Travels to Turkey

My incredible travels to Turkey in 2007

Cats and Whirling Dervishes – Day 3 in Istanbul

Posted by Mardee on May 7, 2007

There are cats everywhere – poor, skin-and-bones feral cats who desperately search every day for enough food to keep alive. My heart just aches for them but I’ve been told not to get near them since they will scratch – and are probably sick and insect-ridden. I do leave some food when I get a chance, although they seem to find food in the strangest places. Yesterday I came across a grey and white cat with a huge pigeon stuffed in its mouth who was heading for a bush to finish its feast in private.

My own breakfast on Sunday morning was a little tastier (at least, in my opinion). Same scenic terrace and same buffet spread. This morning I met some additional guests at the Hanedan – Robert, a doctor from Hawaii, his wife, Natalia, and his wife’s sister and cousin, Mindy and Alicia, who live in Manila. They were very pleasant and since Robert and I have many of the same geek traits, we hit it off very well. They invited me to join them that evening for a performance of the whirling dervishes, so we arranged to meet at the event hall around 6:30 pm.

My plans for the day involved seeing Kariye Müzesi (aka Chora Church), which as I mentioned, is an 11th century Byzantine church decorated with beautiful frescoes and mosaics. The church was fairly small but the art inside was exquisite.  But I digress – before getting to the church, I had looked at the map and thought I’d walk it since it didn’t seem too long. Obviously, I need a lesson in cartography because that walk was extremely long. My pedometer logged in almost 5 miles and some was uphill. It was worth it, though, to see some of the fascinating sights along the way. Part of the route took me through the Fatih district, which is a more conservative section of Istanbul. Almost all of the women I saw were covered, and I got more than a few strange looks (Turkish women usually do not walk by themselves).

The shop windows provided a strange contrast, however – there was about 6-7 blocks of shops that had nothing but wedding gowns and prom-type evening dresses. Very sexy, very frou-frou, and very silky-slinky. I can see the wedding gowns but I’m not sure how the evening wear fits in. The shops also contained an assortment of ornate boy’s ceremonial robes in white and gold, with an accompanying scepter and crown. These robes are worn on the day the child is to be circumcised.

Finally, the church appeared and it was every bit as gorgeous as I’ve described above. Afterwards, I headed for Ascitane, a restaurant next door that specializes in cooking recipes preserved from the Ottoman empire. While there, I ran into Robert and his entourage and we chatted about our day so far. They were planning on visiting another church nearby, but I was tired out from the walk and wanted to get back. This was the plan but it didn’t quite work out that way. It started with the city walls…

Part of Istanbul is surrounded by stone walls that date back to the 5th century and that were built by Theodosius, Constantine’s successor. The original wall was flattened by an earthquake in 447, but was hastily rebuilt within 2 months in preparation for an attack. A good portion of these walls are still standing. So I walked along them and marveled at the incredible history I’ve been seeing since I was here. I figured I’d get to the tram stop soon and head back. However, I was so wrapped up in the walls (and the 3 skinny horses that someone had left tethered near the walls) that I missed the street where the tram was. By the time I realized it, I was too tired to go back and just grabbed a taxi.

This was crash and burn time – 3 intense days of sightseeing and jet lag were finally catching up and I had to lay down for about an hour. After that, I made my way out for a quick dinner then walked down to the train station, which houses the exhibition hall where the dervishes would be performing. I actually got there a little early because I had a change in my itinerary – rather a drastic one. Instead of heading down to Izmir and then over to Selcuk and Ephesus, I decided to buy a ticket on the sleeper train to Ankara. Once I get there, I will then bus to Cappadoccia.

My reasons were rational – the thought of spending 7-8 hours on a bus was making my skin crawl. I wanted to be able to sleep in anything resembling a bed – and there’s no way a bus seat fits this description; even a reclining one. So I hot-footed it over to Sirkeci Station and bought a berth on the Monday night sleeper train to Ankara for 75 lira. This way I could have some time to chill in Cappadoccia and not feel like I was rushing to get there. The station I will leave from is actually at the Haydarpasa train station on the Asia side of the city (I’ve been staying on the European side – the only portion of Turkey that is in Europe).

Soon after, I ran into my friends and we all walked in to watch the dervishes. We were warned to be quiet and not to use our flash, as it is considered to be a religious ceremony. Of course, that didn’t stop some idiots from flashing away but at least the majority managed to restrain themselves. Lucky for me, I had taken a photography class a month before and had finally learned to use my camera to get the best effects so I was able to get some great pictures of them whirling without the flash. It is evidently a mystical experience to the dancers – they consider themselves closer to God when they whirl like this. It was pretty amazing and sent goosebumps down my spine.

After the performance, we split up – they went back to the hotel and I headed for my internet cafe (the manager knows me by sight now). Finally made it back around 11 pm and stayed up for awhile reading (which was dumb, since I have to get up early to pack).

Tomorrow – the Bosphorus cruise and onward to Ankara!


3 Responses to “Cats and Whirling Dervishes – Day 3 in Istanbul”

  1. Katie Sherman said

    Wow – it’s adventure after adventure with you…that’s great you’re meeting people too! Have a wonderful time in Ankara!

  2. Samantha said

    I am enjoying reading your blog!
    You are in Turkey in a very interesting time, politically. As I imagine you have heard. If you get a chance, locals find it intriguing to know foreigners are interested in their politics so you may be able to learn much about the tradition of Ataturk and the fight to uphold his secular beliefs from TR. The women with head scarfs represent those wanting to uphold Islamic tradition and integrate church and state to varying degrees. I would image you see less of them in Istanbul than anywhere else in TR….

    The pizza you speak of in day 2, eat as much as you can! Yum! it is called :”La Ma jeune (Jueane like the French composer)” I actually found a grocery store in Minneapolis that sells it frozen….and your breakfasts, good luck eating the egg out of the little dish thing without making a mess, no?

    The whirling dervishes, I am amazed by all I read of them – Omer seem to think they are over ratted and touristy than traditional & mystical, but regardless, I also think they are amazing….

    All the things you eat sound like foods I am used to eating now. My roommate always brings fresh baklava back every time he goes and I have learned how to make things like Turkish tea and kesir and borek…don’t leave without eating borek – the phylo dough stuff with spinach and cheese filling? & make sure you have someone tell you your fortune after drinking your shot of mud – there they call it coffee…

    If you get the chance or want to relax make sure you make you way back to Izmir, many say it is the next coolest city to IST, beach resort town really – many turks have summer homes there…..

    How is your turkish coming? I am sure you have learned this such as merhaba, tesskular, bir say degil… what else??
    Ahhhhhh, I am so living vicariously through you!!

    Take care, iyi aksamlar 🙂

  3. otomotif said


    Cats and Whirling Dervishes – Day 3 in Istanbul « Travels to Turkey

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