Greetings from Istanbul. I am sitting here in our hotel room composing this email thanks to the assistance of personnel at the main desk in the lobby - a very helpful young lady.
Well, today was tour day #1 and a very busy day. We jumped aboard our tour bus at 9 am and drove to the Hagia Sophia, a famous historical place of worship in the past for both Christianity and Islam, now considered a museum. We were there with perhaps 700 -1,000 others, tourists from all over the world. It was a huge edifice with domes, mosaics and ancient decor dating back some 2500 years or so. Sister Stokoe was so emotionally touched by the history and religious ambiance that she bought a very expensive plaque.
By the way, I can now refer to her as Diane as we are no longer on a mission and were released by the Area two days ago. We have yet to be released by our Willow Creek stake president. It was a tiring day. In fact, we arrived close to the Hagia Sophia about 9:45 am and commenced our walking tour which also included neighboring sights. After Hagia Sophia and more walking we went to a cafe for lunch - 45 minutes, Then onto the bus and to the Blue Mosque where Muslim men outside were washing their feet, face, hands, ears, and nostrils as part of a cleansing ritual prior to entering the mosque to pray.
The mosque was huge, again filled with hundreds of tourists They outnumbered the total praying. This is a beautiful mosque inlaid with tile in the Arabesque design or style. Then more walking,
onto the bus, and off to the Istanbul Bazaar which is phenomenal - a modern day market with fingers of streets in north, south, east, west direction that seemed to run at least a hundred yards in all directions. All kinds of vendors. It was an overwhelming shopping experience though we bought nothing.
Our day was from 9am - 7:30 pm and it was a day of walking. Walking along cobblestone streets,upstairs, through alleyways, main streets teeming with people, down stairs, up ramps, and down more stairs, and mingling shoulder to shoulder at times with hundreds of people.
We had prepared for this trip by walking 45 minutes to an hour, 6 days a week, for almost two months and found out today that physical preparation was not enough. We both had pain in our lower backs as did others in our party, and as we were constantly walking and standing, walking and standing and listening to the guide's commentary over our headsets, and not always having a place handy to sit, it was taxing on the lower back.
The sights, however, were remarkable historically, architecturally and religiously with the Islamic call to prayer the loudest voice in the environment. We all enjoyed the day. Most of our fellow Fun for Less members are from Utah and we were surprised to see a couple, Howard and Kay, that we had toured with in China and Thailand. They were equally surprised to see us. There are also two wives that were born and raised in New Zealand. There is also another missionary couple en route home like us. He's a medical doctor and served at the Area level covering several countries.
He told me in Spain, at the annual "Running of the Bulls", which is internationally famous, four of the missionaries decided they were going to run the streets with the bulls. So with out getting permission from their mission president they did so. Unfortunately, one got gored in the posterior in a most delicate place and tossed in the air and had to have extra delicate repair work by a surgeon. So it pays to ask permission of a mission president as opposed to assuming you can out run the bulls in Spain.
We saw a lot today that I have not mentioned, but we really enjoyed the day, though tiring, and look forward to tomorrow to sailing on the Bosphorous Sea and other activities.
Best wishes from the Marriot Istanbul Asia hotel until next you hear from us.
(I don't have to sign Elder anymore)