Friday, January 2, 2015

Istanbul -Travel Journals

Mehmet Tetik (90-532-6120113) my guide  arrived.
 I ‘d been trying to power nap away the jet lag before he came.  About 5’10” with close cropped black hair greying at the temples, bright kind intelligent eyes above  a black moustache, he was well mannered and  spoke English flawlessnessly. We’d communicated by email about my interest in religion, culture  and history of the region.  He began by asking after my well being then briefly reviewing my interests for the day.
  “Lets just walk around this neighbourhood so you’re acquainted with where your hotel is,”
“This area you’re located in is mostly where ethnic minorities are located.” As we circled the Best Western Amber hotel he pointed out the Armenian church.  “There’s a hundred thousand Armenian Christians here and while this is one of their churches their main church, where their patriarch resides,  is close to here as well."
Further on we came upon an area where there was a mixture of fine and run down homes. “This is the Greek district.  In WWII Turkey sided with Germany and fought against the Greeks.  Then in 1955 there were further troubles so many Greeks left Istanbul. There’s only about 5000 left mostly living in this region. “  We walked through the grounds of Greek Orthodox church but the doors weren’t open. “They’ve had to worry about vandalism recently especially from the radicals.”





The hotel was near the water and famous fish markets where fisherman brought their daily catch.  “We were famous for our mackerel here in ancient times
because there was so many they turned the water gold. You see we have all kinds of fish caught here . tuna, salmon, anchovies, flounders.”  The area was an open market with many fish and vegetable stalls that reminded me of the Pike Street Market in Seattle.  There was a commercial fishery dock with a whole range of restaurants specializing in fish.  The whole area reminded me of Vancouver Steveston and it's fisherman docks.  “There are so many restaurants here,the area is teeming with tourists in the warmer months.  Though its cold here for us, you’ve chosen a good time fo visit because you’ve avoided the crowds of tourists. This is an area the Russians love. We're only 2 hours by flight from there and thousands come each year. We're just concerned this year because of the economic crisis they're in.  It may affect our tourist season as a result. '
We walked up further to a park with lovely trees where a small mosque was situated.  "This is a little neighbourhood mosque without the formality of the bigger mosques. It's just a place where people feel very comfortable and come to pray. All our mosques point to MECCA which is southeast of here.  There’s always an area with water for ritual ablution outside the mosque, cleansing hands and feet.  Devout muslims pray 5 times a day.  Turkey is mostly Sunni.  The radicals are a smart portion of mostly the Sunni population.  Turkey is 90% moslem but mostly moderate though recently our government has been moving in a more conservative direction.   The Shiite population is more moderate too.”
“There's a new Russel Crowe movie out that was made in part here in Istanbul. "The posters were up everywhere. This area we're in is where several movies have been made recently. These streets from the 18th and 19th century have period appeal for the directors..  The film industry in Turkey is very strong with one of our recent historical movies being distributed to 24 different countries and seen by hundreds of millions.  It was historical too and part of it was filmed here.”
Over Turkish coffee Mehmet told me he’d studied cimetography at college but after working only briefly in that field had become a licensed guide which he’d done ever since.  Guiding in Turkey is a respected profession.  Mehmet is married with a wife and 17 year old daughter who wants to go into medicine.  “University is free in Turkey but you have to be able to pass the exams and win the competitions for places. “ “My daughter is very smart but she’s concerned about spending so many years in study.”
I sang the praises of my Canadian medical school training, the teachers and the learning especially for general practice.  “I’ve never had any regrets in my training as a family practitioner.  The learning was so exciting and such a privilege. I caution people about training as a specialist because that takes so much longer.
"Doctors are well respected in Turkey for their education and make good money as well. One of my wife’s family is a doctor but he says he likes the idea of my job.  “When everywhere comes to me,” he says “they are very unhappy,but when you see peole they are on vacation and generally very happy.  It’s certainly true. I’ve enjoyed my work," Mehmet said, " because the people are here enjoying themselves.”
Mehmet told me about one Canadian he’d guided year after year as he kept coming back to Turkey, each time interested in exploring another region. . “He'd come for 20 days at a time and in the end I drove him all over our country to all the different regions, each famous for different reasons .”  Mehmet told me of his own travel to San Francisco and  Montreal as well and asked questions about comparisons with Turkey.
When we’d sat in the small coffeeshop in the park quite a few men had come in after us. “They’re here coming for coffee and conversation after their prayers in that little mosque I showed you.”  I thought how strong this tradition contributed to the bonding of community.  I often enjoy most the coffee time we have after our Sunday church services or going for coffee with the other guys after attending a spiritual meeting. Here this is part of the very fabric of the daily weekly mainstream community.  People seemed generally happy here and I thought this must contribute strongly to that sense of general well being.

We visitted a larger older mosque, the Sokullu Mosque, built by the great mosque builder Sinan of the Suleiman, the Magnificent period.  It was near my hotel.  “There are more than 30,000 mosques in Istanbul. Those with two minarets attached usually mean that they were built by the royal family.”
The etiquette  for mosques was to take off your shoes before entering. Photographs were allowed in most mosques though flashes were frowned on.  In the mosque there was a place where the Iman prayed and everyone else kneeled behind him.  Because there were no amplifying electronic acoustics in the old days, there was always a secondary iman who would repeat the Imans words so that people further back could hear.
A raised area in the mosque with stairs to it, was where the sermon was given each day by the Iman. Women prayed in the mosque but in an area secluded from where the men prayed.
"More women come to the mosque now but there are always a lot of women at the mosque on major holidays like Ramadan. Royal family members would usually go to their mosques on Friday.”
The writing above the mosque entrance was a welcome to worship.  The writing on the walls was often quotations from the Koran.
“Turkey has much marble and an island is famous for the marble which has been used in many of the mosques. This green marble though comes from Italy.  ‘  Outside the mosque there was usually an area where students attended religious school but it was also sometimes used for crafts making and training, sometimes for a hospital, or a place where people could come for comfort and care.
"A mosque was always planned as part of a greater complex. You’ll see when we go to the New Mosque that it’s associated with the spice market. That business district was built beside the mosque to provide rent funds for the maintenance of the mosque.”
Mehmet took me next to a church that had been converted to a mosque. It was called Saint Sergio and Bachus Church and also "little hagio'.  “It’s one of our oldest buildings built in the 3rd century but then later converted to a mosque.  You will see that while mosques point Souths East, the church faced east, so they adjusted the interior nave so when people prayed in the church they still faced Mecca. DSCN3011

Outside the mosque there was a separate building. “That’s the baptistry, but it wasn’t used as that after the church became a mosque.’
Next we headed up hill to the Hippodrome a large area the size of many football fields where the Roman emperors held chariot races.  This is the area of the Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque, and palaces..

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