Chuck Hillig's Travel Blog

Well, I'm going to be doing a lot of traveling over the next 6-7 months so I thought that I'd better re-activate my travel blog. The last time I posted anything here was way back in 2006 when I was traveling through SE Asia. Feel free to read my entries back then about my earlier adventures through India,Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, the Philippines and Hong Kong. This time (at least for the next six weeks), I'll be traveling through Greece and Turkey.

Sunday, November 03, 2013

Istanbul....where west meets east

After a long 12.5 hour overnight bus ride up to Istanbul, we finally pulled into the main bus station and I found a cab to the hotel.   I slept for a few hours and then decided to walk a few miles towards the Grand Bazaar.  My body was still a bit sore from the bus trip so I decided to treat myself to a Turkish Bath.    I found the address of the famous Cemberlitas Hammam which had been built by a Sultan back in 1584.  What a treat!   After lying down on a very warm marble slab about 30 feet in diameter with only a towel around your waist, you are washed (actually scrubbed) by one of the many workers who make a (presumably) good living from scrubbing the half-naked bodies of  strangers all day.  At any time, there are about 40 or 50 customers in various states of their treatment all stretched out on the slab with these staff workers soaping, scrubbing and rinsing.  Then they  bring you to another room and continue with a cleansing that now includes paying special attention to your face, hair, and shoulders.   The idea, I guess, is to open your pores and to rid yourself of the dead cells.  Although they are definitely putting some muscle behind their strokes, it all feels strangely invigorating.   At the end, I took a hot shower, dried off, walked out into the cool night air and headed for the nearby Grand Bazaar.  I found an excellent restaurant, had a kebab dinner of lamb and vegetables and washed it all down with a cold Efes beer.  The next day (Sunday), I made a reservation to take an all-day city tour on Monday.  However, since the famous museum Hagia Sophia (Holy Wisdom) was always closed on Mondays, I decided to head on down there and see it today.  This very impressive building....constructed in 537 AD...was originally an orthodox Greek Basilica.  In 1204, it was converted into a Roman Catholic cathedral.  The building later became a mosque in 1453 until it was secularized in 1935 and turned  into a museum.  It's 269 feet in length, 240 feet wide and 180 feet high.  They've preserved many of the incredible mosaics, and you can listen to an informative audio tour (in eight languages) as you wander through the areas not currently being renovated.  Afterwards, I relaxed a while in the open area between the Hagia Sophia and the equally-famous Blue Mosque which was completed in 1616...... the year, incidentally, that Shakespeare died.    As I was eating a hamburger that had been prepared at a traditional Turkish fast food stand in the square, I was captivated by the plaintive call to prayers that was piped through the loudspeakers on the six minarets.   I was approached by a 20-year old man who wanted to engage in a conversation with a westerner.   He invited me to meet his family at their nearby carpet shop, and, after I told him that I wasn't going to buy anything, he still insisted that I join hi for tea.  At his shop, I met one of his cousins and his uncle who proceeded to talke politics and philosophy with me for over an hour over Turkish tea.  They were all very kind and hospitable, and we all had a great time sharing parts of our very-different cultures.

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