Our last stop was Istanbul, Turkey. In contrast to the mixed religious heritage of our earliest stops and then the polytheistic heritage of ancient Greece, Istanbul presented an in-your-face monotheistic religious culture dominated by Islam. More on that later. Meanwhile, here is sunrise over Istanbul as we make our approach to the harbor.

Sunrise over Istanbul.

Except for occasional stray dogs (like we saw in Corinth and Athens), Istanbul was a clean, busy city. The markets were fascinating, and we saw shops selling gold jewelry, spices, hookahs, candies, cleaning supplies, and any number of other products. Here is a shop selling different kinds of olives:

Olive market in Istanbul.

We were rarely surprised by the various markets, but here is a shop in the middle of the city that did surprise us. This store carried a large variety of plants, seeds, tools, and supplies for home gardeners, and they were doing a brisk business (it was the first week of May). Who knew that gardening would be so popular?

Nursery selling seedlings and garden supplies.

Our tour guide told us that Istanbul is a relatively secular, progressive city with many residents who are not very serious about religion. Nevertheless, we were surprised to see so many mosques. Anyone can set up a mosque, even as an add-on to their home, as part of their personal jihad (i.e., devotion to Islam). Many mosques were small, with only one or two minarets, but a few were quite large like the one shown below.

Mosque with two minarets.

Our guide explained that anyone with enough money could build a mosque. However, only sultans are allowed to build a mosque with more than two minarets, and the richest sultans would build with six minarets in their mosques. The six minarets represent the six pillars of Muslim belief. Since building a mosque is part of one’s personal works of devotion, the cost must be paid out of personal riches.

The large mosque at the left of the photo below has six minarets, but it was built by Turkey’s President, Recep Erdoğan. Some people felt that he was claiming the spiritual rank of Sultan by building such a mosque, and they were not happy about it. We also heard that he built this mosque with public funds rather than his own money, so he irritated the secular community, too. Some politicians manage to offend everyone!

Mosque with six minarets, in the distance beyond the bridge.

Having heard about Turkish coffee, we had to try a cup while waiting for our flight home. It was wonderful, but far and away the strongest coffee we’ve ever had. The recipe calls for boiling finely ground coffee in a small amount of water and then serving it without straining out the grounds. The cup below probably had two tablespoons of coffee boiled in a half cup of water. Intimidating, but rich and aromatic!

Turkish coffee as we wait for our flight home.

When you finish drinking Turkish coffee you are supposed to read your fortune in the grounds left in the bottom of the cup. Our future looked dark, but we made it home safely anyway.

Coffee grounds in the bottom of the cup.

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