A Rainy Day in Istanbul - Simpson Prize 2011
Day two of the Simpson prize tour was soggy. The rain rolled in over the city last night, the sound soothing the tired travellers whilst we tried to sleep. Unfortunately when we woke the rain had not really let up so we new we would need our trusty ponchos and water proof jackets. The rain didn’t make the city any less beautiful, in fact it seemed to make things gleam and the drops dripping from the Tulips in between showers really only made it more special.
The day started with a typically lavish meal of pastries, cured meats and cereal, all washed down with some coffee and tea to steel our bodies for the rain. We started the day at the Blue Mosque and hippodrome where we stood on the site of ancient chariot races and marvelled at the age of the Egyptian monoliths that adorn the former stadium. The students met some of the locals and spent time taking in the buildings that surround the area. As the rain grew heavier we moved inside the Blue mosque, so called because of the beautiful rich blue and white tiles that cover the walls. The mosque is still an active place of worship and not only did we learn about the ritual of prayer we also witnessed a local going through his pre prayer ritual. Our Turkish guide, Fred we call him, helped us understand some of the practice of prayer and taught us all about the traditions of the mosque and how they have evolved. Inside the Mosque the busy and growing tide of tourists all seemed to be struck by the beauty of the space, their heads tilted back looking at the painted inner dome and its blue and red ornate patterns. This did mean that many a barefoot was trodden on because it seemed that all those that didn’t have a camera over there face were wandering slowly taking in this beauty and not their surroundings. After we left the mosque into a heavier down pour we detoured back to the hotel to collect ponchos and the straight back out to Topkapi Palace
Topkapi Palace was the main residence of the sultan. It is a stunning place. Not a palace like that you may find in France or Britain it a series of buildings which range from a 2500 staff kitchen to feed the local poor to treasury, Istanbul’s first mint, military meeting rooms, a lounge for the sultans ladies even a circumcision house. One of the key exhibits in the Palace is the spoonmakers diamond, so called because legend says that it was found in a rubbish bin by a poor man who traded it for 3 wooden spoons. It is 86 carats!
My off beat interesting fact for the day didn’t revolve around Sultans, Diamond or chariots, it was actually about dogs. There seem to be many stray dogs particularly around the hippodrome, they are beautiful animals that look well fed if not a little grubby. Most of these pooches are sporting a bright orange ear tag. Apparently Turks in Istanbul like animals but don’t like them in their homes so “strays” are generally treated quite well and often fed by the locals. The local authorities even catch the dogs and give them shots, tag them so that everyone knows they have had them and then let them carry on roaming the streets.