John was born in Turkey and lived there until he was four years old. He has few memories of it, but we've both always been fascinated by his dad's pictures of Turkey. We'd love to have time to see some of the biblical sites and famous places, but that's a trip that would take planning and an outlay of money. So, we were excited to find out that we could schedule our flight back to Niger in such a way as to give us an overnight in Istanbul, Turkey. John has a college friend living in Istanbul and they offered to have us stay with them.
We arrived from London late in the afternoon and his friend met us there. Istanbul is a HUGE city and our friend decided it was easier to take the train home than to try to drive all the way. Istanbul is half in Europe and half in Asia and John's friends live on the Asia side. It took us almost two hours to get there by train and then the last little bit by taxi. We changed trains numerous times and went in a tunnel under the Bosporus. Some of the trains were fascinating because they were joined in such a way that each car looked like there was no break between cars. You could stand in one and see all the way to the other end of the train. John's friend's wife had a fantastic meal waiting for us. We spent the evening getting (re)acquainted and had a great time with them. We both slept really well.
The next day John's friend took us on a quick tour of Istanbul on our way back to the airport. We took a bus to the train, but then got off the train at the Bosporus and took a ferry across. We got a cup of tea and a special baked sesame seed treat that was kind of a cross between a bagel and a pretzel. I wish I'd taken a picture!
I've never seen anybody walk as fast as John's friend. We literally went on a flying tour. Well, almost literally. We got to go into the Spice Market.
Next up, we saw the Hagia Sophia from outside, but didn't have time to go inside. It was originally built as a Greek Orthodox church in the 6th century. When Constantinople was conquered by the Muslim Ottomans in 1453, it became a mosque. Today it is a museum.
We did take time to go into the Blue Mosque, officially called the Sultan Ahmed Mosque. It has six minarets, four on the mosque itself and then two more on the outer courtyard. You can see three of the minarets in this photo.
The interior is lined with over 20,000 handmade tiles. The tiles are blue, but have faded over time. It is interesting to compare a picture my father-in-law took in 1959 with this one that I took in 2016.
The Blue Mosque is an active mosque, so if you are a non-Muslim tourist, you need to time your visits for times other than prayer times. Since four out of five prayers occur in the afternoon and evening, the best time to visit is the morning. If you are not appropriately dressed, they provide you with adequate clothing at the door. Men, if you plan to wear shorts and you don't want to have to put on a skirt at the door, wear long trousers for your tour! I had my own headscarf and my skirt was long enough, but I was told to put a shawl over my arms.
We then ate a late lunch at a sidewalk cafe, said good-bye to our friend, and headed back to the airport.
When our boarding was announced, we went out, got in a bus to go to the plane, and then the bus didn't go anywhere for about 20 minutes. Only a few people had seats on the bus. The rest of us were standing up and were packed in like sardines. Then when we got on the plane they said there was something wrong with an indicator light. We sat there for three hours and at one point they refueled. I'm not sure why they refueled because they sure weren't giving us any air. It was really hot. Oh well, we got home safely, so that's all that counts.
And just for fun, here are some pictures of John and his parents on a trip to Istanbul (they lived in Ankara).
John and his mom in a park.
John's dad in the Hilton Hotel. I looked it up and this hotel is one of the iconic hotels of Istanbul and is still running as a very posh place to stay.
It might just be the processing of the old slides, but his pictures of the Blue Mosque sure look bluer than mine!