Ok, I said no more massive blog posts… but this can not be helped! I had the most glorious week ever traveling around Turkey! I have fallen completely and totally in love with the country and it is high on my list of places to go back to!
I’ll try and keep it relatively short… but let’s be honest, it won’t be!
So we left the center at 3 am… yes that’s not a typo, that was a real time I had to get up and leave! Surprisingly, my roommates were so excited that we sang and danced starting at 2 am as we finished packing and getting ready. I absolutely love living with these girls! We loaded the bus and I was so hyped up and excited that I couldn’t sleep. We got to the airport at 4 and then waited in line FOREVER. Security check after security check, having my bags searched, scanned, passport check… it felt like it would never end! And, the wheels on my bag had had it! Logan decided to be a gentleman though and carried my bag throughout all the lines and I was super grateful and surprised! Finally… FINALLY… we loaded the plane and we didn’t have a jet way, we loaded from the run way. It kinda felt like celebrity status walking up those stairs!
As we flew into Turkey, Katie Dahl and I were staring out the window and it wasn’t until we were almost on the ground that we could see land. And once we got off… and felt how cold it was, all the coats came on. That day it did not stop raining. Once. It was freezing cold and miserable. And do you know what? I loved every minute of it! Istanbul is a gorgeous and intriguing city. It is split between two continents – Asia and Europe – linked together by 3 bridges. I couldn’t pull my eyes away from the window, even with the depressing grey clouds pressing down on us, I kept getting more and more excited. The sky line was dotted with modern skyscrapers and minarets. The apartment buildings were colorful and clean. There were beautiful parks and interesting statues dotting my view. And then the Bosporus. There is something about water that captivates me, and the fact that as we crossed over this massive straight with barges and ferries steaming through going from Asia to Europe… it was indescribable! I felt like I was living a dream (granted part of it may have been serious sleep deprivation)! I kept thinking how lucky Garrettt was getting to serve there! Even before we really got to see the city, I decided at some point in my life I want to try and move there!
The first site we stopped at was non other than the Hagia Sofia! Now, Mr. Oram did a wonderful job describing this site back in High School… so wonderful actually that the Hagia Sofia was #2 on my list of things to see in the world (Nike of Samothrace is #1… but I know I’ll go to France one day!). I could hardly contain myself as we pulled up. Our tour guide, Yasmin built up the suspense by not letting us actually go in. We stopped at random points outside. And guess what… the outside of this magnificent building is ugly… not just awkward, but it’s a rancid kind of pink color that looks hodgepodge together and old.
Next we went to lunch, I’ll just say this up front now… the only thing that was delicious in Turkey was the bread. I finally ate normal portions because I didn’t really enjoy the food.
After lunch we went back to the area of the Hagia Sofia and to the Istanbul museum. It was kinda cool. The best part of it was the pieces of the Ishtar gate that were there. While I was staring at these famous gate pieces, I was fascinated because they are not only beautiful colors, but the animals are not just painted on, they are sticking out of the tiles… kinda like a relief, but there were 5 lions all right there, and they were all the same dimensions. It blew my mind that they could bake those tiles so perfectly to get these images. It was marvelous! Some other highlights were the Alexander the Great sarcophagus and all the beautiful Greek/Roman statues there! I’m obsessed with Roman art and architecture I’ve decided. That my have been why this trip was so magnificent to me!
That night we checked into the hotel and despite the cold and continual drizzle... a group of us embarked on a journey to walk from Europe to Asia across the Bosporus. We jumped on the metro and successfully maintained the awful reputation of loud obnoxious Americans as a couple of the kids in my group played "bumper hips" off each other in the standing space. But it was all worth it once we got to the end of the line and started walking along the shore of the Bosporus. I'm completely obsessed with it! We walked right up to the old Palace on the shore and it was all lit up and beautiful! There weren't any guards around so I went to get a picture by the gorgeous gates... I wasn't 5 feet away from them when out of nowhere 2 guards came running at me motioning for me to back away... so I didn't get a picture... but it was a crazy experience! We walked all along the river shore trying to make it to the bridge. Sadly... we didn't make it before we had to turn around to make it for curfew. Just before we turned around, the bridge lit up with a fantastic light show. Still though, every experience I had on the Bosporus was magical and potentially romantic... I've decided that I will go back there one day with someone special!
The next morning started bright and early and chillier than the day before! Our first stop was the Hippodrome, it was impressive and incredible to imagine what it would have been like in it's glory days but there were a few other things that really hit me there. 1. Turkey has an unreal amount of BIG stray dogs. After my run in the week before the stray in Jerusalem, I wasn't super excited to get to know these big boys, but our tour guide told us that the government takes care of them, cleans them, feeds them, and sure enough most of them had tracker chips in their ear and were pretty friendly. 2. All the important events in the Ottoman Empire happened within about a 1 square mile radius.
After the Hippodrome we crossed the street to the Blue Mosque. Now, I've learned quite a bit about the Blue Mosque but my expectations were not as high as the Hagia Sofia. Let me tell you... the Blue Mosque is every bit as spectacular! It's a different kind of spectacular, but breathtaking nonetheless. I couldn't get enough of the intricate tiles and soaring heights! My pictures don't even come close to doing it justice... but it starts to give you a basic idea.
After the Blue Mosque it was over to the Sultan's Palace which has been turned into a museum. Honestly it was so cold that I don't think I really appreciated it the way it should have been, but I loved it still. The exhibits were not like anything I'd seen before. Elaborate guns, exquisite headpieces, interesting costumes, and the biggest diamond in the world! While walking through the layers of courtyards and series of rooms it was so easy to imagine the charmed life that the Sultan and his court lived. Not only that, but see how the Orientalist ideals that we associate with the Ottoman Empire came to be. I thoroughly enjoyed it!
Next we went to the Basilica Cisterns. Who knew that I would grow to love ancient water containers so much over here, but they are soooo cool! And this one is, as my Ancient Near Eastern Studies professor put it, "The mother of all cisterns!" And it was! It was exactly like I imagined the underbellies of the Paris Operahosue in Phantom of the Opera. It was surreal!
But by far the best part of my day came as we loaded for a private cruise on the Bosporus. It was enchanting! Freezing. But enchanting! I stood on the deck and watched the barges go by, Asia on my left and Europe on my right. It was fascinating to see the different kinds of cultures that were so separated by this river. And the houses! Oh my, the houses!!! They were so beautiful and charming. And then the palaces that sparsely dotted the view. Oh it was so perfect!
After the cruise, we were turned loose on the Grand Bazaar. It was like a giant old city with better stuff! I loved it... spent a bit to much... but it was so fun! And, I'm not half bad at bartering! As we stood in the rain loading the buses to get dinner, Richie told me they were going to see the Whirling Dervishes right now and I could come if I want. No brainier! A group of 7 of us, plus my New Testament professor trekked to the Old Train Station and were not disappointed by the show. I'm not sure what I was expecting, but it wasn't what we saw. It was a peaceful and mystical experience.
They were spinning in an effort to become one with God. But the spinning was so controlled even if it was so fast and I honestly am still trying to figure out how they did it! Also... before the show they served us Apple Tea. I'm. Obsessed. It's delicious! I think that we should establish the habit that they have there of serving anyone you sea Apple Tea!
Finally we walked back to the hotel and dropped into bed exhausted... A perfect two days in Istanbul! The next day we were headed to the coast of the Aegean Sea... but that's a story for another day!