What do we know about Istanbul? Its former name was Constantinople. It’s clearly a major city in Turkey that straddles Europe and Asia with a central border of the Bosphorus Strait. It has a famous Old City that reflects the cultural influences of the many empires that once ruled there. In the Sultanahmet district, the open-air Roman-era Hippodrome was used for chariot races for many centuries. Even Egyptian obelisks still remain. The iconic Byzantine Hagia Sophia features a soaring 6th-century dome and rare Christian mosaics.
The Hagia Sophia’s footsteps are where last nights joy ride took place and what we wanted to explore first that next morning. Poor Garrett was at the end of his time with us. After only a week with a bunch of misfits that act half his age, he was set to leave. He had to catch a flight the next day back to Lisbon to meet up with the rest of his, Jason and Jeff’s family. The Anderlite/Croy family whom was most likely sitting on the beach, relaxing and enjoying themselves during our escapades. The excitement on the road with his two big brothers wouldn’t be there though and that in and of itself was a cause for sadness.
Jason left early that morning to walk around and explore the city. Jeff followed shorty after to meet him and go back to a rug shop they had been lured into earlier. Jason seemed intent on purchasing an authentic antique rug. He wanted a second opinion and Jeff happily obliged. The portly man who ran the shop was sweaty and energetic. His minions ran around unrolling rugs left and right in hopes of convincing us of their worth. We drank Turkish coffee and tea as we debated which rugs would match Jason’s new house the best. The chubby rug doctor had a brother in the south bay near where Jason and Jeff lived, which was more cause for conversation. The family member also owned a sister rug company there which of course was 3 times the prices so – “YOU BETTER BUY HERE!” We ended up leaving. Not on a magic carpet ride but rather a promise of return. Admittedly, we broke that promise.
They met back up with the Garrett, JH and Kevin for a tour of the city and Hagia Sophia. Some hustler was selling overpriced tickets that he had already bought to skip the ticket line. What a genius! We happily paid 2x the ticket price to skip 6 bus loads of Asian tourists. The Hagia Sophia is by far our favorite monument in Turkey. Some like the blue mosque, but the Hagia Sophia is much older and has much better history.
The architectural marvel is the former Greek Orthodox Christian Patriarchal Cathedral. It was later converted to an Ottoman imperial mosque, and now a museum. Built in 537 AD at the beginning of the Middle Ages, it was famous and still is for its massive dome. It was the world’s largest building and an engineering marvel of its time. It is considered the epitome of Byzantine architecture and is said to have “changed the history of architecture.”
After touring the building it was time to meet a friend of JH’s family. A native Turk named Deniz “The Legend”. He had done an exchange in Mobile, Alabama years earlier and became like family to JH. We naturally reached out to him before our trip to see if he would like to meet and hang out. Deniz was seriously one of the most genuine, nicest person we had ever come across. He took a 3 hour bus, ferry and train ride to come meet us for the day.
Shortly after visiting another mosque and washing our feet at the commonly placed outdoor washing station, We were in the famous spice market testing all the blends and Turkish delights when Jeff’s flippy floppy broke. We bought some incredible spices and some pistachio treats before setting out to get him some new walking shoes. We all strolled around the filthy streets, Jeff with one shoe, looking for a cheap vendor. Deniz to the rescue! “Hey my friend. We can fix your shoe right over here.” Of course there would be a cobbler hanging out 50 meters from the spice market ready to fix anyones shoe problems. After five minutes the shoe was back to new. We were ready to get on the ferry to go across the Bosphorus and step foot in Asia for the first time on our trip.
The ferry ride was amazing and the views made Istanbul look even more incredible. We arrived on the other side to walk around and find some grub. It was hot and we were hungry. Walking through the busy streets was tough with the rampant hunger that was consuming us. We finally took a right and found an awesome little bar. Small pedestrian only street that was covered in colorful umbrellas. Service was slow so we bolted out immediately to get some food but returned to enjoy a few ice cold beers.
We took the ferry back to a smoother part of the city to see a huge obelisk-like structure. It was about to close when we arrived and we were denied access. We weren’t bothered as this highlighted another major turning point in the evolution of our car design. You see, when Team Baja Llama was denied entry to the famous overseeing obelisk, Jeff saw a trinket vendor selling 12” replicas and decided to buy one. This would become the first, most important, and by far sexiest ornament we would put on our chariot of hope. The phallic looking symbol was epoxy resined the next day right on top of the hood.
We celebrated our new car addition with some drinks at a roof top bar and marveled at the city’s greatness. We were beat from walking around all day and decided to head back for another reasonable early and sober night.