Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Sailing Down the Bosphorous

It's been a momentous few days. We landed on our fifth continent of the trip, we've been travelling for six months, and we celebrated our second anniversary.

I remember meeting people in the past who had travelled for extended periods of time and looking at them with some degree of awe and a bit of jealousy. Now, suddenly, we're those people. Somehow the trip went from feeling that it'd only just begun to feeling like it's been a long time to be away from home, friends and family. I'm still enjoying our journey--we're incredibly lucky and blessed to be doing this--but my thoughts are more often turning to Seattle, having a place to call our own, and returning to the very routines I was chafing against before we left.

Others (to be fair, mostly people who don't really know Tyler and I) wondered what the ramifications would be for our relationship from travelling together for so long. Travel can be a real test on relationships, putting you out of your element, regularly hitting you with strange and difficult situations, and insuring that you and your partner will have to deal with each other at some of your worst (hungry, tired, hot, etc.). Fortunately, Tyler has been an amazing travel partner for me, helping me to see the world with another set of eyes and interests, listening to my theories and ideas, and knowing when to get me some food and ignore my crankiness. If it weren't for little details like finances to force us back to lives that are spent apart for a good part of the day, I'd happily spend all my hours in Tyler's company forever. And it seems fitting that we could celebrate our anniversary while on our travels, since this trip is another life-changing event.

The happy couple, after six months of travel and two years of marriage

We began our third full day in Istanbul with a plan to see the famous church/mosque/now museum Aya Sofya followed by a ferry up and down the Bosphorous. However, as we approached the entrance to the church, we saw hordes in line that had disgorged from a recently ported cruise ship. So we quickly altered our schedule and headed down to the Golden Horn to catch the government ferry.

Istanbul itself is split by the Golden Horn, a river valley and natural port that seperates the older, historical districts (Sultanahmet, Seraglio Point and the Bazaar Quarter) from Beyoglu, the district traditionally housing foreigners and the commercial center. Turkey itself is split by the Bosphorous, a waterway connecting the Black Sea with the Sea of Marmara and, ultimately, the Aegean. The Bosphorous also divides Europe and Asia, so Turkey firmly has one foot in each continent. For only about $10 each, you can take a government-run ferry up to the upper Bosphorous, near the Black Sea and back, with a stop for lunch, in about five hours. We luckily reached the ticket office right as it opened for sales for the next sailing.

Not surprisingly, it is a popular tourist activity, so we waited for the ferry to arrive among an increasing number of other visitors. Once the gate was open, the race was on for the best seats (open air on the back of the boat) which were gobbled up quickly. Fortunately, we chose relatively wisely, with seats that had a window and were near an opening for some fresh air. Then we were off for a relaxing trip following the coastline, taking in city sites, ancient ruins, palaces, mosques and preserved yalis, or wooden mansions built along the coast. Like most coastal cities, Seattle included, you could see buildings jockeying for the best waterfront positions or at least a good view. And I was constantly amused by the remnants of history on view--the fancy palace now under a suspension bridge, the mosque backlit by skyscrapers.

View of Istanbul, a conglomeration of the ancient, modern and religious, after centuries--no, millenia--of development

Beautiful mosque in front of the modern business district of Beyoglu

Yalis, or traditional houses, along the Bosphorous

Yalis were traditionally painted this rusty red color. They more mellifluously refer to it as "Ottoman Rose."

One sight we had our eyes out for was the Fortress of Europe. It was built by Mehmet the Conquerer (there are great names in Turkish history) prior to his assault on Constantinople and completed by three viziers who managed to complete the whole thing in only four months. It was used to cut off the passage of ships to Constantinople and ultimately supported the change from Constantintople to Ottoman Istanbul. Plus, it's just a little funny to imagine your enemy spending a few months building a big fortress just outside of town while you just go about your business.

The Fortress of Europe, built in four months and a contributor to the defeat of Constantinople

We had a two-hour break before the next ferry, so we got off in a small village, Rumeli Kavagi, on the European side a bit south of the Black Sea. We walked around a bit, had a little lunch by the water, and watched people go about their business, men and women in rowboats, boys out swimming and jumping off the buoys. Much as I am loving Istanbul, I did enjoy the peace and calm in this coastal town.

Our view during lunch on the Bosphorous, near the Black Sea with castle ruins and youth jumping from buoys into the beautiful marine-colored waters

Returning to the Bazaar Quarter, with minarets and mosques dominating the skyline

Getting back, we realized we were now in a bit of a rush to get back and see the Aya Sofya before its closing time. We hoped on the rush hour-filled tram back to Sultanahmet and got in with a good hour of time before closing.

The Aya Sofya (also called the Haghia Sophia) was built in the 6th century. It was and is an architectural marvel, with the huge dome soaring above you. In the 15th century, the Ottomans converted it to a mosque, leading to bemusing scenes like a mosaic of the Virgin Mary soaring above the mihrab, or niche indicating the direction of Mecca for Islamic services. Now to avoid any confusion it's a museum, preserving elements of both historical purposes. At first, I was disappointed to see half of the upper dome covered for restoration and filled with scaffolding, but even that couldn't distract me from the feeling of awe and majesty that architecture inspired.

The Aya Sofya

Even the scaffolding couldn't take awake from the grandeur of the 184-foot high soaring dome

There were a number of gorgeous mosaics that still remained in the upper part of the church. This is notable because many icons, or religous images, were destroyed during a time known as the Iconoclast period, when the only imagery allowed was the sign of the cross. In addition, when Islam became the major religion, many churches were destroyed or converted to mosques. Fortunately in the Aya Sofya the mosaics were plastered over and many were recovered. As you walk along you can see that the undersides of arches are covered with jewel-like surfaces. There are also a number of scenes, including the archangel Gabriel, the Virgin Mary and Christ.

One of the gorgeous mosaics that survived the Iconoclast period and from being plastered over when the church was converted to a mosque

Immediately below the mosaic of Mary remains the mihrab, or niche indicating the direction of Mecca

All in all, the museum is a photographer's dream, with niches, atmospheric light streaming in, dark hallways lit with low-hanging chandeliers, and the mosaics which glow in the photos.

Details from the Upper Gallery

Tyler loving the Aya Sofya

There was lots of atmospheric light and details that brought out the shutterbug in both of us

It's interesting to be back in a place that has so much to see at every turn...and is full of other tourists anxious to see as much as possible before moving on to the next site, city, country. After travelling for this long, we've definitely slowed our pace, so being here has had a more frenetic pace. But Istanbul is definitely in contention for my favorite big city of the trip, so I'm happy to spend the day wandering through the sites and scenes.


eddybles said...

Happy Anniversary guys! Not to get too melodramatic but Tyler, I remember being with Sarah in Prague after the two of you had just met. Every day she would flit away (did she float?) to the internet cafe to check if there was a message from you and there almost always was. Every note you sent to her, every scan of every drawing you made for her, made her smile beam even brighter than it normally does. Her news of you was always a cloud nine sort of thing and from that point on, I knew this was going to be something special! Happy anniversary to one amazing, wonderful, beautiful couple. Love, Jody

Betsy Wasser said...

Happy anniversary, Sarah and Tyler. I myself have fond memories of telling Tyler he needed to get off his ass and kiss this girl already, so they wouldn't wind up as just friends. :)

Jon Quixote said...

Who's Tyler? I thought you were traveling with and married to Spongeboy. Oh well. Happy Anniversary anyway.

Cindy said...

Happy Anniversary, Tyler and Sarah. Seems like only yesterday Tyler was telling us he'd met you, and here we are two years and change down the road. You two traveling around the world, celebrating your 2nd anniversary and me living vicariously through you. :D Lots of love guys!

Matt said...

Happy Anniversary!

Glad to know you both are safe and having a blast.

Dan said...

Happy anniversary, but what we really want to know is why you don't have kids yet. ;)

Liana & Dan

The General said...

Thanks everyone for the Anniversary wishes!

Also, to all the BGers who posted, good to hear from you all, and I look foreward to rambling incoherently about X-men when I get home and get caught up on the last six months! (No spoilers!)