The Aegean Journey

May 21, 2018

Istanbul

Filed under: Uncategorized — B @ 4:28 pm

Well, we’ve been in Istanbul for a little while now. It’s been really nice to spend a big chunk of time in one place and really get to feel at home and learn our way around. We’ve done all the major tourist sites: Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque, the Grand Bazaar and Spice Market, Topkapi Palace, the Chora Church, etc. But honestly, none of these ranked at the top of my best-of list for Istanbul. In fact, many of these sites were downright frustrating due to the scaffolding, construction, and renovation. Turkey doesn’t seem to ever want to take a break renovating its sights and has no problem closing huge chunks of them rather than renovating piecemeal. The Blue Mosque was a miserable mess of barriers, scaffolding, and partitions, so that we could barely see any of it at all. Don’t get me wrong, many of these sites were still enjoyable despite the construction. But, none of them hold a candle to Mykonos, Cappadocia, or Pamukkale, or to my top experiences in Istanbul.

So what were my top experiences in Istanbul? We’re traveling during Ramadan, which if you don’t know involves a sunrise-to-sundown fast for all practicing Muslims. When the sun goes down, Muslims celebrate Ifthar, a big meal with which they end the fast. We were invited by a volunteer for a Muslim cross-cultural center to a big communal Ifthar the first Saturday of Ramadan, which we enjoyed with many Muslims and non-Muslims from countries around the world. This was one of those great unplannable moments, similar to when we were invited to pub by a Dubliner to see his girlfriend play music. This was one of the highlights of our time in Istanbul.

Another highlight was seeing a whirling dervish ceremony at an actual practicing dervish monastery. There are lots of shows around town and around the country of whirling dervishes, but the ceremony we saw was not a show, but an actual religious service, and put the “guys spinning” in context. The dervishes, followers of Rumi, are actual practitioners of the Sufi faith (a mystical sect of Islam), and the whirling itself only takes up about a third of the service. This was really cool to see. It was also really apparent that the dervishers were really “into” what they were doing in a way that would not likely be the case if it was just performers in costume.

On the other side of things, we went to a Turkish bath and I made the huge mistake of not drinking my weight in water beforehand, sweated myself to dehydration, and had a pretty bad time… the massage/bath itself was very enjoyable, but it was preceded by a half hour of great discomfort. It was still an experience I am glad to have had… but Amy said she would just as soon have not.

We have one more day in Istanbul, then we return to Greece for a trip to Meteora (like our Scotland trip was a pilgrimage to Iona, it could be said this trip is a pilgrimage to Meteora) before our return home.

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