September 8, 2015

The Istanbul Diaries: Blue Mosque and Baked Potato


The first time I heard the call to prayer, we were just stepping out of Hagia Sophia.

Not knowing what a call to prayer would be like, I didn't know what to expect when I read that you would hear them all over the city. At first I didn't even realize what the musical voice was that poured out from the minaret speakers. The echo of the voices felt very foreign but beautifully hypnotic.

I later learned that verses of the Koran are read back and forth by the muezzins of Hagia Sophia and the neighboring mosque, Sultan Ahmed Camii, or better known as the Blue Mosque. (Listen here.)

The Blue Mosque is considered to be one of the most beautiful mosques in the world. It was completed in 1616 (to put things in perspective, that's about 1000 years after the current Hagia Sophia structure was built) during the reign of the Ottoman Sultan Ahmed I. If you're in the old city of Constantinople, the magnificent domes and six minarets are hard to miss. 

R and I made our way over to the mosque, where there was an entrance for visitors. After standing in line like Disneyland, we were allowed inside where the back half of the mosque was sectioned off for visitors.

It's interesting because the name Blue Mosque refers to the blue Iznik tiles that cover the walls. But my eyes were more drawn to the beautiful red carpet that covered the entire floor, where there were people praying in the front half of the mosque (although I'm guessing many were also non-local Muslim visitors because they were taking pictures and videos after praying, too).

Honestly, the visitors area was extremely crowded and I was ready to get out of there after 5 minutes. It was only the second mosque I'd ever been inside (coincidentally that was also with R), and the interior design and tiles were beautiful...but I think it was the crowds that did me in. I'm sure there is a much more calm and reverent atmosphere during the prayer and Friday worship hours, but at that moment I didn't feel a connection with the place.

But what I did love is the courtyard of the mosque. The architecture is fabulous and the breeze that flows through the arcade along the walls makes this place a perfect spot to sit and people watch. Staring up at the beautiful domes from below, it's incredible to think that someone built this massive mosque.

All in all, I think it was worth the visit, especially when you include the yummy baked potato we ate just outside of the Sultan Ahmed Park, which lies between the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia. The guy at the food vendor made the largest and most colorful baked potato I've ever seen.

When we ordered, he cut open the baked potato and proceeded to mix the inside until it was more like a mashed potato. Then he asked us about toppings, most of which we said yes to. At one point he asked us if we wanted "American salad," which ended up being potato salad! I though the potato on potato concept was hilarious but it ended up being delicious. Really, you'd be surprised.


Here are some photos of the Blue Mosque and the crazy baked potato:





















Sultanahmet Cami, 34122 Sultanahmet, Fatih, İstanbul, TURKEY
TEL: +90 212 518 1319
HOURS: Open to visitors outside of prayer hours

September 3, 2015

The Istanbul Diaries: Hagia Sophia


Where do I even start?

There were just so many interesting places to see in Istanbul. It's mind boggling, especially when it's your first time there. R and I decided we wanted to cover a mix of famous landmarks (because they're famous for a reason, right?) and a little random exploring.

Our first destination was the ever famous Hagia Sophia, or Ayasofya in Tukish.



This beautiful landmark has been a museum since 1935, but it has quite the colorful history. It was a Christian cathedral for 916 years, then later renovated and used as a mosque for 482 years. You can read about the long history here but I can tell you, this landmark has seen a whole lot of change.

The original church was completed in 360 during the reign of Constantius II, although it was his father, Constantine the Great, who ordered it to be built. I learned that this original church burned down during the riots of 404. A second church was built during the reign of Theodosius the Great, which later also burned down during another riot in 532. So it's actually the structure of the third church, built under Emperor Justinian I in 537, which still stands today.

After reading a little into the history of Constantinople, I am amazed Hagia Sophia actually withstood all the riots and occasional earthquakes that came thereafter. But thank goodness it did because Hagia Sophia is a beauty. The exterior is light and shades of pastel pink and blue, whereas the interior is very dark and gold. To me, it felt very masculine inside.

It's said that when Justinian I saw the completed Hagia Sophia, he exclaimed, "Solomon, I have outdone thee!" Despite the restoration and conservation work still underway inside Hagia Sophia (you can't really see it in the photos but the left side of the ground floor was full of scaffolding), I have to agree, it is fabulously grand.

R and I borrowed an audio guide at the entrance and slowly walked around the grounds, breathing in the rich history of Hagia Sophia.

Here are a few photos of what we saw:


























Hagia Sophia Square, Sultanahmet Fatih, Istanbul, TURKEY
TEL: +90 (212) 522 17 50
HOURS: Summer 9:00am-7:00pm (final entry 6pm)
             Winter 9:00am-5:00pm (final entry 4pm)
FEE: 30 Turkish Lira