Monday, November 14, 2011

A Day of Sightseeing, thwarted

Last week was the long Kurban bayram holiday (also known as Eid al-Adha) where Muslims celebrate the Abraham and Isaac story. It lasted for five days, so Cagatay had Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday off from work. In keeping with the Abraham and Isaac story - where God sends a lamb at the last minute after Abraham has proved his faith by his willingness to sacrifice his son - this holiday involves a lot of animal slaughter. In years past, Istanbulites would apparently slaughter cattle and sheep in their gardens/street, creating a lot of carnage; it's not supposed to happen in the city anymore but the Bosphorus was apparently a little reddish on Sunday anyway. (This article from Hurriyet Daily News presents the conundrum between religion and modernism, along 58 pretty heated comments.)

But I digress...We didn't do all that much during bayram but on Wednesday, we decided to go to Topkapi Palace, the large Ottoman palace in the historic district of Sultanahmet. (We went into the palace last spring but didn't have time to go into the harem.) But omg, the area was completely, frustratingly packed, a lot of it seemingly coming from Arab tourists. I have never seen so many ladies in burqas/chadors/abayas/etc in one place before. We strolled through the large First Court, which was covered in fall leaves, but once we got a look at the ticket line, decided to save the harem for another time.

We opted to leave Sultanahmet and head instead to the Eyup-Pierre Loti area. We planned to take the bus, which meant walking over to the Eminonu area first, and we made the mistake of thinking we'd dip into the Spice Market first. It turns out that the narrow alleyways were completely packed AND the Spice Market was closed. We jostled; we got shoved; we couldn't wait to escape. I think Istanbul redefines the word crowded; see the photo at the top of the post?

The bus depot at Eminonu was also really crowded so we ended up taking a cab...and got out partway because the traffic was at a standstill. Are you starting to see a pattern? But we made it to Eyup and went to look for the famous Eyup Sultan Mosque, revered across the Muslim world because it contains the supposed tomb of Prophet Mohammed's friend Eyup Ensari, who was part of a group trying to capture Constantinople  in the 600s. After a slight detour at Zal Mahmut Pasa Camii (more on that next post), we found what we were looking for.

The mosque was of course very, very crowded, though that was to be expected on a religious holiday. We went inside the mosque where people were actively praying; the men were in the open center while the ladies were either in the back overhang or upstairs. I know a lot of people think mosques aren't pretty, especially when compared to churches, but most I've seen have been lovely. The Eyup Sultan Mosque has a warm glow from the candelabra and an intricately painted ceiling.

The tomb, in its own building in the garden, is currently undergoing renovations. People were still crowding around it to get a peek, despite the fact that most of the building is sheeted; from what I could see, the interior seemed to be covered floor to ceiling in beautiful tiles, and I'm sure we'll make a return trip when it's open again.

After fighting our way through the crowd to the exit, we headed to the funicular to reach Pierre Loti and the cafe...only to find the line to be EXTREMELY long. So we decided, yet again, to save it for another day and since it was getting late, instead head home. But the traffic was still too bad to take a cab and we were kinda far from the metro or Metrobus. So we ended up waiting 20-plus minutes for the ferry, which would take 45 minutes to get to Eminonu - from which we'd have to take the tram to the funicular to the metro to get back home. Which means we've hit on the only thing I really hate about Istanbul: the agonizing amount of time it can take to get anywhere, which can be a little frustrating as night falls and winter comes.

I would say the day ended up being a complete failure except that on the way back, we decided to stop in Tunel and eat Thai food at Lokal, one of my favorite restaurants. :)

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