Finally, we are in Istanbul. We were met at the airport and transported to our hotel, about half an hour away in the Old City. The streets are narrow, one way, and very windy, making it easy to imagine what this area was like 500 years ago, or more. The hotel is just fine. It is bright, comfortable, and after our 30 hours of travel, couldn’t have been more inviting. We are eight hours ahead in Turkey, so adjusting will take some time.
Our pick-up time the next morning was 8:45 AM for our tour. Our guide, Melody, is a stunning young woman who is a full-time freelance guide for a number of tour companies. She lived in London for three years as a student, giving her excellent English language skills.
We were joined by a young man from Germany who spent the last six weeks on his motorcycle touring from his home country, through the Balkans, and around Turkey before landing in Istanbul to spend the day with us. He was not going to be a part of the rest of our tour, since he was leaving tomorrow on his 2,000 km trip back to Germany.
There also was a young couple from Moscow. The 40-something fellow, at 6’7″ and his girlfriend about the same age, who could have been a model on any runway with her 5’10” athletic body, were an interesting addition. He spoke English but she never opened her mouth, either to speak or even smile. In the end, they left us early and were taking a flight back to Russia tonight. That only leaves us with no other participants and our own guide for the rest of the trip.
We started at the Hagia Sophia mosque, which was a mosque, then a church, and back to a mosque over the centuries. It isn’t the largest mosque in this city, however, it is a tourist mecca and near the Blue Mosque, another tourist destination. The lighting is stunning and low because they used to be filled with candles and needed to be within reach. Now, they are lit with bulbs and there are many, many chandeliers.
The building itself is nothing special to see. As you enter, there is a mosaic that is very old and very beautiful. The entry hall has more mosaics of gold and silver tiles. What you can’t see are the wooden bins where you deposit your shoes before entering the mosque sanctuary. And, girls must have a head covering and if they are not dressed appropriately, they must buy a paper gown to wear to cover up.