Monday, January 12, 2009

Mosques galore

One of the best moments of our time in Istanbul was, not surprisingly, in a Mosque. Since we had a whole week in Istanbul, we had tried to figure out how to do some quick trips out of town. But there was always more to do in the city, so we never bothered spending any time on a bus or train elsewhere. On our last day there, we decided to get out and go to Asia - i.e., the other side of the Bosphorus. We hopped a ferry and started hiking in the rain through the less-touristed and more "authentic" neighborhoods on the Asian side, hoping to see a couple mosques that Lonely Planet recommended (so, then, less-touristed, but certainly not un-touristed). While the guide did recommend them, it did not exactly provide a lot of details or a map on how to get there, so we took a few wrong turns and saw some side-streets on our way.

We got to one of the mosques just many locals were beginning to arrive for prayer. At the famed and highly-touristed mosques on the European side, the mosques are closed to tourists during prayer. So we were ready to be kicked out when one of the Turks told us that we (and a few other tourist who must have somehow gotten their hands on the same exclusive edition of Lonely Planet that we did) could stay and watch the prayers if we sat in an alcove by the back of the mosque. So, we did. It is an interesting and beautiful ritual to watch in person. Many of the other men who came in to pray gave us sideways glances or outright stares as they entered, so we worried that maybe the guy who had invited us had overstepped his bounds. But at the conclusion of the prayer as everyone was filtering to the door to gather their shoes, it was all smiles and happy body language, and your correspondent surely butchering "thank you" in Turkish, but seemingly getting his point accross.

We didn't get any pictures of that mosque, since they had posted signs that said "Don't Take A Picture." The above is actually the famous and intensely-touristed Blue Mosque, just as we were being kicked out for prayer time, pictured in super noisy grain-o-vision but deemed a nice picture anyway.

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