Not surprisingly, Istanbul makes me feel further from home than anywhere I’ve been yet…both geographically and culturally. After five days here, I don’t have much desire to move on. I think this is due to the fact that there’s a seemingly infinite amount of things to see here, and I met a lovely girl that’s showing me around to all the best spots. The border crossing into Turkey was my biggest yet, with 5 different people checking me throughout the process. Some were concerned with my paperwork, some with the bike’s paperwork, but everyone was curious about where I was going and why. And in regards to the bike’s paperwork, I found out my Bulgarian insurance wouldn’t cut it…so back to my original expectation of having to get insurance in Turkey. An hour later, I stopped for some $8 a gallon gas, but the sting of the high price quickly went away when I removed my helmet and the attendant immediately said that the “Turkish Madam” would love my hair and eyes. After filling up, my excitement left when I pulled my credit card from my wallet and only half of it came out…though it still works, I foresee some people having a problem with the legitimacy of me trying to pay with half a credit card between now and June. I got my bike serviced (30,000km/18,000mi) at the BMW dealership in Istanbul. They changed the oil and fork oil, and gave me some delicious chicken, pasta, and salad for lunch…not too bad of a deal. I also found that bikes there are about 80% more expensive than at home…thanks for the low taxes, US! Some sights around Istanbul… The Blue Mosque/Sultan Ahmed Mosque I’d seen pictures of this place before, and thought it looked nice, but I didn’t realize the scale of it until I was standing next to it…it’s absolutely massive. This structure is on par with the Parliament Building in Budapest in the sense that I could sit and stare at it for hours, never getting bored. Turn 180 degrees from the Blue Mosque, and you’ll see Aya Sofya. It was built in 537, and originally was a church. In 1453, when Constantinople was captured by the Ottomans, Aya Sofya was converted to a mosque. And in 1935 it was converted to a Museum. The original church was decorated with many mosaics. During the conversion to a mosque, these mosaics were covered in plaster. Later on, the plaster was removed and the mosaics were restored…its interesting to see both Muslim and Christian art and symbols throughout. Little Aya Sofya (originally Church of the Saints Sergius and Bacchus) was given its name because it too started as a church (built in 536), and was converted to a mosque once the Ottomans took over. The hippodrome in Istanbul was built in 203, before the time of Constantinople, when the city was called Byzantium. There are a couple obelisks in the hippodrome. The Walled Obelisk originally was plated in bronze, and marked the turn around point at the SW end of the hippodrome The Obelisk of Thutmose III is from Egypt. It was originally erected in Luxor in 1490 BC. In 390 AD, Theodosius the Great had the Obelisk cut into three pieces and “brought” it to the hippodrome. This is the top piece. I’m shocked by how good of condition it’s in for being 3500 years old. Dolmabahçe Palace was built in 1856 and was used as the home of the Sultan and administrative center of the Ottoman Empire until 1922. Unfortunately, I couldn’t take photos inside, so you can’t see how unbelievably excessive the interior was (though I’m sure you can find some photos elsewhere online if you’re interested). Construction cost 35 tonnes of gold, which today would be about $1.5 billion. 14 tonnes of gold was used as gold leaf on the ceilings alone. Suleymaniye Mosque by night The Basilica Cistern was built beneath Constantinople during the 6th Century. It’s about 9800 square meters, and can hold 80,000 cubic meters of water. At some point, the cistern was closed, and forgotten. In 1545, a scholar studying Byzantine antiquities heard a rumor that some people were able to obtain water by lowering buckets through their basement floors. He later discovered a house that had access to the cistern through it’s basement. Once rediscovered, the cistern was used as a place to dump trash, and even some dead bodies. Since then, it’s been cleaned up and opened to the public. Of the 336 marble columns, one contained carvings of a Hen’s Eye. Ancient writings say that the Hen’s Eyes are meant to honor the hundreds of people (slaves) that died during the construction. The other columns are carved from various types of marble, which leads historians to belief most of them were reused from other building around Constantinople. There are also two column bases that were reused (from an unknown source)…both containing massive carvings of Medusa’s head. Luckily neither of them are positioned upright, that way the powers of her gaze are negated.
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