After waking up at the crack of dawn, we made our way to the restaurant for a sumptuous breakfast overlooking the Bosphorous river. I was particularly impressed with the fresh honeycomb blocks at the breakfast buffet. After breakfast we headed for a day tour to all the major attractions in Istanbul. It was also the first time that we met the rest of the tour group. Having arrived late at the hotel the day before due to flight delays and the rainy weather conditions, we missed the initial group meeting with our guide Ajay. We were altogether 38 passengers on the luxury bus from all parts of the world. We met people from Canada, America, New Zealand, Australia, South Africa and the UK. We were the only Muslims on board the bus and hence we were the centre of attraction. We could sense a certain degree of racism from some members of the group and believe it or not some of the American tourists literally thought that we resided in a jungle setting with animals roaming by. Whilst a fully kitted out tour is convenient and takes into account hotels, food and tours, it is not for the faint hearted as you need to be able to interact with many different kinds of personalities on the bus. I was quite shocked at the level of childishness among grown up adults who literally fought for a particular seat on the bus as though they were school kids. I found that South Africans are quite timid, complacent people as opposed to our loud mouth bullying American counterparts. Nonetheless we tried our best to be the best we could be.
Our first stop was the Topkapi Palace , the home of the Turkish Sultans for four hundred years. We marveled at the grandeur of the majestic Ottoman buildings and admired the Treasury and Porcelain collections. What fascinated me the most was the Islamic artifacts dating back to the time of the Prophet Muhammed (saw). Unfortunately we were not allowed to take pictures in the building. Frames depicting the collection at the Topkapi palace can be viewed at the exquisite gallery at the Turkish mosque in Midrand, South Africa. Turkey is definitely a tourist destination and the Turks must be complimented on mastering the art of hospitality. Never in my life did I see so many tourists and buses. At the Topkapi Palace mom and I were stopped repeatedly by tourists from other countries wanting to take pictures with us. Some tourists found the sight of the hijab fascinating. I was intrigued with the group of Chinese Muslims that we met. We spent a few minutes engaging in dialogue with them. It was fun, fascinating and captivating. After spending some time at the Topkapi Palace we then made our way to Haghia Sophia. Hagia Sophia is a great architectural beauty and an important monument both for Byzantine and for Ottoman Empires. The mystical city Istanbul hosted many civilizations since centuries, of which Byzantium and Ottoman Empires were both the most famous ones. The city today carries the characteristics of these two different cultures and surely Hagia Sophia is a perfect synthesis where one can observe both Ottoman and Byzantium effects under one great dome. It is the only building in the whole world that served three religions, namely paganism, then Christianity and finally Sunni Islam. Today the building stands as a museum in the Turkish Republic. .
After marveling at the beauty of the Haghia Sophia and snapping up a few shots, we then took a lunch break. We made our way to a quaint little roof top restaurant that had breathtaking views of the Blue mosque and surrounding areas. The cheese pizzas and salads were delicious. Turkish people love fresh food. They prefer eating organic grown vegetables. The women are very hard working and domesticated.
With regards to food, we preferred having vegetarian meals only as many restaurants served ham and alcohol. Even though the locals told us that all the meat is halaal, we were not comfortable with eating any of the meat products.
After lunch we made our way to the Hippodrome which was the scene of the horse chariot races during the Byzantine Era.. We then headed off to the Grand bazaar. With over 6000 shops to choose from, your head doesn’t work. At the grand bazaar, you will be able to find anything and everything from leather jackets, souvenirs, ceramic plates, branded clothing, shoes and jewellery. The one item that fascinated me most at the bazaar was the blue eye. All over Turkey you will find a blue eye, either as a key ring, frame or necklace. The symbol of the blue eye originated from ancient Mesopotamia and continued into modern Turkey. Turks believe that it is a symbol of good luck and also wards off the evil eye. The time we spent at the bazaar was too short and so we planned to re-visit this shopping paradise on our last day of vacation which was a free day of leisure.
We ended off the day with a magical sunset cruise on the Bosphorus river where some of the most expensive properties in the world can be found today. We traveled towards the old city from close to the Black Sea where the scenery complimented the grandeur of the Ottoman palaces, old mansions and fortresses.
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