20141215_Blue Mosque

Looking at the Blue Mosque or more formally, Sultan Ahmet Camii. Turkish people do not call it the “blue” mosque, as that nickname is a reference to the blue tiling. I did not find it that blue though. Artificial lighting is limited, so it can be quite dim in mosques. The building is beautiful although I would have a hard time distinguishing between the mosques. This mosque is the first I have ever entered.


I am staying at the Sultans Royal Hotel, which is situated in the historic Sultanahmet center of Istanbul. I highly recommend the hotel, and Murat, the main manager, has spoken the best English of any Istanbulite I have met. Since I arrived so late, I went to get a drink at a nearby bar. The bar was one of several lining a small road. I noticed the area catered to tourism because I saw several hotels, hostels, 24/7 mini-markets, and dry cleaners. Even after midnight, I asked one dry cleaner a question about his services, but he did not understand my English.

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Ayasofya or Hagia Sophia ($13 admission). This place charges an admission because it is not an active place of worship. Other countries have no qualms of charging admission fees even at active places of worship (e.g. every other country I have ever visited).



As I suggested in my first Istanbul post, the city is clean and more modern than I would have expected. Nowhere in my travels thus far have I felt unsafe at night, although I understand everyone’s level of apprehension walking in a foreign city alone can vary. The entire Sultanahmet region is extremely safe. You would have as likely a chance as getting mugged in Midtown Manhattan. The bar I patronized was near several hostels, but the best hotel, the Four Seasons (there is another one on the Bosphorus Strait) in the city was right behind it.

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Sultan Ahmed Mosque, or Blue Mosque, has six minarets. You can see that one of them on the right is being renovated.



When I got my Heineken, I paid 12 Turkish lira for it, equivalent to $5.19. The beer felt light, and I read the label to discover it was 30 centiliters. Adjusted for the 12 ounces that an American would drink, the beer would have cost $6.15, which I thought expensive for a cheap bar. I was stunned enough that I spied a menu to confirm the price. Istanbul is at least 30% cheaper than Roma, but the alcohol prices can be expensive, even by American standards. I paid as much as $15 for a drink during my stay.

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Indonesia and Morocco are the only other Muslim countries I have visited, and they had high prices for alcohol too. Istanbul is raucous at night. The nightlife is more vibrant than anything I witnessed during my two-week tour of Italia. Istanbul is officially secularly Muslim, which can be viewed as an oxymoron. There are definitely Middle Eastern influences, but the young people act and dress like normal Europeans. There is plenty of partying here. Alcohol is everywhere.

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Inside the Grand Bazaar, which covers more than 60 streets. The Grand Bazaar was much cleaner and less chaotic than I had expected. Honestly, it left me kind of disappointed because I was expecting a grander version of the souks I had seen in Marrakech, but it was not that different from a shopping mall where everyone sold only scarves, belts, trinkets, or jewelry.



The bar I went to had only a foursome (three women, one man) from España. They were in their low 30s, but their English was suspect enough that we communicated mostly in español. Oftentimes, when talking to a foreigner, that person will speak English well enough that it would be inconvenient for him or her to struggle with me in his/her native tongue. In this case, the reverse was true. I am always happy to practice non-English languages.

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The highlight of the night was when one of the staff wanted to ask one of the Spanish women out on a date. It was hilarious watching the scene unfold, as she did not speak any Turkish, and he did not know any español, so he used Google Translate. He went at it for 30 minutes, but all he got was a picture with her.

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There are never not amateur fishermen on the Galata Köprüsü, which bridges the Golden Horn. I crossed this drawbridge often by tram and sometimes by foot, connecting the historic area with the trendy nightlife districts.



Unlike my sightseeing jaunts in Paris, Barcelona, and Italia, I spent only $36 total on tourist attractions. The entire city feels like a museum, being a capital of four distinct Empires: Roman, Byzantine, Latin, and Ottoman. In terms of natural beauty, Istanbul is on the short list for most beautiful city I have ever visited, rivaling only Rio de Janeiro and San Francisco.

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There are more than 3000 mosques (“cami” in Turkish) in the province of Istanbul, and I assume they are all free. Turkey calls itself a secular Muslim country, and I don’t know exactly what that means, but I was freely permitted to tour any mosque, despite my not practicing Islam. In Marrakech, I could not visit the mosques unless I intended to pray. The mosques are gorgeous, with the postcard image of minarets piercing the sky with the Bosphorus shimmering below. That sight can be had all over the megalopolis. I visited only three mosques (not counting the Ayasofya), and my favorite was not the famous Blue Mosque but the Suleymaniye Mosque because it offered panoramic views, had grass outside, and was an impeccably white. Istanbul is a hilly city, so much so that I rode several fun funiculars!

2014-12-15 Istanbul Parking Rates

Parking lot. 1st hour is US$3. 24 hours cost US$9.52.



I used the public transportation system liberally over the seven days I was in Istanbul, and it amounted to less than $20 total. The Istanbulkart card is a must for anyone visiting, and I traveled using every method except the bus: subway, tram, funicular, and ferry.

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İstiklâl Caddesi is 1.4 kilometers long and on an incline. During the summer and on weekends, it is wall-to-wall people. I felt so much energy just by walking on this avenue, which is lined with retail stores, bars, clubs, and restaurants.



The Ayasofya and Blue Mosque are the two most famous attractions of Istanbul, but mosques are much smaller than cathedrals. It is just one open area, and everyone is required to remove their shoes and put them on a shelf or a disposable plastic bag because the prostrating nature of Muslim prayer requires the head to touch the carpet. The standard design of Turkish mosques has flat circular chandeliers hanging from the very top. These chandeliers are hung low, and the lines used obscure the view.

One thing I discovered was that “whirling dervish” comes from Turkey. Until now, I had thought “whirling dervish” to be an inventive term to describe the cartoon Tasmanian Devil and fast-moving basketball players.


2014-12-15 Shack Shack Istanbul

There are four Shake Shack locations in Istanbul, and I ate at two of them!

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Inside Ayasofya



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istanbul is famous for its large population of feral cats and dogs. They have to be the most well-fed cats and dogs in the world. They are quite friendly and particular to a certain area, as neighborhoods will adopt cats and dogs readily.



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Calligraphy is a thing in mosques.



2014-12-16 Grand Bazaar Entrance

One entrance to the Grand Bazaar. More than 3000 shops and nearly 300 years old.



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Suleymaniye Mosque, my favorite I visited. Look how white it is.



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2014-12-19 Basilica Cistern

Basilica Cistern. I have never visited a cistern. This famous one is underground and from the 6th century. Entrance fee is $11, but almost all of the area is covered by water so it takes less than an hour to walk the platforms.



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Gülhane Parkı, best urban park I visited in Istanbul. This “book” has water movement to simulate the turning of pages.



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The feral dogs are tagged in the ear. They seem so comfortable and still that they could be mistaken for dead. All the breeds I saw were huge, but they were all friendly and did not bark.



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Inside Topkapı Palace ($13). Due to the amount of outdoor space, it feels more like a park, and the palace rooms have been so thoroughly renovated into museum exhibits.



2014-12-19 Baklava

Karaköy Gulluoglu is the most famous baklava shop in the city. If you mention the name to a taxi driver, then he will know it. Baklava is sold by weight. This was purchased at the rate of US$29 per kilogram. I bought 0.57 kg.



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Little reason to visit districts of office buildings in Istanbul. The city’s economy is approximately 30th in the world, in line with that of San Francisco or Taipei.



2014-12-20 Istinye Park

Istinye Park, hands-down one of the nicest shopping malls I have visited. This center is 70 minutes away from the historic district I was staying in, but I wanted to see how the 0.5% of Istanbul live.