Haggia Sophia

Istanbul was way cooler than I thought it would be.

Maybe it’s because I’m a guy (I heard that some of the girls on our tour dealt with sexism that would miss me entirely) and maybe it’s because I had just come from Cairo, where literally everything was either falling down or being put up and the people were pretty much unaffected by all of it, maybe it’s because Takumi had a friend who was willing to drive us around and play tourguide, or at least tour facilitator, but whatever the cause, I was impressed.

More nonsense after the break.

The photo above (and below in higher res) is of the Haggia Sophia.  The name alone reminds me of playing Civ4 where you build it and get some culture bonus or something.  Turns out that it’s actually a real building in Turkey and that real building was a Christian one (from the early 6th Century, which is mind-boggling on its own once you’ve seen that dome), but then after the forces of Islam took control of the city, it became, under protection of some really wise Muslim interested in preserving almost 1000 years of history, a mosque, with only minor modifications around the time of capture.  Over the years, it’s had plenty of modifications, though, and those show in just about every crevice and surface of the building.

Anyway, across the way is the Blue Mosque, as you can see in the turnaround shot just below.  This has not been secularized (as has the Haggia Sophia, thankfully), so you still have to remove your shoes and pay homage to Allah and all that crap.  It’s a big building with columns and such, with cleanliness being a chief virtue of proper entry into the building.  As an athiest, I didn’t find it as compelling as the mosque in Cairo that I visited, and since mosques don’t generally have my two favorite features of christian religious buildings (stained glass and organs), I’m generally less interested in them.

blue_mosque

The rest of the day involved visiting an amazing underground cistern (huge, humid, full of massive carp), eating a great (and relatively inexpensive) dinner on the waterfront overlooking the bridge to the Asia side of Istanbul (which we did not visit, sadly), and wandering around downtown Istanbul.

Oh!  I also smoked my first hooka!  We went to get some of that tasty black tea that the Turks are always drinking, and the chosen place happened to be part of the ancient market where trade and hooka smoking had been happening for a thousand years, and I figured, when in Istanbul, do as the Turks do or whatever, and got my lesson in hookas.  Smoking-wise, it was pretty pointless (the Turkish coffee I drank had an effect on me, the hooka, not…), but experientially, it was pretty rad.  I like the idea of flavoring the water (mine was with apple) and pulling the smoke through the flavored water to purify it.  Kind of a weird tradition, but I understand it a little more now, which is always a good thing.  Someone who wasn’t really good at capturing the moment took the picture below, which I created roughly out of two pictures.

hooka_matt

Anyway, Istanbul was cool.  The show went well, and then we headed to Bucharest where they have vampires and such.  Scary.  The photo below is the large version of the Haggia Sophia, wherein you may start to discern some of the changes that have been going on there over the years.  It’s really a beautiful and awe-inspiring building.
I’d visit Turkey again fo’sho.