Tour05 Turkey

Aya Sophia - a side vault

When I rode across Spain two years ago, the most beautiful thing I saw was the Mesquita, a mosque built in the 1100s and, unfortunately, converted to a cathedral a few hundred years later. Fortunately, the Mesquita is huge and the cathedral only occupies the middle of it. The cathedral is OK as baroque cathedrals go, but the remaining part of the mosque is way beyond OK. It is one of those things, like the cathedral in Florence, that makes me proud to be a human being. Turkey has many mosques and some of them are also in this category.

Aya Sophia - Caliph's Notch

In Istanbul, we visited three big mosques: Aya Sophia - which started as a church in 550 CE, became a mosque 900 years later, and is now a museum, The Blue Mosque (the Sultan Ahmed Mosque) built near Aya Sophia in the 1700s , and the Suleymainye Mosque of Istanbul, build in the 1500s by Sinan, who is considered the greatest mosque architect of this culture. We also visited the Selimiye Mosque of Edirne, consider by Sinan to be his best work. I rank this one with the Mesquita.

The Blue Mosque at night - from the rooftop terrace at our hotel

The dome of the Blue Mosque

The Sutlan Ahmed Mosque in Istanbul
build by Sinan just before he build the Seliyeme Mosque

The dome of the Sultan Ahmed Mosque

We came to Edirne, a 2 1/2 hour bus ride west-northwest of Istanbul, to see the Selimiye Mosque and so I could check Edirne out as a starting point for my bike tour. Edirne has four great mosques - it was the capital of the Ottoman Empire for a many years - and it is located 5 km from Greece and 15 km from Bulgaria. Edirne is on the route of the Orient Express, but few travelers come that way now.

The Seliyeme Mosque

The courtyard of the Seliyeme Mosque
The fountain is for foot washing

Since Edirne is now 'off the beaten path,' it has few tourists, and a much more laid back way of life than Istanbul. Lodging here is a lot cheaper than in Istanbul. I'm writing this in a fairly fancy room in Edirne - the building it is in used to be the residence of the Grand Viser for the Sultan - which cost about 1/3 as much as the room we had in Istanbul. Breakfast isn't as good here, and neither is the bed, but both are OK. and the room is about three times as large ;-). The old Mosque - quite lovely - is across the street, and the Selimiye Mosque is a five minute walk. Most of that walk is through the park that provides a beautiful approach to the mosque.

My wife and I in tourist pose in front of the
foot washing fountain at the Aya Spohia
This image is for Don Patterson who reqested such a pose ;-)

I've really enjoyed being in Turkey. It is a warm, friendly, culture and the history is fascinating and the architecture - especially the Mosques - is incredibly beautiful. The food is great, as are the buses that make it easy and inexpensive to travel around Turkey. There are, however, a few downsides to look out for.

Travel by car, much less by bike, in Istanbul is dangerous. Drivers are very aggressive and little attention is paid to the marked lanes. I've experienced similar driving styles in Italy, but Turks take it to a real extreme! Outside of major cities, riding should be OK, but I'd have had to be really desperate to try riding across Istanbul.

My bicycle remained in its Airline box until I reached Edirne -for the second time - on the final day of my week in Turkey. It was rather expensive to haul it around in that box, but my feet served me very well for getting to Istanbul's major tourist attractions and the inter city buses are great, with or without a bike. Istanbul also has fancy trams for getting around in its neighborhoods and trains - the metro - for getting between the airport, the neighborhoods, and the trams.

The hospitality of Turks is real, but they seem quite willing to overcharge for it! Be sure to check every bill - get it itemized - and every exchange rate calculation. I was over charged by my hotel, over charged at restaurants, etc. Be careful.

The Hippodrome, put up in 550 is adjacent to the Blue Mosque, put up 1200 years later
The Aya Sophia,also constructed in the mid 500s, is adjacent to another side of the Blue Mosque

Speaking of charges, Turkey isn't cheap. We - my wife and I - spent over $200 a day without much effort. Most of that was lodging at about $150 a night. This was upscale - nice place, great beds, good breakfast, and a marvelous location just off of the Hippodrome - this cost is no more than a typical per day vacation cost in the US and considerably less than the cost of staying in a big city in the US or western Europe. Considering how many great things there are to see and do in Istanbul, and how good the inexpensive food is, it is a bargain.

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