The seven hills of Istanbul are topped by seven mosques, a mystical Eastern parallel to the seven hills of Rome.
From the Galata Bridge, spanning the Golden Horn as it empties into the Bosphorus strait from the west, one can see six of the hills, a stunning, ancient skyline. Across the strait lies Asia, the eastern bookend to the only city in the world that spans two continents.
We cross the bridge, along the seaside vendors, under a tunnel full of more vendors, right at the New Mosque into the outskirts of the Spice Market, vendors stretching out endlessly, in all directions.
Ali Sun and I agree it feels like one of those movies. You know, where the protagonist first arrives in India or Morocco or Turkey and the camera captures the utter chaos, teeming humanity and cultural dissonance of the experience. The camera lacks focus, jumping from the cajoling merchant to the begging children to the averted eyes of the Muslim women in hijab.
We still have to eat lunch, ready to sit and watch Istanbul pass by. We walk south, find a nice little place, have a nice little lunch of mezes, finish with our first Turkish coffees.
Onward, south towards Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque. A friendly Turk makes conversation, flatters those of us from the west coast of America (“You are very laid back people, not like those of the east coast.”). He asks if we are planning to see other parts of Turkey, offers us a free map, his agency just around the corner. Ali Sun and I know this ruse, exchange a glance, I say I will look it up online, our new friend vanishes.
Entering the courtyard of the Blue Mosque, we sit, take a couple photos. We will return and enter when we have socks on feet.
It is late afternoon as we head north towards Beyoğlu. Are the districts regulated or self-organized? We pass through a score of religious bookstores, then a score of art stores, then a score or more of fabric stores.
Back home, we look at a map and a travel guide. Istanbul is gigantic – we have not scratched the surface.