After two full days of meetings, we had all of Wednesday to fully immerse ourselves in the culture and history of Istanbul. Led by our charming guide, the Turkey CAP group visited the Hippodrome, the Blue Mosque, and Haiga Sofia. The architecture, which featured majestic spires and domes, was beautiful- and for many of us these visits were the moment when we truly felt like we had arrived in a Middle Eastern city. The Blue Mosque is a functioning mosque, still in use today. Before entering, visitors have to remove their shoes, and all the women have to cover their heads with scarves. Luckily, they had just put down plastic covering on the carpets, so for the most part we avoided the pervasive smell of stinky feet that sometimes plagues the mosque! In the Hagia Sofia, we saw the merging of eastern and western culture, since the building was originally built as a church, but later converted to a mosque- so the artwork contains both depictions of Jesus and Arabic scripture. Next, we ventured underground to visit the Cistern, which was used to hold all of the water for the city in ancient times, venturing deep into the cavern to visit the Medusa heads that were discovered by renovators just a few decades ago.
We ate lunch in the Grand Bazaar, followed by an hour and a half to practice our haggling at the shops in the massive Grand Bazaar. This was an excellent opportunity to purchase gifts for friends and family back home, as well as for ourselves! After the Grand Bazaar, we continued our shopping spree at the Spice Market, where we sampled Turkish Delight, dried fruits, and purchased spices and tea sets. The Spice Market was sensational- a true smorgasbord of smells, sights and sounds, and is a “must visit” location for gifts for friends and family back home.
This day was one of the most exciting days on our trip, and was a great way to experience all of the sights that we had seen from our Bosphorus Boat Tour the night before.