You can’t be in Istanbul without seeing a few obligatory sites.  I started my round today, to be continued over the next few days:  Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque, Cistern, Hippodrome, Bazaar.

Throughout the day I was approached by about four carpet merchants who started pretty much the Egyptian way:  How are you, where are you from, what’s your name.  And pretty soon they identify the real purpose of their inquiries:  Do you want to buy a carpet?  But when I declined it did not take much to shake them.  I am so relieved that the battles are over.

I had another shock to get over:  Everywhere I look, there are tourists.  I am in the heart of it.  Individuals, families, tour groups – you can’t take a picture without having at least a few of them blocking your way.  And this is out of season.  When Egypt evacuated over a million visitors over a month ago, Greece and Turkey were two of the choice destinations.  They have been doing well.

The Hagia Sophia, the Hippodrome, and the Cistern which I visited today, all have their roots in the 4th to 6th century, one of the golden ages for Constantinople as it was known before the Muslim conquerors renamed it in the 15th century.  It was the Roman Empire which had relocated here to survive, to a city then known as Byzantium.   And they did survive, even though their Western counterpart, the original Roman Empire crumbled by 476 AD.  Byzantium lasted until 1453; another thousand years of “Rome”.  But this Rome was a Christian Rome.  Roman art and architecture mixed with new Christian elements and one of the greatest pieces of architecture still attests to its might:  The Hagia Sophia.  With its brilliant architecture – for the first time mastering the problem of how to put a round dome on a square base – it became the prototype for mosque architecture in later centuries as can be seen in the nearby Blue Mosque.  The ceilings in both buildings are most intriguing.

The Hippodrome was a disappointment.  It used to be the heart of the early Roman city with spoils from all over, including a famous triumphal column, and an Egyptian obelisk.  But it was a dug up construction site full of cement bags, concrete slabs, and a construction fence which prevented access.  Oh, well.  The visit of the ancient cistern made up for it.  These days the water levels are kept low, and a visitors’ platform allows people to walk through this enormous pillared vault.  Lighting is wonderfully eerie and the brick ceiling is brilliantly reflected in the water level below.  Huge carp swim in the water and the halls echo from the visitors’ noise.  I have to get used to it.  I am still in shock over all those tourists but I knew my privileges had to end.  Now I am just one of them.  But at least, I am quiet.

Despite my five layers of clothing I was cold.  I have to wear six tomorrow…

I know what this wonderful hotel lacks.  In fact, it is what most hotels lack – a hangout like we had at Pension Roma.  There was a living room with couches where many of us would congregate during all hours of the day:  Some would watch TV, others would smoke, read, type on their computers.  But in between we would all get to know each other and exchange stories.  There is nothing like this here, except the breakfast room which is open for just that during specific short hours.  The breakfast is fit for a king with all kinds of wonderful extras like eggs, yogurt, and fruits.

I love the food, but I miss the community of my fellow travelers.

Good night.

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  1. Despite the gloomy backdrop of gray sky, the city seems very colorful. Or are you just playing with Lightroom? The bazaar seemed inviting and of course the domed ceilings are gorgeous. Sad though, you are back to fading into the crowds. Maybe you can wear something outragious enough to get you noticed. Feel like cross-dressing like you accidently did in Iran?
    Yay! phone booths!