Monday, November 13, 2006

Ferries, gloves and Apple Tea: My time in Turkey

Turkey was so beautiful but absolutely freezing. It was nice to finally have a fall season, but it just came as a shock. We pretty much had 5 months of summer and ending that with insanely hot weather in Egypt then going into weather in the 30’s was a big change. I did like that I was able to get out my hats and scarves. That seemed to be the general consensus between everyone too. Everyone was excited to finally have a change and everyday you would see people coming back to the ship with a new hat, gloves, or scarves they bought off of street vendors.
Compared to all of the countries we’ve been to since Japan, Turkey was very expensive. I know people who spent several hundred dollars here. I spent more than any other country since Japan and got half the amount of things. Walking through the Grand Bazaar I saw so many lanterns and painted tiles that I wanted but they were just to much money. It made the atmosphere very bright and beautiful though. Well, as long as you tuned out all of the shop owners asking us where we were from and if we wanted to come into their shops because they had EXACTLY what we were looking for.
The grand Bazaar itself is so big and confusing that I am quite positive although I went there 3 times I still didn’t see the whole thing. Essentially the Grand Bazaar is an indoor market built many many years ago with aisles turning in every direction. From doing a quick sweep you could get the general idea that jewelry was in one section, antiques in another, ceramics in another, and leather in another, then there were several other items such as chess sets and rugs mixed in. I loved looking up at the ceiling because there were painted domes along all of the main thoroughfares. Walking down some of the tighter passages felt like walking through one of the lower levels of Pike Place Market in Seattle. It was just a slight feeling of home.
The first day we were in Istanbul I had a city Orientation with 109 of my closest SAS friends. I guess I hadn’t read the description in the field book well enough because I was expecting to see a lot more than we did. We did a quick drive through Taksim Square which is the trendy happening spot on the new side of the European City, then drove across the Golden horn to the mosque of Suleiman the Magnificent. When the architect Sinan built the mosque he built it as a complete complex with a hospital, soup kitchen, library and schools surround the mosque itself. Most of our tour there was outside looking at these buildings. It was so cold that I was tempted to buy gloves from a street vendor but right as I was preparing to walk over to him the tour moved so I went along with it. We visited a Tulip garden that had no tulips. I didn’t quite understand if it ever had tulips or if it just didn’t because it was the fall (although I did see an amazing amount of bloomed flowers all over the city).
To go inside of the Mosque we had to take off our shoes. This time I was prepared to go inside and was completely covered and had my head scarf. I didn’t want to have to wear an uncomfortable robe again like I had to in Egypt. The inside was beautiful with it’s many domes elaborately painted. My favorite element were the massive chandeliers that hung only a few feet from our heads from wires all of the way up in the dome. They gave the mosque a soft ambience. Since the mosque is still in use we were restricted to a small section. Mosques are segregated so men can worship on nearly the entire floor section, but women are restricted to an area behind a screen. Our guide took us to the side and explained more about Muslim worship. Muslims are supposed to pray 5 times a day, but if they aren’t able to they can do it all at once. I had been wondering about that since Egypt. I would hear the call to prayer broadcasted over the loud speakers and I would expect everyone to drop down and pray but they would just continue to go on with life. I was glad that it was finally cleared up.
After the Suleiman Mosque we visited the Basilica Cisterns which turned out to be one of my favorite things in Istanbul. A remnant of the Roman Empire the cisterns are located underground right next to Haggia Sophia. Twenty years ago there was more water in them and tourists would have to get around by row boat, but to many tourists would get lost (you can actually see how it looked like in the James Bond movie “From Russia with Love”) so they drained part of the water and built platforms you could walk on. Partially draining it was actually a good thing because it led them to discover the head of Medusa carved onto the bottom of the of the pillars which had previously never been seen.
The cisterns had a really ancient atmosphere. I felt like I was in history. With the exception of the multi colored light show it looked completely natural. Whenever the light color of the light setteled on red it looked like the cisterns were being lit by torch. As we walked through the cisterns condensed water on the ceiling would drop on our heads. Some people freaked out because they thought it was sewer water but in reality there are no sewers over the cisterns. In the water there was also a lot of carp. Some of the fish were as large as a cat. We were disappointed when we were told that they were planted there for tourists and weren’t originally there.
After the cisterns we walked over to the Hippodrome which was once the roman racing track with Egyptian obelisks in the middle. The obelisks are still there but nothing else. I was expecting ruins but I guess the original hippodrome is just a memory.
When we were walking to the hippodrome a stray dog came up and started following our group. Some thought she was hungry so they bought a pretzel ring and gave it to her but she just looked at it an kept walking. She had a large smile on her face so I thought maybe she wanted to play so I picked up a stick and threw it for her. Sure enough she ran after it and came running back. It was so adorable. She followed us right into the courtyard of the Blue Mosque but was shooed away.
The interior of the Blue Mosque was the most beautiful of all the buildings we went into. It was covered from top to bottom in Iznik tiles (Iznik is the ancient town of Nicea). They were painted in blue and white and red with flowers and other scenes. Breaking up the tiles in several places were large, brightly colored stained glass windows. It was really amazing.
From the blue mosque we walked a couple hundred feet to Haggia Sophia, the inspiration for the mosques of Istanbul. Haggia Sophia is an enormous church that was built under the reign of Justinian in about 530 AD. When he walked into the church it is said that Justinian said “ Solomon I have surpassed thee.” When the ottoman Turks took over Constantinople the church was converted into a mosque and minarets were built around it. Today it is neither a mosque or a church, it’s just a museum.
Walking into Haggia Sophia really felt like walking into history. From the second we walked in the door we were able to see some of the most famous mosaics in Christian history. The first was of Mary holding a young Jesus in her lap. We walked across the ground floor and up several levels of ramps to the women’s area. Just like in mosques, in the church women we segregated from men and had to stand on an upper level. Even more the empress was able to stand in the very front and every other women had to stand behind her. According to our guide this is where gossip started because they couldn’t see so the women needed something to pass their time. On this second level was also the most famous mosaic of Jesus and two pf his apostles. Half of the mosaic was missing but you could still see the faces.
Standing in the center of Haggia Sophia I felt very overwhelmed. The space was absolutely immense. I was slightly disappointed that scaffolding reached up from the ground and covered half of the dome so I wasn’t able to get the full effect. Although it is probably around the same size as both the Suleiman Mosque and the Blue Mosque it seemed much bigger, even with the massive scaffolding up. In the front of the interior space is and apse where the Muslims placed a mihrab. It is strange to see the clash of religions here. On one side of the apse was a large preaching platform and on the other was an enormous minbar. While we were standing there learning about these things the lights were literally turned out on us. I guess the guards really wanted us to leave.
Originally I had planned to travel to Ephesus with Jennifer, Izumi, Hallie and Rachael. One by one they dropped out until it was only me and Rachael left. We were still going to go, just the two of us but then Rachael decided he wanted to be back for her Byzantine architecture trip on Thursday (originally she was just going to skip it), leaving us with about 24 hours to get to and from Ephesus. With the price of the plane ticket it wouldn’t have been worth it so I made the painful decision the forgo Ephesus and instead we planned to spend a night on the Princes Islands, a short ferry ride from Istanbul.
The ferry left from old Istanbul and made a stop on the Asian side before heading to the Islands which were about half an hour away. On the ferry we met an old man who was a retired literature teacher. He and his wife had a house both in Istanbul and on the second Princes Island. He told us that his wife didn’t really like going to the Island so he was going alone and she would meet him there later. He got off with us on the third island called Heybeli, which is the second largest of the 4 islands. He was going to the market to buy cheese and was going to sit at the café and drink coffee.
The Princes Islands have so much character. The only people allowed to drive cars are the police and construction workers so everyone else has to get around by foot, bike, or my personal favorite, horse cart. It led to a very peaceful atmosphere. You didn’t really have to look both ways before you crossed the street because you weren’t going to get run over. Our first stop was at a small bakery where we bought rolls and croissants. They tasted amazing. As we walked along with our purchases we stumbled upon an outdoor market which went up through the narrow winding street of the town between rows of houses. Market day is only Wednesday so we were lucky that we came on that day. There were old women selling undergarments and men selling some of the largest vegetables I have ever seen. Seriously I saw some heads of lettuce that were twice as big as my head. Walking by one stand the man pulled up a tangerine, ripped it in half and gave me and Rachael each a half with a large smile on his face. He was so nice we decided to buy a pomegranate from him which he broke open for us and then wanted to have a picture taken with us. Apparently they don’t get a lot of American visitors in the winter. I had never had a pomegranate before. It was good, but strange, like little sweet juicy red corn kernels.
We walked through the market and continued up to the top of the hill where we were afforded and amazing view of Heybeli and the other Islands, along with the Asian side of Istanbul in the far distance. On the top of the hill is an old monastery. We went up to the gate but no one was standing there and we couldn’t read the sign that was up because it was in Turkish and Greek. We stood there for awhile and were about to give up on getting in when an old man came to the gate. Rachael asked if we could go in. He said something in Greek and pointed to the sign on the gate. Rachael and I gave each other looks of complete confusion. He must have read the looks on our faces because he asked us where we were from (probably the only English words he knew). After we told him he motioned us inside of the gate.
Our personal tour of the monastery mainly consisted of him pointing and us looking. I wonder if people are usually even allowed to visit, especially girls because as we came to find out the building is still in use. I’m not sure if monks still live there (I obviously couldn’t understand any Turkish or Greek being spoken to me) but the Bishop does. When we walked through the door of the first building there was a ping pong table on one side.
The first area the old man took us into was the chapel building. It had a large golden screened area in the front with paintings of Jesus and Mary decorating it. In the center of the room where several well polished seats, one of which was obviously more important than the others. Next he took us into a room that seemed to be an old classroom. It was filled with several old fashioned desks. It was here that we learned we were allowed to take pictures. Beforehand we were to afraid to take out our cameras. Next he took us our behind the building where he showed us a large pen with donkeys, sheep, ducks and peacocks. He pulled some lavender off of a bush and gave it to us to put into our pockets. I personally don’t like the smell of lavender but I didn’t want to offend him.
The old man led us to the trail back down to town, wished us good luck and made us promise to visit Greece one day ( my limited knowledge of the Greek language helped in understanding him). He was such a sweet old man. I would encourage any person visiting the Princes Islands to try and get a tour of the monastery.
We walked back down the hill, through the market where we were given another mandarin by the very happy man and into town. We had planned on going back to the bakery to get something else to eat but along the way we passed a small food stand where they were selling some very strange sandwiches. The meat was put up on a vertical rotating pole and a man would slice the meat off of it and put it into a piece of French bread along with pickles, tomatoes, and soggy French fries. He said the meat was chicken but obviously it wasn’t. We think it was probably lamb since the Muslims can’t eat pork. We took our sandwiches and went down to the water to see if the old man we had met earlier was still sitting at the café. He was, so we joined him. When we sat down we were almost immediately surrounded by cats. The Islands are filled with dozens of stray cats and dogs. During the summer they are well fed because of all the tourists but during the off season they are starving because there aren’t many people there to feed them. One cat was so ambitious it jumped up on my lap. I felt so bad for them, I took part of my sandwich and ripped it into several small pieces and gave it to them. They pounced on each other to get it.
While we were sitting at the café suddenly we heard a band start to play. We looked over to the Navy yard and all of the sailors were doing their noon marching exercises. Me and Rachael immediately jumped up to watch. Our old friend was quick to tell us that we couldn’t take pictures. It’s a good thing because I was about to pull out my camera to video them. It was interesting to watch them march in a long line three persons thick doing high kicks along the way. The “show” lasted for about 10 minutes and then they marched back into their barracks.
At 1:00 we caught the ferry from Heybeli to the Big Island. Pulling up to the Big Island you could tell it was much more built up that all of the others. Right off of the ferry the town started and didn’t seem to end. We immediately set out to try and find a hotel so we could drop our heavy backpacks. We searched and searched and searched but we couldn’t find a hotel. Since we were there during the off season everything was closed. Finally we ended up at a government building where a women agreed to show us some hotels, she was on her way to the ferry anyway. The first hotel she didn’t recommend. It was disgusting. I knew that if we slept there we would have lice in our hair and bug bites in the morning. The second hotel she showed us was beautiful but it was to much money for us. Me and Rachael made the decision to just go back to Istanbul that night since there was no way we could stay on the Island.
We had bought a jar of off brand Nutella earlier on Heybeli so we bought a loaf of French bread and rented a horse carriage for a tour of the Island. The carriage looked really cool, it reminded me of a Cinderella carriage without the round cover (basically the seats looks really cool. The rood of the carriage reminded me of the song from the musical “Oklahoma,” “a surrey with a fringe on the top,” there was definitely fringe on the top of our carriage.
Touring the town we were able to see some of the most beautiful houses. I would love to come back during the summer to see the town while it is inhabited and alive. I bet it looks completely different.
After our tour we stopped at a café and got some French bread then went down to the water to watch the sunset while we waited for our ferry. The sunset was so beautiful. First bright red, then orange, and yellow followed by purple and blue. I was able to get some good pictures with Heybeli silhouetted in the foreground.
Walking through Istanbul at night was a beautiful experience. I bet only a few other SASers got to truly experience this because so many of them were to drunk to remember it. Right by the ferry terminals an area that had been wide open during the day was now filled with merchants selling everything from bananas to laundry hampers. The same was true for the Gallata bridge, merchants covered nearly the entire stretch while men continues to fish in the background. Looking on the city of Istanbul seemed to sparkle like diamonds and the illuminated mosques shone like stars. It was a beautiful sight.
Along the way back to the ship we came upon an internet café and decided to take advantage of the $1 and hour access. The internet on the ship wasn’t working because of the hills so we couldn’t do it any other way.
On the next day I planned to go on Byzantine architecture with Rachael, I found a free ticket and everything but at breakfast I met up with the rest of the girls (and Scott and Steve) who were going to go to the Grand Bazaar and decided to go out with them instead. Our group started out as 7. We walked from the ship to the Spice Bazaar and ended up splitting off into three groups. Me, Stephanie, and Hallie went straight up the hill to the grand bazaar. We didn’t really have an idea where we were going. We just walked up the hill through winding streets. We went up through one walking street where there were only scarf shops. Somehow we stumbled upon the Grand Bazaar, it was really lucky. Stephanie and Hallie just wanted to look for the time being. I was OK with that so long as I could eventually shop. I already gave a description of the Grand Bazaar at the beginning of my blog so I’ll spare you another description.
For lunch we found a small shop just outside of the grand bazaar where you could get bread filled with either potatoes, cheese, or meat and a coke for 2 lira. It tasted so amazing. WE really had no plans for the afternoon so we decided to just walk around. We followed the streets down to the other side of the peninsula. Aside from nearly breaking my ankle on the cobblestone it was a good walk. The old row homes were painted in bright colors. It was such a great photo op but the exposure was so terrible that they didn’t turn out well.
At the bottom of the hill was a small park. We went and sat on a bench next to a boat pond and pulled out a map to try to figure out where we were at. On the other benches were old men sharing stories, a young man talking on his cell phone, and a mother watching over her son with down syndrome. At a playground behind a hedge kids played on the swings and slid down the slide while others laughed while bouncing up and down on the teeter totter.
When we finally found our bearings we headed back up the hill towards the area of the Hippodrome. We passed several recently burned shells of houses and other brightly painted ones. At a park near the hippodrome we came upon a man selling brightly colored ties. Stephanie bought 5. They are very much her style (although she’s giving them to the guys in her life). We bought stamps from a postal stand in front of Haggia Sophia and postcards from a kiosk nearby. We considered taking the train back to the ship but decided to walk instead. I really like walking, you are able to see so many things you wouldn’t be able to see otherwise.
On Thursdays the Modern Art Museum of Istanbul is free. It was located right next to the ship and we stumbled upon it so we decided to go. It was interesting. Modern art isn’t my favorite, I’m more of a fan of Tarkay and Van Gough, but it was still educational. The top floor was full of paintings and sculptures by Turkish artists. What I really enjoyed was the bottom floor. There was an exhibition called the Venice exhibition which consisted of several movies. I didn’t quite understand them but they were entertaining to watch, especially the first and last room. In the first room 6 movies were playing. They were all about 1 minute long, starred the same man, and played backwards. The last room had the film projected on the floor. It was like walking on a ground of moving trash. It was a strange sensation and every time it stopped and started again I swear I could feel my body move.
Also downstairs was an exhibition of photographs taken in different countries during the 1960’s. It’s weird to have now been to so many of the countries which were featured in the exhibition.
The next day was pretty much like the day before. A group of us girls walked to the spice bazaar and the grand bazaar. This time our goal was shopping. Not a ton because obviously it was expensive, but the one thing I wanted was a new hat and I got it! Shopping in a big group is really difficult so we split off into two groups and set a meeting time. I went around with Hilary. I wish I had met her earlier in the voyage because we’re so much alike, it’s fun to talk to her.
In front of the spice bazaar is an old mosque where all the pigeons hang out. There are several little stands outside where little old ladies sell plates of bird seed that you can throw to the pigeons. I decided to give it a try and so did Hilary. I only wanted one plate of bird seed and so did Hilary, but when we went to feed them the lady kept throwing other plates of seed in then tried to charge us 10 lira for it in the end. We argued with her telling her that we only wanted one plate but she would not budge. Finally we were able to get it down to 5 lira. That’s the last time I feed the pigeons.
We went up to the same bread shop for lunch as we had the day before and ended up going back again after shopping for an afternoon snack. When in Turkey get Turkish food while you can.
Somehow in the afternoon we ended up back at Haggia Sophia. Stephanie, Hilary, and Chelsea decided to take the train back from there while me and Hallie went to look at an “artisan bazaar next to the blue Mosque. In actuality it was the Arasta Bazaar, not the artisan bazaar and it was basically a classier, more expensive version of the grand bazaar and a disappointment. We walked back to the ship wishing the whole way we had taken the train because our feet hurt so badly.
What can I say, our last day ended up being a slight variation of the last 2 days. We had planned on going up to Taksim square, but we had to go back to the spice bazaar because the shop keepers had given Chelsea two different shoe sizes the day before. Our main goal for the day was to find Apple tea, the main tourist drink which isn’t actually tea but more like apple cider. We weren’t looking for just any type of apple tea though, Chelsea wanted green apple tea which proved really difficult to find. For some reason Chelsea thought you could get it for 1 lira then halfway through our search and the day she remembered it was the normal apple tea that was cheap, the green apple tea was expensive. She finally settled for the regular apple tea. We all bought several boxes of it.
We spent out last few hours in Turkey wandering around the city and going on the internet. It was so cold outside I would have sworn it would snow but it didn’t. Overall Turkey was a great experience. It’s the one country so far that I would live in, especially on the Princes Islands. I’m so excited for Croatia now. I hope that it snows there. It would make everything so magical. I can’t believe that we only have 2 countries left. I looked forward to this semester so much and now its almost over. It was a great time, but I’ll be so sad to see it end.


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