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Many Adventures of a Nomadic Poet A young poet with Asperger's makes travel his passion, and away he goes...

Now it's Istanbul not Constantinople

TURKEY | Thursday, 21 March 2013 | Views [1259]

This morning I woke up fairly late at 9:30, which is extremely late for this journey. In Ethiopia I was up everyday by about 7 AM but sometimes much earlier. These days it's known as Istanbul but I'd visit one landmark built during the days of Constantinople and another built more recently. It was early and I opted for something theraputic to start my day: put crushed mint around my eyes. It's said to reduce fatigue and the appearance of dark circles. Ali headed off to work and then after a few cups of tea I strolled through Kadıköy toward the ferry to Sultanahmet. Going from Asia to Europe again I was suddenly in Istanbul's most popular district. A local pointed out that I could get a panoramic view from a mosque on the hill in front of me. In drizzled a bit but it was nice enough to walk and soak up the atmosphere. Using public toilets here costs 1 TL (about US$0.60); even with all the begging and hassle I endured in Ethiopia I was never once charged to use a toilet regardless of where I was. Before heading toward Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque I thought I'd head for the mosque the local pointed out minutes earlier. Meandering through the narrow streets filled with merchants selling everything from Turkish teapots to hubcaps I eventually make it to the Süleymaniye Mosque. Completed in 1558, this is one of many mosques in Istanbul and most of them were built during the Ottoman Empire.

Today marked my first time entering a mosque, and this morning I wisely wore my trousers since I wouldn't be allowed inside with shorts. Shoes must be removed upon entry and placed in a bag, and visitors aren't allowed inside during prayer time and it's requested that as a visitor you stay within a certain area. Surprisingly, photos are allowed inside.

Süleymaniye Mosque is very beautiful, and it's exciting and surreal to be in Istanbul. A few years ago Maria went to Istanbul and when I saw her photos I was instantly inspired! And look, now I'm here! After the rigours of Ethiopia, Istanbul is my "sweet treat" for making it out of there alive and in one piece. After one mosque I was up for another mosque: the Blue Mosque that is. With a light drizzle I make my way over there slowly. Chestnuts are sold on seemingly all the street corners here so I opted for some and then called in at Burger Turk for lunch (Burger King is out here as well). As I approached the Blue Mosque a traffic controller caught my eye.

He uses a remote control to lift the poles up and down for cars to pass. I know I can be weird at times but I find things like this cool! The Blue Mosque beckoned, and there I was before it.

The official name is the Sultan Ahmed Mosque it's called the Blue Mosque due to the blue tiles that line the interior, although the mosque looks slightly blue from the outside as well. Touts hung around out front trying to sell me maps and books, and one guy was really persistent. After Ethiopia I wasn't ready to deal with that in Turkey, but the major difference is that Turks are mostly happy and enthusiastic and don't expect something for every little thing. Entrances for worshippers and visitors are kept separate and the same rules apply regarding shoes and trousers. Female visitors have to wear a long skirt and cover their heads. The rules are an extremely smart idea because so many places of all sorts are ruined by becoming a show for tourists. After visiting a mosque that was built in Istanbul during the Ottoman Empire I walked a hundred metres to a church built in Constantinople during the Byzantine Empire, and that is Hagia Sophia (Ayasofya in Turkish). Once a church, it was later converted to a mosque and then into a museum. Admission is 25 TL and the inside is very interesting. There is heaps of scaffolding inside and it kind of detracted from the beauty. Comissioned by Justinian and built between 532 and 537, "the Sophia" was around more than 1,000 years before the Blue Mosque. Beautiful mosaics depicting Jesus and the Virgin Mary line the walls in the upper floor; some of the mosaics missing part of the their work.

Signs clearly say not to use a flash but so many people were using a flash anyway. It annoys me that people do things like that because eventually, photography will be banned inside the Sophia altogether. Hagia Sophia is very interesting, and some might argue that 25 TL is a bit much for admission but I told myself I'm not going ultra cheap in Istanbul. Just outside I really wanted a Turkish flag. When I was offered one for 60 TL I haggled down to 30 TL. Turkey has, in my opinion one of the world's most beautiful flags: a red background with a star and crescent moon. That reminds me of a vivid memory! As a boy I was extremely scared of the Moon and if I saw it from my bedroom window I'd start crying. One night my mother wanted to show me the Moon and a star right next to each other but I was too scared. I envisioned it would have looked much like the pattern on the Turkish flag. Carrying my Turkish flag patriotically, next up was the Basilica Cistern. I only brought 100 TL with me when I left Ali's flat, and I nearly spent it all by mid-afternoon as admission to the Cistern was 10 TL. Built presumably as an emergency water source, the Cistern is very interesting to walk through.

Fish patrol the water below me as I walked along the pathway and deeper into this wonder, and as water dripped from above I see two stone heads of Medusa. Istanbul is full of amazing sights and I could easily spend several months here. Ali told me earlier he's lived here for 8 years and hasn't seen it all. As I strolled toward the exit there's a cafe called the "Cistern Cafe". It's hard to imagine a cafe built underground like this.

Above ground, a tourist police officer let me use his phone to call Ali. He told me to meet him in Taksim, which is the centre of nightlife in this extraordinary city. Istanbul is what I call "London with a slightly Islamic twist" or, even better "Islam with a glass of Chardonnay." You can hear the evening calls to prayer whilst having a glass of Turkish wine, and you'll see women wearing headscarves whilst others shop for fancy shoes and Louis Vuitton purses. Instead of walking to Taksim I opted for the tram instead.

The views are nice and it's a cheap and convenient way to get around. When a little boy with cerebral palsy got on the tram with his father, I got up from my seat for him and we chatted for awhile. The father is in Turkey with his wife and three children and he says his kids are "very good travellers." Once in Taksim I strolled past a huge Turkish flag and then wandered for a bit. Street vendors sell mussels with lemon; one of many interesting street foods I've seen. Ali and I met up and he suggested getting an islak burger. My appetite for meat was nonexistent in Ethiopia but immediately came back after having one of these tasty burgers. Turkish food and tea is excellent, and I reckon it's some of the best I've ever had. After meeting up with some of his friends we went to a pub where he treated me to a mojito. In Ethiopia I hardly drank at all but here I'm up to live it up! And that means Red Bull, wine, and mojitos! I was tired and Ali wanted to stay out longer so I opted to head home. When I asked for directions to the ferry port I was told it'd take about 30 minutes to walk there, so I opted to gun it and run with all my heart. I must've run 2 km downhill in about 4 minutes! The last ferry to Kadıköy had left awhile earlier but the ferry to the Princes' Islands stops at Kadıköy so I got on that one. I was completely out of money and I wanted a tea really badly, and even though I felt tempted to ask someone for a lira I couldn't find the courage. In Asia once again I just couldn't find my way back to Ali's flat. When I asked for directions nobody seemed to understand me. Finally I borrowed someone's phone to call Ali and they walked back with me. Gulnaz and her boyfriend were there with another friend, and with a few glasses of wine we chatted for a long while. A little too long it turned out. Damn, what an amazing day it was today. Sleepless I am in Istanbul, as now it's Istanbul not Constantinople. My feet and my whole body were tired, and I'm ready for more Istanbul, but let's see what unfolds tomorrow as I rest my bleary-eyed self!

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