we decide to go visit the Blue Mosque [formal name: Sultanahmed Camii]. We arrive at 11:15 am and they had just closed the Mosque to visitors due to prayer, Thuhr, the second of the five prayers of the day as part of the salat, a Muslim ritual. We’re a bit disappointment but realize that we live 2 blocks away and can come back later. We head over to the Grand Bazaar [Kapalicarsi in Turkish] and as we walk we find dozens of stands selling fresh orange juice and pomegranate juice. We get tempted and buy a juice each. Pomegranate is Sara’s favorite fruit and she’s in heaven as you can see from the picture to the right.

We enter the Kapalicarsi and automatically get lost. Kapalicarsi is one of the largest and oldest covered grand bazaar in the world with over 4,400 shops. If you’ve kept with our blog, you’ll remember we want to learn how to be minimalist … but walking through this bazaar is like offering the forbidden fruit to Adam and Eve, we just can’t resist. Today, however, we did hold off on temptation and did not buy a single thing. We wanted to buy leather bean bag covers, a turkish carpet made out of a cow, a handmade backgammon/chess set, and hand made pot holders. We might fall into temptation while we’re here but how the hell will we carry all of this? We just mailed some things home we’ve bought and spent $70 to send a 4 kg box from Budapest. =/

Once we decided we will not buy anything today, we head to the most packed restaurant that sells kebab. Needless to say, it was the best kebab I’ve tried ever.

We go back to the Blue Mosque and were able to enter 30 minutes before the 3rd prayer of the day. Sultan Ahmet 1 founded the Blue Mosque between 1609- 1616 and also it was named after him. The whole complex was completed in 1616. The mosque is beautiful with over 260 windows flooding light everywhere. It’s blue tiles [which give the name to the mosque] are laid out in designs throughout the mosque. After enjoying architecture and art, I start thinking about Muslim religion, religion in general, and how women have no power within religions.

In a mosque, men and women pray segregated. Men pray in the front of the mosque and women pray all the way at the back. There is about a fifth of space, if not less, for women to pray compared to men. Women must have their hair covered at all times within the mosque. Just like in the Christian religion, men have the power and control in the huge these religious organizations. It saddens me that the human species still finds this acceptable throughout the world. We treat our woman within most religions as a second tier individual sometimes even less. You see it everywhere in religious stories, customs, and traditions. I am not disrespecting any religion, it just boggles my mind some of the limitations women have even in the “free world” we live in.

Tonight, I look forward to more good food and some hooka while playing backgammon with Sara. =)

Side note: If you’ve never been in a city with many mosques around, don’t get startled when you are. Every few hours there are a few man on a very loud speaker at each mosque singing the prayers. Istanbul has over 240 mosques … it’s loud and quite an experience. It reminds me the first time I experienced this in Udaipur, India. I was sharing the room with Arnaud and we heard it at 5 am, we had no idea what it was and it scared the hell out of us thinking we should evacuate the building … it was hilarious!


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