so, Luba and I flew from Ljubljana on separate flights, and at insane times of day, with insane layovers in the airports, but we got here. Getting to Istanbul is half the battle. Getting into the main part of the city from the airport is the other half of the battle! It is a huge, sprawling city. Flying over it, it looked like Tokyo. The city just never ends.
I was really lucky that the week before leaving Denver, I happened to vaguely remember that a friend of mine from high school, Jennie (pictured center), lives in Turkey with her fiance, and as a complete surprise, I found out she lives in Istanbul! This worked out really well since the city is not extremely user-friendly for foreigners.
Jennie picked me up at the airport and we tried to head over to her apartment which literally is on a different continent - because of course the airport is on the "Europe side" of Istanbul and her house is on the "Asia side". The continents of the city are divided by a beautiful sea, the Bosphorus. I lost track, but I think it took us 2 1/2 hours to get to her house just because the city was so traficky, and this was on a Saturday without rush hour!!
Driving around Istanbul is completely scary and not because of Jennie personally - everyone drives like a complete maniac with no regard for any kind of courtesies or even common sense mechanisms such as looking in the lane before changing. It is really frightening, although the same in lots of huge cities, I suppose. Still, I am comfortable with the insanity in New York - this insanity was like playing a sped-up Frogger with your life, seriously.
Really awesome was that Jennie and her fiance, Baris invited me to a friend of a friend's engagement party the first night, which was a lot like a wedding, a big family gathering. I tried the Turkish specialty raki, which is an anise-flavored liquor sort of like schnapps and danced with the father of one of Baris' friends - woo hoo!
After another ride of hanging on for dear life, I checked into my very cute little hotel in the center of town and slept like a rock.
On day two, I was woken up by the unique sound of minarets ringing from a mosque (actually, several mosques) in our neighborhood who sound a prayer call, "the ezan" at various times of day, the first time being at sunrise. For those of you who have never been to a Muslim country (any of you?!), well it sounds almost exactly like a goose being strangled.
At first I thought it was an instrument like a bagpipe, but it's actually someone singing, and it lasts about 15 minutes. Fascinating is that each mosque starts theirs based on where the sun is in the sky, so it not only changes daily but each of the mosques in Istanbul is a few seconds off each other, so at certain times of day, you hear them all going at slightly different intervals. Found out later, the one I heard in the morning was from The Blue Mosque, Istanbul's most famous active mosque which is just a quarter-mile from our hotel.
Later in the day we visited the Hagia Sophia (pronounced Aya Sofia) which was originally the inspiration for my visit to Turkey (see dark interior shot below). As soon as I saw this former-church / former-mosque in my Art History book last year, I knew I had to see it. There's just too much to say about this building, but it is truely a one-of-a-kind wonder of the world, dating from Roman times and its fascinating aspect is the building has changed its affiliated religion multiple times since 500 AD, and so finally in 1923, it was converted into a monument-only, no affiliation. You can read more about it here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hagia_Sophia
It was truely a huge moment for me to walk into this building, I can't help but feel it exudes an indescribable power when you're near it. The fact that the building still stands from so many years ago despite wars and endless make-overs is incredible. You have to see it to believe it, but take my word for it, it is worth the trip.
On day three, Luba and I visited the "Grand Bazaar" which was completely insane. It's beyond bizaare!! I knew what it looked like, and I was prepared to have to haggle for goods, but I was not prepared for how aggressive the sellers are. Whether it's carpets or vases or pashmina scarves or little blue eye charms (Istanbul's top souvenir), you cannot pass a single booth without a sleezy man leaning towards you and shouting "Laaady! Hello! Please see my carpets! Hello! Wouldn't you like a beautiful vase? Lady - Hi, you speak English? Please step inside to see my scarves. 5 Lire - OK, for you 3 Lire"... you get the picture. It's like you can't even look at anything or make eye contact for fear of having to get these men in your face even more.
What was funny was their accents are just like Robin Williams' caricature at the front of Alladin, exaaactly, "It slices, it dices, it makes hundreds of julianne fries! Oh - it broke" but these guys stand so close to you and they don't stop when you walk away, they'll follow you. It felt incredibly invasive and chlaustrophobic after about 2 or 3 hours of consecutive pestering. I am so glad I don't live here because salesmen on the streets do the same thing too, it would really really get to me.
Also every taxi cab honks as they drive past anyone, not to say ¨get out of the way¨but to say ¨need a lift?¨ It is SO annoying, and in fact, I had to laugh when at one point I left my camera in a cab, and the driver was trying to get my attention somehow because honking obviously just blends in to the background.
Anyway, other than that slightly bad taste in my mouth from the creepy sellers, Istanbul was SO incredible. Later in the day, we found a restaurant with a terrace that overlooked the Bosphorous, and the Blue Mosque, and the Hagia Sofia, all within maybe a half-mile and just completely stunning. There was even a tulip festival going on when we were here too, so lots of photo-ops. I am so grateful to have had Jennie to take us around, she knew the best food places, and she's about 6 words short of knowing Turkish fluently.
by the way, pay no attention to the time & dates of posting my blogs - the Ljubljana one is a few days old and usually when it says "10:00 am" that really means it´s "2:00 am" here. I am 8 hours ahead of Colorado normally, and 9 hours in Turkey. : )