Istanbul day 2

September 23, 2012

Our second morning in Istanbul heralds another warm day.  The sky is clear, with smog and haze on the horizon; a soft breeze stirs, lifting the heat.  From the small rooftop of the Spina, the view is unrivaled. To the east,  the Bosphorus sparkles, the large boats steaming by, the smaller ones performing some kind of choreography in tight formation. Fishing boats? Water taxis?

Moving South, beyond other rooftop gardens, hints the Sea of Marmara, with an armada of trade ships facing into the Bosphorus, waiting to proceed perhaps to the Black Sea, or into the Port of Istanbul.  What are they carrying? Not food, for Turkey is proud of the fact that no foodstuffs need importing. Well, bananas and other non-essentials, I imagine, do get brought in.  Istanbul, we were told by our Tunisian-born taxi driver in Berkeley, is the place many North Africans go to buy things; the quality is higher, the selection better. Yesterday, while in Galata, we saw the windows full of hip, American brands for the wealthy youth of the city: Nike, Timberland, etc.

To the immediate South, the stunning presence of the Blue Mosque arrests the eye, a massive grey structure with its multiple domes and six minarets, each topped with a golden spire, now glowing in the sun.  I look forward experiencing the magnificence of its inner space and light, in contrast to its exterior bulk. The call to prayer from this is singularly unpleasant, unfortunately: very loud, tinny amplification. This  morning at five, or whenever dawn appeared, the sound blasted me into consciousness, with a splitting headache.

To the immediate North, facing the the Sultanahmet Camii (Blue Mosque), across a park, sits the Hagia Sophia, originally finished in 537 CE (!!!) in the Byzantine era.
Right below our hotel, on the other side of a parking lot, sits a squat building with the traditional structure of a medresse: u-shaped, 12 small domes and one large one, each with its own chimney, suggesting small rooms or cells, opening into a courtyard shaded by trees.

What looks like a medresse but is actually stores

Our day brought more adventures thanks to Frish, who had arranged the Pera Museum tour. This time we visited SALT, an art and design archive, founded by the Garanti Bank.  ( There is also an extensive archive of the bank, with documents, and photos of staff dating from the turn of the 18th century. Salt in Turkish means, according to our guide Melisa, total, comprehensive, absolute.  It is housed in the building of the former Ottoman Bank, and the renovation is stunning. Naturally, we had to eat in the Ca’ D’oro restaurant, overlooking the Golden Horn.  The food was not memorable, but the company was.  Further forging of friendships. The views from SALT:

Across the Golden Horn

The New Mosque, with Sulimaniye Mosque on the hill

The tour starts tonight and we are a little wistful that our little group of eight will have to merge with the others and follow a regime. But we shall see.