Welcome dear reader to the final posting from Istanbul. By the time you read this, the Simpsonites will be on the plane heading back to Australia. Our final day in Istanbul was memorable, with a visit to Hagia Sophia, the fourth biggest church in the world. Since it was built in 537AD, it was the biggest church in the world for over one thousand years. It also provided the design inspiration for many of the mosques built during the Ottoman era. The church was converted into a mosque in the 1500s, but it took the Ottomans 100 years to work out how to get up to the dome to cover the Christian images, so for that time they hung a giant curtain to obscure the dome. In 1935 Hagia Sophia became a museum.
We visited the Basilica Cistern, the biggest of the underground water storages in the city. It still has a small amount of water in the bottom with platforms that allow you to walk around. At the back part of the cistern are two Medusa head stones from a Greek temple. The place has dim lighting and music to set the mood.
Suleyman Mosque has only recently reopened and is looking stunning. Designed by the famous Ottoman architect Sinan, who left special instructions on which windows to open depending on the wind, in order to direct the soot from hundreds of candles to one small room where it could be collected. We had lunch at the soup kitchen of the mosque, which included an interesting yogurt drink.
We finished the day off with more shopping (surprise surprise) at the Spice Market and Grand Bazaar. Our farewell dinner was at a fabulous restaurant in an old cistern with candle lighting, wrought iron decorations and big wooden chairs – very atmospheric and a bit gothic. Afterwards we came back to the hotel for formal thankyous to our wonderful Turksih guide Ozgur, bus driver Ondur, teachers Geraldine and Carol, and Australian guides Andrew and Stuart – who received some very classy track suit outfits inspired by Gene. Stuart then read out awards for everyone in the group and they received the special Gallipoli Star medal replica for having completed a Dawn Service and survived the trip.
It felt weird with the trip coming to an end and realising that our unique experience would soon end, and we would be going back to our ‘normal’ lives. But we knew that the friendships and memories from this trip would stay with us forever.
Once we are all back home and settled back in, each of us will send in a last post with reflections on the trip (yes a reminder to all Simpsonites). So stay tuned over the next few weeks for that. Thanks to all the family and friends who have followed the progress of our blog and especially to those who have posted comments. We hope it has given you a great insight into our wonderful experience.