Yesterday was a random day in Istanbul, with a lot of different activities and no theme. So I’m going to start with some random thoughts.
Random Istanbul Thoughts
- There are a lot of cats. A lot. Another city I’ve been to where there are a lot of cats is Dubrovnik. But there might be more cats here.
- The people here are lovely. Very polite, unhurried, social, even joyful. But put them behind a steering wheel and they become fiendish brutes who will happily run you down if you step in front of them. And they will lean on their horns impatiently for little or no reason. I’ve seen women in hijabs driving like maniacs.
- There’s a lot of smoking in Istanbul. It’s not allowed indoors in public places, but it’s ubiquitous everywhere else.
- I had three tour guides here. All three hate Erdoğan and hope (probably against hope) that he will lose in the next election, about eight months from now.
- I met tourists from the US, Canada, and Australia. They and the three guides were all acutely aware of what’s going on in US politics and seem to be concerned about the future of American democracy because they look to the US for moral leadership in the world.
- The Turkish language is beautiful to listen to. It has tons of umlauts, so the vowel sounds are varied and colorful.
- Each commercial neighborhood is a cluster of a single type of business. My hotel is surrounded by lighting stores. To get to the Old City, I walk through the neighborhood of plumbing supplies and the neighborhood of hardware outlets. Yesterday I walked along one street that must have had dozens of bridal shops, so if you need a wedding gown, I know where to send you.
- I frequently see two men walking arm-in-arm. I don’t think it’s a gay thing.
Random Istanbul Activities
Yesterday was my first day without any planned tours or activities (until evening), so I decided to strike out in a different direction instead of heading back to the Old City to see more stuff there. (I’ll do that today before my 15:30 airport pickup.)
Fener and Balat
I read about these two adjacent neighborhoods a short ferry ride away from my hotel, and I decided to check them out. Actually, I am convinced they are one neighborhood, because I couldn’t tell where one ended and the other began.
The streets here are narrow and winding, lined with cafés and restaurants, shops, and colorful houses. These neighborhoods were home to Greek and Jewish immigrants, especially Sephardic Jews who were expelled from Spain during the Spanish Inquisition at the end of the 15th century. I wandered around for a while here and had lunch in a point-and-get restaurant, where I pointed to a few things that looked good and got a few things that tasted good.
Constantinople had walls.
The walls start (or end) at the Golden Horn, just past Fener/Balat and stretch for 6 kilometers to the Sea of Marmara. Built by Emperor Theodosius in the 5th century, they originally consisted of inner and outer walls separated by a defensible no-man’s land about 15 meters wide. There were also 185 towers, each about 20 meters high.
After the Ottoman conquest the walls fell into disrepair, but there are some sections still standing. I walked along a section of the walls described in my Rick Steves Istanbul guide book.
Tekfur Palace, constructed in the late 13th or early 14th century, was sandwiched between the inner and outer walls. Today there is a museum where the palace once stood. All that is left of the palace is its facade, which was renovated as the front of the museum.
The views from the top of the museum were impressive, especially to parts of the city you can’t see when you stick to the historic core.
On my very long walk back from Fener/Balat and the walls, I passed Fatih Mosque, which was not on my radar. But I decided to check it out, and I’m glad I did. It’s so inspiring to see how all these mosques I’ve seen share common architectural elements while having unique qualities of beauty and grace. Because Islam eschews iconography, there are no paintings, no sculptures, no idols such as you would find in Catholic cathedrals. There are also no pews or seats of any kind. Instead, these mosques hold large spaces where worshippers can commune with God.
Aqueduct of Valens
Who knew Istanbul had an aqueduct? Not I, until I came upon it.
The Aqueduct of Valens was built in the late 4th century by Roman Emperor Valens. It remained in use throughout the Byzantine era and was extended by the Ottomans. Originally 268 kilometers long, it was extended to 451 kilometers in the 5th century. This remaining section is 921 meters in length.
I was eager to see a Whirling Dervish performance and bought tickets to a show, which I attended last night.
It was not a show. It was a ceremony. My bad.
But it was a show, in a way. It was performed in front of an audience (though we were told applause was inappropriate, and we were not allowed to take photos or video). And the venue was theatrical, with dramatic lighting.
So it was interesting. But it was not entertaining. Nor was it supposed to be, I guess.
Watching men perform a religious ritual isn’t compelling. I felt a little bit like an interloper. Conducting the ceremony in front of an audience turned a private, intimate observance into a spectacle. I felt like it was inappropriate to be watching. And the little voice in the back of my mind couldn’t help but question whether these were actually Sufi dervishes or just performers.
Still, it was interesting.
Rhythm of the Dance
At the same venue, on the same stage, a half hour after the dervishes finished, I attended a dance show.
Various styles of traditional, and maybe not so traditional, dance, with lots of lighting effects, great costumes, and music, ranged from dull to exhilarating. It got better as the show went on, and ultimately I thought it was excellent.
I walked a lot yesterday. Based on my map, I believe I walked ten kilometers (almost seven miles).
So I earned myself a treat.
I’d read about a café that has great cheesecake, so I went there after the dance show. It was packed. At 10pm on a Tuesday night, the streets around Galata Tower were bustling, just as they were on Friday and Saturday nights.
So I got my cheesecake, with chocolate topping, to go, and I enjoyed it at my hotel.
I loved it! Perfect ending to a random day.
Here are my photos from the day.