Initial bearings established

Blue Mosque, Istanbul

The original version of this post was extinguished by a brief power failure that occurred as I was writing it.

I have spent the morning of my first day exploring the old city. It is quite impossible to miss the first two calls to prayer of the day: both happen before the hotel breakfast begins at 8:00am. I was the first one to partake in it (an aberration from my normal travel pattern) and to appreciate the elevated view of the Bosphorus, with deep orange light from the morning sun illuminating large container ships and tankers heading north to the Black Sea.

The Sultanahmet becomes comprehensible quite quickly, as you develop a general sense of orientation based on the location of the Blue Mosque, the Hagia Sophia, the city walls, and the park full of soldiers that wraps around down towards the ferry landings at the entrance to the Golden Horn (Istanbul’s strategic natural harbour).

Between the ferry landings and the open space encompassing the old city’s two most famous monuments, there is a tangle of small commercial streets of impossible complexity. Appreciate the bustle, the appeals of touts, and the inexpensive street food, while maintaining as consistent a bearing as possible. Otherwise, you will probably start looping without entirely realizing it. Once you hit a big street with tram lines on it, follow it northwards (towards the strait) until you find yourself between the Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque. Knowing your bearings, with reference to this place (where any local or shopkeeper can direct you) seems the most intelligent approach to developing a working knowledge of Old Istanbul.

One nice thing about the city are the scores of wild cats, reminiscent of Rome but healthier looking. I have probably already seen one hundred today, and they are all quite elegant and intelligent looking. They are all also quite young: either a sign that they do not generally endure long, or perhaps that the youngest ones are the most visible. Probably ten percent of those I have seen are unmistakably kittens: most of them a mottle of ginger, brown, and white. While dogs seem to prefer the large, open spaces the cats are undeniably in charge of the alleyways.

I’ve only ducked into this cafe to provide better directions to the hotel to my father and cousin Ivanka, who will be joining us tomorrow. As such, I am off to find a nice spot to have a coffee and read, while I await my father’s arrival. Tomorrow, I suspect, will be given over to seeing the most interesting things that we would not feel obliged to re-visit with Ivanka on Wednesday.

Author: Milan

In the spring of 2005, I graduated from the University of British Columbia with a degree in International Relations and a general focus in the area of environmental politics. In the fall of 2005, I began reading for an M.Phil in IR at Wadham College, Oxford. Outside school, I am very interested in photography, writing, and the outdoors. I am writing this blog to keep in touch with friends and family around the world, provide a more personal view of graduate student life in Oxford, and pass on some lessons I've learned here.

3 thoughts on “Initial bearings established”

  1. Have you tried Turkish coffee yet? I think even seasoned coffee drinkers may find it hard to swallow.

  2. With a bit of sugar, Turkish coffee is quite enjoyable – down to the sludgy grounds at the bottom, at least.

    That said, the apple tea is definitely the better beverage here, even though the teashop owners admit that nothing remotely apple related is in it. I wonder if they use the same chemicals as for apple Jolly Ranchers.

  3. I couldn’t quite get used to the Turkish coffee, good for you!

    As for the apple tea it is rather tasty although when I was visiting there I noticed the tea shop owner drank a different tea which a large amount of sugar added. I started asking for their tea and switched to that instead of the apple, although I’m sure my dentist would not approve.

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