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Worldwide Chaos’s Travel Diary

Friday, 17 Aug 2007

Location: Istanbul, Kusadasi, Turkey

MapIf you're lucky enough to enter Istanbul via the Sea of Marmara, the first thing that will strike you is the sheer size of the city. From your first glimpse of the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sofia your eye can wonder in any direction and your still looking at the same city (which I'm told can take as long as four hours to cross from either end) but at two different continents.

The Bosphorus Strait divides Europe and Asia -- and it's here, New Rome, Constantinople, Istanbul, where the East and West meet in a touchy, sticky amalgam of customs that I call "Islam Lite."

Yes, they're Muslim, but no, they don't mind belly dancers. Nor the mingling of sexes. And their mosques are open to everyone. And the men are kinda gay. Like, way gay. Like, I'm just buying a T-shirt-please-get-your-hands-off-my-crotch gay. Like, if I didn't have a boyfriend I'd head back to Istanbul gay ;-)

Something else that struck me about Istanbul was how clean it was. The subway was fast and spotless, and Taksim Square, which for lack of a better reference is the city's Times Square, reached forever along four main streets, all bursting with local versions of H&M and smart cafes.

Of course our trip included a visit to the Blue Mosque, the Hagia Sofia and the Topkapi Palace. MInd you, these are all within walking distance of each other and you can do just fine by reading a good guide book before your visit. However, we checked our wits along with our luggage on board the ship so we paid for a cruise-endorsed tour of the grounds. That aside, stepping inside the Blue Mosque is like stepping into the middle of a ribbon dance. The sprawling cursive of the Arabic alphabet catches your eye from any corner of the mosque, as do the low hanging lanterns from the dome at the top of the Mosque. Everything in the mosque seems to swerve, not jet, upward.

The Hagia Sofia was amazing but you can only listen to a tour guide's broken English for so long. Bla bla bla, church, mosque, church, mosque, museum. I spent more time reminding my party to listen to the tour guide than I did listening myself. And it's fine. I learned that when the Christians were persecuted a drawing of a fish came to represent Christianity (per Jesus' parable of the importance of teaching a man to fish) the church has tons of fish renderings everywhere.

After two days in Istanbul our ship headed south to the Aegean city of Kusadasi, which literally means the island of the birds. We drove to the town of Ephesus, where the apostle John and the Virgin Mary are said to have spent their final days together. My mom was in tears at the tomb of St John until the guide told us that his remains were lost at sea when they were being transported to Rome.

More tears, this time from pilgrims, followed at the reported home of the Virgin. Apparently some German nun had a vision in the 1800s that Mary's home lay atop a hill somewhere in the Middle East. Not sure if I believe all that but hey, I can say I went and it was lovely. I was skeeved by the "pure springs" that ran out of a thanks.