I’ve been doing a few guest posts for another travel blog. They are not necessarily about Kenya, so they might seem a bit off topic. But the blogger I’m writing for takes amazing photos that I want to share. And it might be interesting for you to hear about other places outside East Africa as well.
September 2009 found me in Istanbul and one warm morning I arrived at a park in Taksim to begin a tour given by a couple of local guys of “the lesser known mosques”. It was a very informal affair: simply these guys wanted to show travellers their Istanbul. We walked the length of Istiklai Caddesi with its old trams, before heading across to Sultanahmet. This is where we find the magnificent Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia. But these were not to be our focus today.
Walking past the crowds, we dived down an alley towards Rüstem Paşa Mosque. No less ornate than the Blue Mosque, but frequented by locals rather than tourists, this mosque was typical of what we were to experience throughout the day. The girls were given scarves to cover our heads before we entered, and I was overcome by a feeling of serenity as I crossed the threshold. The feeling of lush carpet under my bare feet transported me away from the dust and grit of downtown Istanbul.
Our next stop was Sokollu Mosque, which we first spied through a stairwell. It is hard to understand how these massive structures can be so hidden in this city; once you find one, it seems impossible to miss it! As we sat cross-legged inside this tranquil mosque, one of our hosts whispered explanations of various features of the architecture and decorations. He described the values, culture and traditions of Islam; it was an excellent religious education class.
Süleymaniye Mosque was next, but not before experiencing the jostle of central Sultanahmet. We had to cross through the Spice Market to get there, where we got a little side-tracked by the rich aromas emanating from the souq. Mounds and mounds of ground spices wherever you look, in all the myriad colours is just a beautiful sight.
Ramadan was on at this time and out of politeness, none of us had asked our hosts for a lunch break. So by evening our stomachs were rumbling. Near the ancient aquaduct was a street full of restaurants and crowds were beginning to gather. Long communal tables were set up on the street and platters laid out. Our mouths were watering as we waited expectantly for the muezzin’s call to announce the sun had set and it was time to eat. The food was delicious, the conversation lively, and the festive spirit unforgettable.