This week I took a flight from Buenos Aires to Sao Paulo, then from Sao Paulo to Istanbul and now I wait at gate 221 of IST International for my flight from Istanbul to Nairobi. I arrived here on a Wednesday and I leave on a Saturday, a total of three days to explore a city which has existed for over 3,000 years. Go.
The major tourist highlights of Istanbul are conveniently located all within the same area of the city and easy walking distance from one another…and they are major.
The Blue Mosque
This was how I spent day number one, walking under sunny skies with camera and water bottle in hand. Super tourist. I did not however come equipped with a guide book and unfortunately spent most of the day wondering around ancient archeological wonders without a clue as to why they were there, who built them, their significance within the grand scale of things, etc. Terrible, I know.
An up side to this situation (I guess) was that I could focus a lot more on getting a really good photo. I think I took about 150 shots on day number one.
Istanbul is huge with a population of 13.5 million. It sits at the border of two continents separated by Bosphorus Strait. The history of the city is daunting. A strategical location for almost any European or Middle Eastern civilization, you get 3,000 years of development in a relatively small central core. Buildings built on top of (now underground) buildings, extravagant palaces, mosques, cisterns, ruins, towers, etc. It was once the capital of the Byzantine and Ottoman empires with some resident Romans as well, one by the name of Constantine. Istanbul was once know as Constantinople. As I said, the history is daunting. On top of all that put people, shops, bazaars, markets, restaurants, street vendors, pidgins, pidgin shit, etc. It was an experience. I walked everywhere.
On day two I went across the Galata Bridge to the (newer) European side to check the Sultans Palace which is now open to the public. On route I stopped in at a fairly big mosque (insert name here because I have no idea what it is called) just to walk in and take a couple of photos. It was in perfect condition, well lit, clean, and warm with a giant chandelier centre piece hanging solo 80 feet from the highest point of the domed ceiling. Within five minutes of being inside people started to come in, one at a time, consistently. I initially thought nothing of it, but as this scene continued for five minutes more the mosque floor quickly began to fill. Prayer time was upon me. Obviously I decided to stay and participate in the proceedings. Being the only non-muslim in a room full of worshiping muslims was surprisingly quite comfortable. I don’t think anyone realized that first off, I am not muslim and second, I am not Turkish.
About 10 min into the prayer a line of suited men walked briskly through the centre of the room and the people on the floor stood to let them pass right to the front. The suited men had a secret service air to them, they looked like soldiers in suits, constantly scanning the room and each with a little ear piece that they would occasionally talk into. They eventually sat on the floor participating in prayer along with everyone else. I figured a diplomat or Turkish minister had come to pray with the locals. Turns out it was the president of the country. At the end of the prayer, which lasted about 45 min. everyone was ushered out of the quiet tranquil mosque to chaos on the street. Cameras with giant zoom lenses, news vans, reporters, and crowds of people were all waiting impatiently to get a fleeting glimpse of their leader. This is the only shot I could sneak with my iPhone from just outside of the mosque entrance.
It was an incredible experience to be a part of the muslim prayer session and to have the president of the country taking part was an added bonus. This was the highlight of my entire three days in Turkey. I spent the rest of that day touring the Sultans old residence and the newer European side of Istanbul. The night however had something different in store. Two words in the form of one. Pubcrawl.
The Orient hostel arranges a once a month, get wasted, night of complete debauchery, whiskey and beer infused pubcrawl through Istanbul. I happened to be there on the Friday night it was happening. It. Was. Awesome. I met a chica from Australia earlier that day and we decided to attack this thing together. We met a few others drinking at the hostel bar before heading out on the town and ended up with a group of about 15. To keep it short, we visited five night clubs with free entrance and private transport throughout the night arriving home sometime around 6am. I got wasted for the first time in about a week, so slowly getting back to my normal routine. Enough with this training for Kilimanjaro stuff. Joking, I feel great and glad I have kept up the training. I have been daily running 6-10km with a simple push up and sit up routine for the last two weeks in preparation for the climb. I think last night put me back a couple of days though. Damn Australian girls. They make em good.
I am now flying to Nairobi, Kenya and from there I will take a ten hour bus to Moshi Tanzania. I start climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro in three days.