[ad#Link share in post google replacement] Traveling sometimes brings images up that I don’t remember i real life. Images of exotic places, ancient times, and Ben Hur. The Hippodrome is one of those tourist locations.
The Hotel Ayasofya is located near all of the wonders and sites of Sultanahmet in Istanbul. Our walk took place just after the wonderful breakfast of cheese, plump dried figs, cereal, juice, toast, yogurt, and Turkish tea that the hotel serves for its guests. Hanane tried Turkish tea and looked like she would throw up. She said there was something awful about the taste. To me, it tasted like a strong black tea served without sugar which is quite different than the green mint tea served with two or three tablespoons of sugar per cup which Moroccans like to drink.
I tried to get her to take the time to develop a taste for it, but she couldn’t bring herself to do it and instead pined for Moroccan tea during most of our trip and told hosts and new friends that she drinks neither coffee nor tea while she waited eagerly to get back to Morocco and get a big mouthful of minty sugar water.
Since I knew we would be Couchsurfing (although I thought we would be with more than just one host), I bought a TURKCELL Sim card for 40 Lira which gave me a local number and 20 Lira worth of phone time. I have multiple pay as you go SIMs for the countries I visit because I’ve realized that temporary SIMS with prepaid amounts end up costing me less than cell phone contracts. The Turkcell Sim can be bought at any of thousands of phone shops throughout Turkey and can also be recharged just about everywhere you see a Turkcell logo. With light use, my credit lasted me throughout our trip and left me with about 3 Lira of call time when we left.
From the hotel, we walked up the hill, past the ancient city walls and to the Aya Sophia and the Blue Mosque. I have to be honest here and say that while I kept hearing people mention the Hippodrome, I expected it to be a building and it wasn’t until later when we bought a guidebook that I realized the lovely park we walked through to get to our first sights was one of the great sites of Sultanahmet. After we left the Blue Mosque, we walked and talked and it was then that I realized that not knowing anything about our destinations, transport, or options with accommodation was going to make Hanane a little bit crazy with worry. I popped into an expensive English bookshop and paid a whopping 60 Lira (about $45!) for a 2010 Lonely Planet so that she could have a little peace of mind. Of course, I don’t like to carry a guidebook because they are heavy and they sort of herd you to the places the guidebook describes and eliminate the possibility of finding new wonders on your own, but what I realized was that Hanane wasn’t going to be able to travel with uncertainty on this first trip abroad. Hopefully, with time she will learn to trust the will of God as all Muslims are supposed to do, but most don’t. In terms of being a Muslim, I think this is what makes me one despite the fact that in many of the other expected practices I have little to no interest.
Anyway, once we had the guidebook, we wanted to get some lunch so we found a kebap restaurant that smelled good, looked good, wasn’t aggressive in getting us to come in, and had modest prices. I can tell you, it’s not an easy thing to find in Sultanahmet. We had two kebaps and a couple of drinks for 20 lira which is a little expensive in most of Turkey, but not bad in such a touristic place. It was while we were sitting there that I realized what the Hippodrome actually was.
What I saw as a nice rectangular park with some old monuments in it was actually a Byzantine race track which used to have two levels of seats on the outside and where chariot races used to excite the crowds for more than 1200 years. The chariot teams were really political parties called ‘Greens’ and ‘Blues’ and so it was part politics and part sport for the Byzantine Emperors and chariot fans.
It was here that the janissary guards of Sultan Mahmet II were slaughtered thus freeing his mother to rule through him. Since it was a place of such great interest, the many monuments placed here by the Emperors of the Byzantine and Ottoman Empires are astounding in their age and beauty. The Crusaders stole most of them in 1204 but left the heaviest one’s for future generations to see.
The first we looked at which Hanane immediately declared another fake was the Obelisk of Theodosious which was carved in Egypt in the 1500’s BC and brought by the Emperor Theodosius to Istanbul in AD 390. Hanane just couldn’t believe that something so well preserved could be more than 3500 years old.
Further on is a brass spral column stolen from the Temple of Apollo at Delphi where it was erected in 478 BC. It was brought to Istanbul by Constantine the Great in AD 330.
Another big rough stone obelisk looked worn enough for Hanane to acknowledge it might be real, mainly because the Crusaders had stolen all the brass covering from it. I never figured out if Hanane was only joking with me or if she really doubted the ages of these things, but either way, we both enjoyed looking at them and trying to figure out how old they might be.
There’s no charge to wander around the Hippodrome and the park is a great place to people watch. In a short time we saw people from all over the world there. Since it is such a busy place, the Asian tourists we saw and heard probably didn’t realize that it was the sound of their language which caused Hanane to go into giggling fits. That’s going to be difficult when we travel to Asia someday.