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Western Turkey 101
Tour Group Journal

Day 01  Wednesday Sept 24 2008;ISTANBUL  Submitted by Catherine & Gary

Catherine and I arrived in Istanbul on the afternoon of Sept 23 after spending about 10 days in England. We were pleasantly surprised at with how modern and clean the airport terminal was. Signage was not the best but we eventually found the Visa counter and then the line up for customs. After getting our bags we found the Melitour driver waiting for us as promised. Our driver spoke no English but was very courteous and piled us into his small van and we headed into the city. Istanbul is a very impressive city. Surprisingly clean and modern even though it is one of the oldest continually inhabited cities on the face of the earth. It has a population of about 15,000,000. Almost half the population of Canada in the one city! It was not evident that we were in an ancient city until we got close to the old city. Here there was evidence of old fortifications and the streets are narrow and winding and often steep since the old city is built on the hills overlooking the Bosphorus Strait. This enabled the city to control navigation on the Bosphourus for thousands of years, making it a wealthy center of shipping and commerce. The driver eventually found his way to the Hotel Ayasofya. We met Meli on our arrival and since the tour didn’t start until the following evening she suggested that we spend the next morning taking a ferry to Asia, which we did. We had lunch in Asia and returned to the hotel for the 4:30PM meeting with Meli and the rest of our group. Two couples were from Seattle; Mark & Lisa and Dean & Mary. Wendy was from California and the rest were from Canada. Catherine & Gary, Kaija, Enneke and Debby were from Vancouver. Mary and Jennifer from the Sunshine Coast near Vancouver. Some had arrived days earlier while others had arrived in the middle of the night.

Meli quickly took charge of the proceedings and explained the rules of engagement and what to expect over the next 2 weeks. We then set off on foot up the hill through the narrow streets to visit the Blue Mosque. At the top of the hill we entered a large open area that Meli called the hippodrome. During Roman times this area was lined with huge grand stands and formed a chariot track. The building materials had since been plundered for other civic works including the construction of the Blue Mosque. The area was now full of tent structures including food and souvenir venders set up for Ramadan. During the month of Ramadan, Muslims fast during day light hours but once the sun sets the party begins. As we approached the Blue Mosque one could see what a magnificent building it was, especially in the late afternoon sun. Before entering the mosque we removed our shoes and passed through the beautiful entry. Meli took us to a quiet area and we sat down on the carpet to listen as she explained the history of the Mosque and the basics of the Islam. She also explained that Turkish Islam is very different from the version promoted by the Arab states and that Turkey is officially a secular state, which is enshrined in the constitution.

leaving the mosque Meli took us to a nearby hotel and up to the roof top restaurant where we had and magnificent view of the Blue Mosque and we enjoyed a lovely meal of Turkish dishes ordered for us by Meli. What a great day! You can see details and pictures of the Blue Mosque at the link below.Sultan Ahmed Mosque (Istanbul) - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia