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Where Asia meets Europe, there is a lot to discover! Istanbul Blog Part 2!

I decided to move that morning and find another place to stay, or rather a new hostel. I arrived in Istanbul about two weeks ago and have been staying at Wabi Sabi Hostel ever since. I remember when I was about to arrive in Istanbul, I was considering whether to take an apartment via AirBnB for the entire time for about four weeks on the Asian side, for example, or find a hostel. My thinking was that I would be more productive and focused in my own apartment and possibly a little closer and truer to the local population. But then I also thought about the fact that I had planned for this trip to interact more with other people, to spend more time in the community and company of other travelers, and about that to meet great and inspiring personalities and have exciting, stimulating and insightful conversations with them. These moments definitely existed in this hostel, as I had already described in the last blog entries. Now, after a while, I had to realize that the Wabi Sabi was more of a "party hostel". It was mainly young international guests who wanted to spend a great time with others, a bit of sightseeing Istanbul and mainly in the evening in bars, clubs and discos, until early in the morning went. That's all good too, but for me I just realized that I needed a change of environment and wanted to leave the "party animals" behind. Maybe I am already too old for this lifestyle? What is certain is that I had a very clear focus that I continue to pursue on my trip. I wanted to continue exploring the city, getting to know the country and its people better, immersing myself in the different cultures, understanding the realities of life on the ground and, in parallel, working and writing in a concentrated way on my book while waiting for my visa for Russia and my glacier equipment from Germany. So I went up to this wonderful roof terrace for the very last time, had breakfast, enjoyed the view and drank my Turkish tea while I was there. Then I went down and packed my backpack and marched off, down the hill towards Taksim and from there further down to the tributary of the Bosphorus.

Still through an underpass and a few meters further I finally arrive at the Radomon Hostel. This will be my new accommodation for the next few days. It is somehow a strange feeling to be nowhere at home. There is no longer a fixed place to which one can retreat or which one calls home. Of course there is still my home in Germany and, when I think of home, I usually think of the people who mean a lot to me, of family and friends, for example in the Allgäu, where I was last at home, but also of my siblings and family, some of whom live near Nuremberg, the area where I grew up and would call home, or my sister in Berlin or my mom and my little brother in Spain. These are all somehow places and people with whom I feel a homeland connection. At the same time, my concept of home is probably not as rooted in a place as it is for most people. To a large extent, this is probably due to the fact that my mom came from the east of Germany even before the fall of the Berlin Wall and we were already at my birthplace in Fürth not extremely deeply rooted in the area. This was followed by further moves and thus "scenes and changes of home" already until I started school. I had to get used very early to adapt to new environments and conditions, to meet new people and to get involved with new realities. Very quickly I learned that the feeling of home is not connected with a special place, but that the feeling of home arises when you feel comfortable in a place, are satisfied with the overall constellation and have valuable people who mean a lot to you in the surrounding area.

At the reception I am greeted very friendly and I immediately feel that the staff is very nice and eager to make you feel at home right away. The receptionist was very young, wore a white headscarf and had braces, she had fair skin and was a little shy, her English was very good and she grinned all the time while explaining everything to me. She took my payment by credit card, handed me my room card with the number 603 and wished me a pleasant stay in the hostel and in Istanbul. I thank her and climb the many stairs of the hostel to my room to put down my backpack and explore the hostel.

It is a very clean and tidy hostel. Very well organized and modernly furnished. The entire first floor above the lobby is a large "workspace" or "chill area" as you would say in New German. From the lobby, another staircase leads down to the kitchen/breakfast area, where many people also work throughout the day. The rooms are also very nicely decorated and each has several bathrooms for the guests. Every morning a whole cleaning crew comes to each room and puts everything back in order and makes sure the hostel stays very clean. I would argue that this hostel was the cleanest in Istanbul, as I will be visiting several more hostels. After I have provided me with a sufficient overview of the Radomon Hostel, I finally devote myself to my actual occupation, which I had planned for this day. I will go out and explore the city. In my last blog I had described that the Great Bazaar was already closed and I had visited the Hagia Sophia only from the outside at night.

I stow all my luggage in my room and light as a feather descend the stairs into the lobby and walk out the glass door into the sunny, still very early day. I consider for a brief moment whether to take the metro, but then decide to explore the city on foot, because I want to see, smell, hear, feel, taste and experience as much of the city as possible today. So I walk through some alleys and narrow passages, down various staircases and mountains, passing all sorts of interesting cafes and stores.

After a while downhill I come to various craftsmen's quarters of the city. It is exciting to see how the different articles or trades are divided. I walk through a quarter full of lamps and lighting of all kinds. Fittingly, I then pass through some streets where one can find all sorts of electronic supplies, such as cables, sockets, switches, various sockets, sleeves, sockets, tools and much more for electrical installation. I continue walking and seem to come to the metalworkers' quarter. Suddenly it smells of metal, metal dust, lubricating oils and much more. You can find everything from screw dealers, threaders, profile and bar sales, metal angles, construction boards, tools, supplies and more. So I walk for quite a while through the alleys until I reach a bridge that spans the river, the so-called golden horn. Below the bridge are many restaurants that specialize in seafood.

Two little videos to give you an impression of the place. I probably shouldn't be jumping around down there between the aisles.

To the left and right of the bridge are two docks from which many ferries depart and return.

At the top of the bridge, depending on the time of day, you can find a lot of anglers all along the bridge. It smells of the sea, salty air and fresh fish as you cross the bridge. I watch the many anglers and think about whether this is how they make a living and whether it is worth it for them? Do they sell the fish they caught to the restaurants below them?

Or do they take them home and consume them themselves? I wonder how much you can earn with it a day or a month. On the one hand I think that it can't be that much, then again I see so many anglers there and think to myself that it must be worth it for them somehow. The bridge is very busy with all the anglers, many people, and cars and buses crossing it permanently. When I look to the right, deeper along the Golden Horn, I see many more bridges and an extremely densely populated city, numerous mosques and minarets and a big red Turkish flag waving in the wind.

Looking straight ahead or slightly to the left, I again see several mosques and one particularly large one standing majestically on a hill in front of the bridge. These are the so-called Yeni Cami, Rüstem Pasa Cami and the Ahi Celebi Cami.

A little further to the left you can see the wonderful Hagia Sophia in the distance. You can recognize it by its unique shape and color. It is slightly reddish, because it was built mostly of bricks. The roofs and domes are a mixture of blue and green and already look a bit faded. From a distance, one can already guess how old this building must be. If you look closer, you can also see the Sultan Ahmed Mosque between the trees, which is opposite it.

If you look even further to the left, you can see how the Golden Horn flows into the Bosphorus and you can see a huge dark blue river that separates the two continents of Europe and Asia and thus also the two halves of the city. Two large cruise ships to the left and right of the Golden Horn are just anchored and the passengers are probably also exploring this wondrous city. The part of the city directly on the shore on the Asian side is called Üsküdar. In the distance, you can see a kind of radio tower or something similar on the other side, but it looks so futuristic that you might think it is a hypermodern rocket that is about to launch into orbit or to another planet in space. Another bit to the left, you can already see from here in the distance a huge mosque high up on a hill with six majestic minarets. It is the Camlica Camii and it is as the crow flies about 7km away from me and I already recognize from here that the dimensions are simply huge.

Looking back, you can immediately see how the city rises steeply towards a mountain and the Galata Tower, which towers above the Karaköy district and behind which is the Taksim district. We will visit all these places in more detail in the next few days and let ourselves be captured by the magic of each place.

But now we first go to the big bazaar, the so-called Kapali Carsi, in the district Eminönü or Fatih in the district Beyazit. The first time I was probably really aware of this bazaar by the James Bond film Skyfall. All the more exciting I find it now to visit this place. I myself don't have much of a thing for "shopping". On the one hand, because I am currently traveling and can only carry with me what I actually also urgently need and there is therefore in my life, but rather in my backpack and thus on my shoulders currently no place for bits and pieces, decoration or other beautiful and certainly useful but currently not needed things. Everything I carry with me must serve a very essential use in my daily travel life. No more and no less. I walk between the alleys through a gate and am now officially in the "Great Bazaar". It is the book district and everywhere you look you see bookstores, from old and used books, to new books, to stationery and lastly you see many stores selling the Quran, the Holy Scripture of the Muslims in all its fascinating manifestations. These books look beautiful and mystical at the same time. At the same time, I encounter them with a certain reverence, because to these people this book, this scripture is extremely important, that's why I don't dare to take one in my hand and leaf through it. However, I must admit that I am fascinated by their devotional appeal. In fact, there are many parallels between the Bible and the Koran, for example, they also speak of Abraham (Ibrahim), Moses (Musa), Mary (Maryam) and Jesus (Isa). I walk slowly past the various stalls and look attentively and curiously at everything that is going on in front of me. At this point, the bazaar is still open, or rather not covered, and I am standing on a kind of forecourt, with roofs made of fabric, with large trees and seating in between. It is very quiet and relaxed here, only the unexcited, busy hustle and bustle of the merchants and bookworms can be heard.

I walk a little further and come to the covered part of the bazaar. The range of goods and also the soundscape in these covered halls and aisles now changes abruptly. The aisles are filled and noisy, a constant reverberation and background noise of merchants and market visitors is omnipresent and one finds many wondrous things.

Here, too, there are different quarters in which different goods are offered. For example, there is an antiques area, where ancient stuff of any kind is offered. A jeweler area, where you can find gold and silver jewelry, as well as jewels and rings of all kinds. You get to the leather area by climbing a staircase, while the smell of leather products and the tools used to treat the leather surrounds you. I walk for quite a while through the various narrow alleys and corridors, looking into the stores, breathing in the various scents and contemplating the spectacle. In the process, I observe that many of the tourists don't really know how to bargain. Prices at the bazaar are ridiculously high by Turkish standards, as a constant flood, of temporary, unsuspecting, and seemingly overpaid tourists are flushed into your halls and aisles on a regular basis, day after day. I observe the phenomenon somewhat amused and decide to look for me in the middle of this bazaar a restaurant, because I'm hungry and would like at the same time the spectacle, the atmosphere and the scenery still a little longer to work on me.

I order a traditional minced meat skewer with spiced ebli, some salad and a Turkish coffee to go with it. Afterwards I visit the old and the Egyptian Bazaar, which are directly nearby.

After a while I have seen enough and especially eaten enough and decide to leave the bazaar in the direction of the Apollo Column. This 57 meter high column was removed from the Temple of Apollo in Rome in 330 AD by order of Constantine the I and erected in Istanbul in what was then called the Forum of Constantine on one of the Seven Hills of the then new city. The column consists of 8 elements, each of which weighs 3 tons and has a diameter of 3 meters. At that time there was a sculpture of Apollo on the top of the column, which was later replaced by a sculpture of himself. In the times of the Byzantine Empire, the figure of Constantine was then replaced by the then rulers Julianus and Theodosius. In 1081 AD, the column was struck by lightning and destroyed along with the statue. It was then repaired and a large cross was placed on it. The cross was removed when the Ottomans took the city in 1453. The story could go on, but I'll spare you the rest at this point.

Now back to the place that I have been thinking about for so long and that has always caused fascination and admiration in me since I heard about it. You know where we are going now. That's right, we're going to Hagia Sophia again, but this time in daylight and we're going to see this marvel from the inside this time. I can hardly wait! It's less than five minutes there from the Pillar of Apollo. I go through the security gate again and find myself back on the wonderful front lawn between Hagia Sophia and the Sultan Ahmet Mosque.

I turn left and walk towards the ancient monument. It has been there for about 1500 years now and has seen many different emperors and rulers come and go. To build such a structure, with such a huge and high, free-floating dome, supported only by four columns, did not exist at that time and it was not even sure if it would be possible. In addition, the city is regularly hit by earthquakes, so the demands on the construction must be all the higher, or the structure is all the more vulnerable. Thus, at that time, the massive central dome was placed continuously on the base without the windows in between that we see today. It was only a matter of time that this dome would collapse. And so it happened in 558 AD as a result of an earthquake. As a result, the dome was redesigned and rebuilt, this time even 6.1m higher with a multitude of integrated reinforcements to better distribute the forces of the weight.

However, after a few earth tremors, it became apparent that the dome was always cracking at this point, so they came up with the idea of integrating the windows into the dome, thereby preventing the cracking. And indeed it worked, at least containing the cracking. However, the building is still at risk from earthquakes, and experts are still looking at how best to protect the structure. It was these daring pioneers of humanity who each time dared to challenge and break the boundaries of what was known and what was "feasible" in order to advance these masterpieces of human history and, by extension, their development. Hagia Sophia was the largest cathedral in the world for over 1000 years until the cathedral in Seville was completed and had the largest dome in the world until St. Peter's Basilica was built.

I approach the square in front of the cathedral/mosque/museum and stand in the longer queue. It seems to go very quickly and I do not have to wait long until I get through the renewed security check to the forecourt. Now I stand in front of the portal and look up in awe, marveling at every single detail, no matter how small. The many columns near the entrance and the arches that support the construction, as well as the minarets that were subsequently built to it.

I step through the first gate and find myself in a kind of anteroom. There, the first thing you see are modern panels hanging on the walls, explaining how the cathedral became a mosque at that time, after the conquest in 1453 by Sultan Mehmed II. When the city was conquered at that time, many inhabitants fled to Hagia Sophia, but many of them were desecrated or enslaved. It is likely that these plaques were recently hung there, because in 1934 Atatürk declared Hagia Sophia a museum, making the discussion of whether it was a cathedral or a mosque moot. Only recently in 2020 Erdogan declared Hagia Sophia a mosque and Muslim prayers are again held in it. My gaze immediately wanders to the right and I spot an old stone sarcophagus and ancient stone tablets on the walls.

I pass through another gate and now stand on a green marbled floor. The texture and color of the floor already fascinates me and I wish I could conjure away all visitors for a moment and run my palm over this ancient floor. Countless footsteps of millions of people walked over these green-gray marble slabs. You can really see how the threshold at the entrance has already been worn down by the many steps throughout history, creating a deep bulge. I squat down and feel the floor with my hand and feel the smooth and soft surface on my hand.

Looking up at the walls and vaults, as well as the ornate doors and various images, patterns and shapes, almost triggers a visual sensory overload in me. There are so many elements to discover at once, elements of antiquity and Christianity, doors and gates with symbols from ancient Rome and early drawings of Jesus and angels, from the time when the Christian faith was just beginning its triumphal march across the world and began to spread rapidly in Europe. I am amazed that the Muslim conquerors left some of these drawings and symbols in place. In this room, the first carpet has already been laid out and, as is customary in a mosque, one is asked to take off one's shoes and put them in one of the many shelves with numbered compartments. Men must wear pants that cover the knees and women must cover their heads.

These rules all apply again only since the Hagia Sophia is no longer a museum. I pack my shoes into one of the compartments and walk very slowly through the high portal into the center of the structure known as the Naos (Greek for temple) and marvel as I let my gaze wander.

I stand there rooted to the spot and don't know which element I should devote my attention to first. The impressive 56 meter high dome or one of the many small side domes? The fascinating and mysterious galleries? The many pictures, drawings, paintings and symbols everywhere? The chandeliers or the dark green columns? I slowly walk along the soft and fluffy carpet and move to the absolute center under the big dome, looking up and marveling for quite a while while trying to catch every little detail, like the many windows, shapes and drawings with my eye. There is even a narrow corridor along the dome and on several levels up there. You could possibly spend hours and days here and you would always discover new and amazing details that you have not seen before.

I walk slowly and full of admiration through all areas of the Hagia Sophia and take in every little detail. One sees large Muslim characters. I think they show the name Allah, and Mohammed, and another that I can't think of right now. Behind three large white cloths are hidden drawings of Christians, which should no longer be seen in the mosque. In my opinion, this is still better than removing the drawings completely. However, if you look closely, you will discover Christian signs, symbols and pictures everywhere in the old cathedral. The elaborately decorated and detailed capitals of the massive columns are made of light-colored Proconnesian marble. The walls are partially paneled with porphyry slabs and impressively show their volcanic origin, in which many coarse stones were embedded in a fine-grained mass and then cooled. The many windows allow an impressive play of light, for which the Hagia Sophia is particularly famous. I look forward to the altar and imagine what it must have been like when masses were held here and Christians prayed. At the edge of the center, I sit down on the ground and let my imagination wander once again. The emperor is said to have entered the hall on his triumphal chariot in 537 A.D., full of excitement, when the shell was finished and inaugurated, thanking God and exclaiming:

"Glory and honor to the almighty, who deemed me worthy to complete such a work. Solomon, I have surpassed you."

While I sit there and let the overpowering atmosphere continue to affect me, suddenly the prayer begins. One can have many opinions about whether the Hagia Sophia, church or mosque is or whether it was right to make it a museum or is it perhaps even possible that it is a place of worship for both (or all three Orthodox also belong to) religions?

I think it is a gift that with all the back and forth, wars and takeovers, earthquake threats and religious conflicts, this building is still standing and at least accessible to all the people of the world. And possibly it will survive many more conflicts, see presidents come and go, and witness historic humanity events long after we have crumbled to dust and this monument is still majestically enthroned there on the Bosporus. I listen to the prayer and linger until it is over. While I look around, I discover another funny little detail.

They are just everywhere! Even in the Hagia Sophia and sleep when the muezzin prays at full volume. Absolute madness these animals.

When I leave the mosque it is already dark outside, because the days are getting significantly shorter and I make my way back on foot towards Taksim Square. So it goes again back over the Fishermen's Bridge at night, through a few underpass and through the district Karaköy.

The Galata Tower is an imposing 66 meter high structure and offers probably the best view over all of Istanbul. It was built during the Byzantine Empire in 527 and destroyed in 1204 when Constantinople was conquered. Its original function is not entirely clear, whether it served as a lighthouse, was a fortification or was used to look out for fires. From the Galata district, you can get directly to Taksim Square in a very short time via a long, wide street. This street is a quite popular and well visited shopping mile. An old streetcar runs through it and on the left and right there are many stores of all kinds. Various international brands and companies, money exchange offices but also local products, sweets (of course) and cafes can be found here.

The whole area around Taksim Square is extremely lively and busy day and night. Many locals from Istanbul are here, but also Turkish tourists from all over Turkey come here.

In addition, there are also the many international tourists, because Istanbul is a quite worth seeing and international city that is worth a visit. Since I'm already a bit hungry again from the many scents that rise to my nose, I decide to try a Döner Kebap made in Istanbul.

Conclusion? Well, I'd say I've really eaten far better kebabs in Germany than this one. Also, I never understand why they put fries in there. This was served the same way in Morocco and Tunisia. In terms of taste, this variant is not an enrichment, I would say. It is getting late and I make my way back to the hostel and look forward to a good restful sleep without a partygoer drunk at four or five in the night comes into the room and falls intoxicated with a lot of noise in his bunk. In the store on the other side of the street I get me a few more fruits to cover my vitamin budget for the day.

I sit for a while in the "Chill and Work Area" in the hostel and watch another episode of Rings of Power on my laptop before I go to bed. At that moment Youssuf comes over and talks to me. We exchange a little and get along extremely well right away. We then decide to have breakfast together the next morning. I finish watching the show and go up to my room, do my evening routines, lie down in bed and fall asleep pretty quickly.

The next morning I meet Youssuf downstairs in the lobby and together we make our way to the Galata Tower, because there should be a great cafe with good breakfast. The Galata Tower is no more than ten minutes walk from our hostel.

While we walk through the streets in the morning, he tells me about himself, his origin from India, his home and his family. When we arrive at the cafe, we have a hearty breakfast and exchange ideas. Youssuf is a software developer and works remotely for a company in India. It seems to me that he comes from a pretty good background, but maybe my impression is wrong. Why do I think about such a thing or make such a categorization? Everyone who has been to India knows and understands that traveling or such education is a privilege and it is not possible for everyone there. So I have been thinking about how it is that he, compared to most of his countrymen, is in such a privileged situation. We exchange ideas with each other for quite a long time throughout the morning and I really enjoy talking and meeting with Youssuf. He is extremely intelligent, open, reflective, self-critical, calm and thoughtful for having just turned 30. We also spend the entire morning together and roam the district of Karaköy together and explore the coast on the Golden Horn together.

After a while in the afternoon Youssuf goes back to the hostel and I decide to take one of the ferries across the Bosporus to the Asian side of the city, because I want to visit a traditional and non-touristy hamam today. Where could I find something like that most likely than on the Asian side? Besides, I've been wanting to cross over to the other side and see the city there. Arriving at one of the ferry piers in Karaköy, I look at the timetable on the display boards. There are three different directions I can go: Besiktas, Üsküdar or Eminönü. It's almost like riding the subway, because I put my Istanbulcard on the sensor of the turnstile and walk through.

The ride across to the other side costs not even one euro and it is ingenious that the ferries are part of the city's public transport and can be paid for with the Istanbulcard for little money. After a while a ferry arrives with good speed and the ferryman steers his vehicle skillfully and routinely to the quay wall without wasting much time. The passengers leave the ferry first and then we are allowed on board. For a short moment I consider in which direction we are going along the Bosporus and on which side I would like to sit. I go to the upper deck and look for a great seat. We maneuver under the Angler Bridge (it's actually called the Galata Bridge) and briskly leave the Golden Horn until we are on the great Bosphorus.

There is a strong wind blowing along this strait and the seagulls accompany us left and right and it seems they are at identical speed in the wind. A glance back reveals that it is just dawn and the sun is setting. Fiery and golden, it still throws a few last powerful rays of sunshine through the clouds in front of it onto the city and the Bosporus in a last burst, because it does not give up the day so easily.

Arrived on the Asian side, I explore the district Üsküdar a little and look for something to eat pretty quickly, because I'm hungry again.