F?rst Day on a New Planet… Turkey Day One–STILL!

It ?s currently 10:30pm Turk?sh t?me, wh?ch would mean ?t ?s about 5:30am ?n Melbourne. I have not slept more than 4 hours ?n the last 48 and I should be th?nk?ng of go?ng to bed.

The fl?ght was long. Really long. More than 8 hours to KLIA (as us seasoned travellers call Kuala Lumpur Internat?onal A?rport). A three hour wa?t then onto an A?rbus (appropr?ately named–real cattle class) for an 11+ hour tr?p to Istanbul. From the w?ndow I was able to see a good deal of Southern Ind?a, the Arab?an Sea, Duba? (I got to see the huge funny look?ng palm tree extens?on out ?nto the sea), Saud? Arab?a (we just sk?rted along south of the Iraq? border–I could hardly see a th?ng of the ground–the sand dust rose nearly as h?gh ?n the a?r as we were 11000m), then just north of Tr?pol? (we could see our f?rst snow covered mounta?ns), Cyprus, then Turkey–all w?de open spaces and snowy mounta?ns and lakes, before com?ng ?nto Istanbul. I had a br?ll?ant br?ef gl?mpse of the old c?ty ?nclud?ng the hAGIa Soph?a but had already stowed my camera ?n the bag under the seat. Damn.

Customs was a doddle. A real “walk on through” exper?ence. My four compan?ons and I (one m?ssed the fl?ght out and w?ll be jo?n?ng us tomorrow) are stay?ng ?n a small but n?ce hotel ?n the old c?ty of Istanbul. We arr?ved th?s afternoon, and were ?mmed?ately taken by our gu?de off on a “short” walk?ng tour of the Fat?h d?str?ct.

Immed?ate ?mpress?ons? More m?narets than you poke a st?ck out. There are 2000 mosques ?n Istanbul, so t?mes that by the average number of m?narets per mosque (2.145) and you have the number of m?narets that l?terally st?ck out ?n the sky l?ne ups?de down p?ns ?n a p?n cush?on.

Cats everywhere. I,ve seen only one dog, but cats ?n Istanbul are l?ke cows ?n New Delh?. V?rtually sacred. There are bowls of m?lk and l?ttle b?ts of meat left out for them. K?ttens play?ng w?th rubb?sh ?n the street. Cute but don’t touch.

Walked through Fat?h Mosque–bu?lt around 1500. [Our gu?des are a b?t vague about the age of structures. “How old ?s that aquaduct?” “About 2000 years old.” “Imposs?ble–Byzant?um was just a f?sh?ng v?llage 2000 years ago.” “Oh well, maybe just 1000 years ago.” We found out later that ?t was bu?lt by Emperor Valens ?n 375, so the f?rst est?mate was closest]. Stunn?ng arch?tecture. We haven’t seen the best examples yet (that’s for tomorrow), but they are all bu?lt on the pattern of the Hag?a Soph?a, w?th d?mens?ons that put St Patr?ck’s Cathedral to shame. And the decorat?ons ?ns?de are s?mply subl?me. Th?s one was bu?lt to honour the nearby tomb of Fat?h, the Sultan’s son who led the Turk?sh army that conquered Constant?nople ?n 1453. A b?g hero. There were v?s?tors stand?ng around the closed tomb (?t was after 5pm) pray?ng wh?le look?ng ?n through the closed w?ndow. I couldn’t help th?nk?ng about the poor old Greek’s though. One man’s hero ?s another man’s v?ll?an.

Emre led us off down the narrow streets to look for a “v?ew” that he knew of. We found that ?t was blocked due to renavat?ons. Th?s was a real adventure though. The ch?ldren spotted us and wanted to pract?ce the?r engl?sh on us. A b?g d?fference between Istanbul and Melbourne are the number of ch?ldren play?ng ?n groups on the streets. There ?s a real fr?endl?ness to the place. Colourful, shops everywhere. A shop sell?ng taps next to a f?shmongers. Stall sell?ng strawberr?es l?ke I haven’t seen s?nce I was a boy. H?gh r?se apartment bu?ld?ngs w?th shops at the bottom are the norm everywhere. Wh?ch means that every street ?s a shopp?ng centre.

There ?s a mosque on every corner just about, and one of these l?ttle corner mosques that we looked at today was bu?lt ?n 1492 (accord?ng to the plaque above the gate–I d?dn’t have to rely on my gu?des for that one). Then there was the great Sehzade Mosque. We sat ?n the courtyard at 8pm wh?le the call to prayer rang out through the loud speakers and the p?nk rays of the sunset caused the marble to glow. Then we went to have a very excellent d?nner ?n a restaurant ?n the converted maddrassar attached to the mosque. We had a pr?vate room, hosted by Mehmet from the PASIAD (our host?ng NGO, otherw?se known as the Assoc?at?on of Soc?al and Econom?c Sol?dar?ty w?th Pac?f?c Countr?es), w?th walls 2 1/2 feet th?ck.

Clos?ng now. Back later.

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