Jarrod and I arrived in Istanbul and headed, like everyone else, to an area of the city called Sultanahmet. This
is where 99% of Istanbul’s tourist attractions reside—the Aya Sofia and the Blue Mosque sit majestically in the
center of this area. The landscaped grounds between the two statuesque buildings provide a place for locals and
tourists alike to picnic, read a newspaper, or enjoy a snack from one of the many food vendors cruising the area. I
found the Aya Sofia to be exceptionally interesting, as the long history of the building is vividly evident and
preserved now that the building is a museum. To give a very short history, the Aya Sofia was built in 537 AD by
emperor Justunian I as a Christian church. It contained many beautiful frescoes and mosaics, including
The Last
Judgement, Madonna and Child
and the archangels Gabriel and Micheal. Then, in 1453 Istanbul (called
Constantinople at the time) was overtaken by the Turks, and Aya Sofia was converted into a mosque. Four
Mosaic of Christ, John the Baptist and Virgin Mary
revealed beneath plaster and paint
Aya Sofia in Istanbul
minarets were built, and the intricate frescoes and mosaics were plastered over, as pictures depicting human
figures are forbidden in the Islamic faith. This plaster actually helped preserve the Christian mosaics and frescoes.
In 1935, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, father and first president of Turkey, converted the mosque into a secular museum,
which it still is today. As parts of the plaster, which had been decorated with geometric design in Islamic tradition,
were removed the preserved mosaics and frescoes were rediscovered. It is fascinating to see evidence of these
two religions side by side on the same wall within the same monumental building. The walls of Aya Sofia speak of
the tumultuous history of Istanbul, and it is truly miraculous that the building still stands today to share its history
and beauty with visitors.

    Surrounding the Sultanahmet sit a multitude of distinct neighborhoods, each offering a glimpse of everyday life
in Istanbul. In a city of 10 million people you can imagine the diversity that exists between the various
neighborhoods. We rented an apartment in the Beyoglu district, which teems with energy, youth, and capitalism.
Walking down Iskidal Caddesi, the main street, was a lesson in contrasts. One café would be filled with men
immersed in a backgammon game sipping Turkish tea from traditional tulip shaped glasses, while next door
twenty-year-olds wile away an afternoon nursing a double caramel frappacino at Starbucks (one of three Starbucks
on this street alone).  We wandered through the Kadirga/Kumkapi area, which was fraught with crumbling
buildings, laundry drying on clotheslines strung from building to building, and men pushing wooden carts full of
produce down the street, looking for a buyer. In this area it looked like very little had changed over the past 100
years, and the westernization that permeates the Sultanahment and Beyoglu were nowhere to be found.
Our favorite doner kebap stand in
The Bosphorus Bridge in Istanbul
reminds us of a certain bridge back
return to turkey overview            next turkey journal >
    However distinct the areas, there were commonalities to be found and enjoyed
in all areas of Istanbul. Wherever you happen to be, you can hear the hypnotic
and mystical call to prayer five times a day emanating from the nearest mosque.
You can also find some ubiquitous Istanbul snacks wherever you go, like
deliciously warm donor kebabs, sliced right off the spit and into a pocket of bread
right before you, round rings of bread rolled in sesame seeds called simit, and the
ever popular corn-on-cob kiosks selling grilled ears of corn. Last, a summary of
Istanbul would not be complete without mentioning the shopping and the shop
owners. What amazed us the most was the amount of shopping. From the famous
Grand Bazaar, featuring entire sections devoted to gold, books, leather, and
carpets, to the Spice Bazaar, offering everything from dried spices and fruits to
exotic teas, to the random outlet of goods located everywhere from the subway
tunnels the back of someone’s pick-up truck. Everyday a man would drive through
our neighborhood with the bed of his pick-up filled with watermelons. He rigged
some sort of PA system and would hawk his goods at the top of his lungs as he
made his way up and down the streets. The ingenuity and friendliness of the shop
owners really stood out. Every shop employs a man on the street, tasked with
enticing people into the store. Rather than annoying, it was sort of fun to banter
back and forth with these guys over our shoulder as we strolled by. A typical
conversation would go like this. We happen to walk past a store selling Turkish

Happy Worker: Hello there, how are you?
Us: Fine, tesekkur ederim (thank you in Turkish).
Happy Worker: Oh, you speak Turkish! (proceeds to say something in Turkish
that we don’t understand)
Us: We only speak a few words, but we’re learning.
Happy Worker: Would you like to come inside for a cup of tea? You could teach
me English, and I will teach you Turkish?
Us: No thanks, maybe later.
Happy Worker: OK, and maybe later you can take a look at some of our carpets?
Us: We don’t really have room in our backpacks for a carpet.
Happy Worker: No problem, we can ship it to your home for you.
Us: Well, we don’t really have a home either!
Happy Worker: What about your mother? Surely she has a home? Would she like
a traditional Turkish carpet? I bet she would!

You just had to admire the persistence of these guys!

    Istanbul goes down as one of our favorite cities. To us, it seems highly livable,
and extremely visitable—a good blend of Western conveniences blended with
Eastern culture made our seven days here enjoyable, educational, and exciting.
Turkish Carpets