Saturday 15 September 2007


Today was the start of the “Grand Tour”. Up and onto the coach by 8.30 for a full day whistle stop tour of the Blue Mosque, Topkapi Palace, Haghia Sophia, the Spice Market (where we had lunch) and the Grand Bazaar. Whew, too much culture in one day.
First stop The Blue Mosque named after the blue Iznic tiles that adorn the walls and ceiling. Our guide told us that an identical tile was sold at Christie’s Auction in London for many thousands of £’s. Although I had read up on the mosque nothing had prepared me for its scale and grandure. The area in front of the mosque had been an ancient massive Hippadrome. They certainly knew how to strut their stuff in those days.
The guide was the same guy that had escorted us from the airport and was the best guide of the whole trip. In fact the best guide of any trip that I have ever been on (others said the same). He has a knack of encouraging everyone to participate in his commentary, and does not shy away from contentious issues like terrorism and the 72 virgins.
His take is that the Koran certainly does not condone suicide bombers and the 72 virgins came from a story about a bridge-groom who was killed in battle on the eve of his wedding. Mohammad is reputed to have told his family not to grieve because there was an even better life waiting for him on the other side. My question, do 72 virgins make for a better life? What about 71 virgins and a whore, or better still 72 whoes? Wouldn’t that be more like man heaven?
In the Blue Mosque someone in our group asked him if Moslems tithe money like some Christians do. He said that in Turkey they are expected to tithe 2.5% of their annual income first to a needy relative (not to parents because they should be taken care of anyway), then a neighbour up to four doors away, then the town, country, world. This seemed like a good plan. If only the world could be this place there would surely be no troubles. Where are things going wrong?
Another person said “are arranged marriages still common in Turkey and was yours an arranged marriage?” “Yes, 70% of marriages are still arranged and yes, my mother did arrange mine and she made an excellent choice” “do you have children?” “not yet, but if my wife isn’t pregnant by the end of the year I’m in big trouble”. He said he was 39 and due to retire in a couple of years. Turkish people retire at 42? He a) didn’t look 39 and b) was too “fit” (and I mean that in the modern way, like really fanciable!) to be a retiree.
Lunch was in an authentic Turkish restaurant and was absolutely delicious. I even tried Turkish coffee and enjoyed it. It seemed fitting to completely immerse myself in the culture. It was a truly fascinating and exhausting day.

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