Continuing with our trips that we don't think we would have otherwise taken from the states... Istanbul, Turkey.
The tickets we found were cheap but they were out of Rome so we had the added adventure of the train and Rome International vice easy Naples. The train was fine and on time. I'm glad we gave ourselves plenty of time though because getting through security at the airport took about 50 minutes itself. I've mentioned before that the Italians don't know the definition of a line. This is true even for airport security. Flights were fine though. That night we stayed at the airport hotel since we got in late.
Tuesday. Carey got us a nice little apartment right in the middle of the old town Istanbul. First stop, Hagia Sophia. It started as a huge church when the city was Constantinople. I didn't read it anywhere but thinking about it and looking at dates, this would have been the largest Christian church in the world for ~1000 years. It was built in 537 AD. The new St Peters wasn't built until the 1500's. In 1453 the Ottoman's captured Constantinople and converted it into a mosque. It is now a museum. A lot of the mosaics were plastered over in the conversion from a church to a mosque, but some have been uncovered and restored. Either way, it is huge inside and the dome is amazing.
Next was the Blue Mosque. Very big, beautiful mosque. The outside is not blue. The tiles inside are... I don't know why I am surprised, but the level of disrespect from some people amazed me. Most women, including Carey and Brianna, covered their heads with a scarf, the same as they would have covered their shoulders when entering a church during the summer. A number of women did not though and the noise level was louder than I would have expected... Turkey seems to be a pretty liberal Islamic country but I was surprised they didn't enforce it. The churches here would have.
Next the underground cistern. The romans built this underground reservoir in the 500's to support the demands of the capital city. Long story short, the Roman Empire/ Byzantine Empire expanded and contracted over the ~1400 years. Constantine renamed Byzantium, Constantinople (now Istanbul with the Ottoman take over), and made it the new capital. You can put a couple football fields down here and it has a 27 million gallon capacity. Like the catacombs in Rome, it was completely forgotten about for hundreds of years and then rediscovered.
Tuesday night we went and saw some Turkish dance. Very entertaining. Folk dances and belly dancing.
Wednesday. In the morning we went to the Grand Bazaar. It is a huge, mostly indoor, mall/ flea-market. You can get pretty much whatever you want here. Shoes, scarves, rugs, suitcases, hookahs, clothes... That afternoon we made our way through the spice market and into the newer town. We went to the top of Galata Tower where we got some really good views and shots of Istanbul. We took a tram up to Taksim square and then strolled back down the hill past all the new stores, coffee shops and even a few churches.
Thursday. Topkapi Palace. The home of Sultans and center of the Ottoman empire for some 300 years. There are a couple main attractions here. One, is the treasury. Golden, jewel covered thrones, giant golden candlestick holders, and a few really big diamonds (one is 86 carrots). The second is the Hall of Holy Relics. The Ottomans brought these holy Muslim (and what should be Jewish and Christian) relics here from Egypt, Medina, and Mecca. I'm not sure how you could prove, or disprove some of these but... The footprint and hair from Muhammad, King Davids's sword, Moses' staff, John (the baptist's?) skull and forearm, Joseph's turban... If this is all true that seems to be an even more impressive collection of historic biblical character relics than Jerusalem had to offer. Hard to say...
That night we stayed at the hotel airport again since we had an early flight out.
Turkey claims to be a 98% Muslim population. I'm pretty sure that is the same as Italy claiming 98% of the Italians are Catholic. I'm not so sure many actually practice. The call to prayer still happens five times a day, which is pretty neat, but I didn't see a lot of people stopping what they were doing to unroll their rugs or go to the mosque. The people were VERY nice and friendly. Yes, they are all trying to sell you something BUT they do take no for an answer and will still chat a little with you even after they know you're not going to buy. I think everyone knew a least some english so getting around was easy. We never felt unsafe, even walking though some more out of the way streets at night.
I think I just assumed, because the history around here drops off around the 500-600 AD mark, that the Roman empire fell apart around that time. Really it was a shift of the capital location and the fluctuating of the size that started around that time. Travel really does teach you something after all...
Really glad we went.
This year for New Years we decided to go down to the base in Naples and watch the fireworks from the top of the five story parking garage. WOW!
We got there at about 10:30 and there was already a steady flow of fire works. At midnight, the entire city and all the little surrounding towns lit up. 360 degrees of BIG fireworks being launched from peoples backyards and apartment balconies. You could see as far out as the hillsides of Mt Vesuvius... After 40 minutes they hadn't really slowed down yet but there was so much smoke in the air visibility had been reduced to a couple miles. I have never seen anything like it. Again, these are fireworks our cities buy and shoot off for the 4th or for New Years. I don't know where they get them, or how the Neapolitans can afford them but it was amazing.
Happy New Year.