14.07.1966 - 15.07.1966
Today we saw the principal sights of Istanbul, beginning with the Blue Mosque, Sultan Ahmed, which I think is possibly finer than the larger Hagia Sophia, both outside and inside - superb blue mosaic interior and uneven stone floor completely covered with carpets, as a floor in a mosque should be. It has six minarets, most unusual, and they are very fine pieces of construction.
We went on to the Topkapi Palace, the former residence of the Ottoman Sultans. It was somewhat rundown in parts and a little disappointing, though the fantastic collection of emeralds and diamonds and precious objects in the Treasury was well worth seeing, and so were the expansive views of the Bosphorous from the terraces. In the afternoon we visited the covered bazaar, one of the most interesting parts of Istanbul, though it seems to cater somewhat for tourists. It is one of the largest I have seen and compares favourably with the souk in Damascus. Plenty of cats in Istanbul, but a notable lack of dogs. Another wonderful sound of Istanbul, in a duet with the ferry horns, is the muezzin being called from the mosque at various hours of the day.
This evening we had dinner in a plain little restaurant across the street from the hostel and no sooner had we started eating, on the most unpalatable food imaginable, than a tipsy old Turk at a table opposite sent us over some fruit. Ade was wearing his black Nepali cap and I think the Turk thought he was a holy man or something, as he began quoting the Koran in our direction, and eventually he came over and wrote in exquisite Arab script a quotation for us -“Bismillahir Rahmanir Rahim”. He was a strange old man - very friendly, but a little too insistent because of the grog. He must have seen the whole tide of Turkish history change, and still his mind seemed very much with the past. Before we could escape we had to kiss him in brotherly fashion on both cheeks and then he salaamed deeply. A funny old bloke, but an interesting experience.
Spent the morning, or rather late morning, round and about the roaring hub of the Galata bridge, an extraordinarily vibrant thoroughfare, comparable to the Howrah bridge in Calcutta; not so much for the amount of traffic on the bridge, but for the variety of life going on about it.
We watched the arrivals and departures of the Bosphorous ferries for a while and then sat on the steps of the nearby mosque for an hour or so, observing the passing parade. We were amazed at some of the loads being carted on the backs of porters and also the number of shoe-shine men plying their trade with elaborately decorated and highly polished brass kits. They seemed to have plenty of customers.
Later we returned to the bazaar and wandered around there during the afternoon. I bought a pipe for my brother so that leaves only three more presents to get. I am sure I will have to send for more money, either to Bangkok or to Singapore, as I am overspending enormously. My spending is more difficult to control than I originally thought. My third shower tonight and then I’ll pack my bags. Tomorrow morning we leave for Ankara and Erzerum. Wrote home today.
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