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.