Friday, October 2, 2009

istanbul! (not constantinople.)

I knew that my five-plus year adoration of Turkey would be legitimized the moment our taxi from the airport started weaving up the steep, winding cobblestone streets of Istanbul last week. I've read a lot about the identity crisis of the Turkish people - whether they felt more European or more Asian. And now that I've visited, I completely understand how difficult it is to put it all into words. The adorable narrow cobblestone streets remind me of Switzerland, the window flower boxes of France, and the little markets lining the piers of the cerulean Sea of Marmara are reminiscent of Greece. Then while you're strolling past little cheese shops in the early afternoon the sound of the shopkeepers hassling customers is drowned out by the call to prayer ringing out around you from three different mosques on each street corner. Though we had a full week to see as much as we possibly could, it was clear that we could probably just sit in a park all day and still be able to experience the sheer beauty of the city. 

Saturday we hit up the historical sites nearby, our method of transit via walking or taking the extremely efficient city tram that cuts right through the middle of main streets. Topkapi Palace lies hidden between Istanbul's little roads and a beautiful park walkway with red tulips and kittens frolicking in the dewy grass. The amount of rubies and emeralds decorating the past Ottoman sultans' treasuries is phenomenal. After seeing vials containing "the beard of Prophet Muhammad", we visited the Hagia Sophia mosque - the biggest cathedral at the time built by Justinian which was later converted into a mosque. I could have sat on the ground and stared up at the ceiling, the floral paintings, and the Byzantine mosaics for hours. I also think that the guy who sings the call to prayer at the Hagia Sophia sounds better than the four others in the surrounding block. Afterwards was the Blue Mosque, which still functions as a practicing mosque today. The walls and arches are all painted in blues, whites, greens, and corals like porcelain and on the opposite side of the building you can see the silhouettes of men praying towards tall glass windows facing the sun and the sea beyond. We ended our perfect day with ice cream by the big fountain in the park between the two mosques while the sun started to make its descent. 

Sunday we headed to the Egyptian Spice Bazaar, where each stall has crates and bushels filled with different spices, dried fruit and nuts, and teas. Sellers carve off Turkish Delight for you to try or hold up scoops of apple tea for you to smell. The vibrant colors of cumin and coriander and things I've never heard of overwhelm in the best way possible, and old men are constantly squeezing around passerby with a tray full of tea to deliver to patrons and customers. We grabbed some corn on the cob (a popular Turkish street vending item) and walked up the pier along the Bosphorus, getting assaulted by smells wafting from the fish market nearby. After discovering the most delicious (and the cheapest) chicken kebob sandwich, we rested our tired heads and our aching feet. There's a big different between Egyptians and Turkish people when it comes to prime activity hours; while Egyptians are nocturnal, Turks tend to close shop around 11 PM or midnight. The biggest difference by far is the weather. I don't know what Turkish summers are like, but the Autumn here is beautiful. It was in the 70's all week and there is always a divine, cool breeze sweeping off the coast with seagulls flapping above head. At one point, it started raining and we were all very confused. "What is this wet stuff falling from above?" "Is it...raining?" It doesn't rain in Egypt.

I saved most of my money for the famed Grand Bazaar, which has around 414 stores inside a covered market selling all kinds of things - amber jewelry, tea sets, Turkish clothing, embroidered slippers - everything, really. The Turks don't haggle very well, whereas in Egypt the sellers run after you to cut their prices down by half in their desperation for a customer. Turks barely budge. After the Bazaar, Cheyenne and I dropped Sarah and Alison off at their hotel to bid them adieu in light of their trip out of Istanbul to Athens, and got some ice cream to sit in our usual park for the rest of the afternoon to people watch. It's so beautiful to see small Turkish families, young kids rendezvousing, and little old men shuffling around the fountain. We gawked at sweet children and eavesdropped on a rant from an angry man complaining about his life in Arabic (we think he got fired from his job and was upset about still having to provide for his son and his inability to buy a car now) until the sun went down and it got chilly. We grabbed a chicken kebob sandwich from our old man vendor friend and laughed with each other even though we couldn't really understand one another. We then walked over to the palace sector and had hot chocolate and mint shisha while playing a rousing game of chess at an adorable café (I won). On our way back through the cool evening, a weird old man with a bunny stand stopped us so we could pet the baby bunnies while the mommy bunny picked us out our fortunes. Mine was: You are not a bad person but your destiny is heavy so you are the enemy of are trying to prove yourself...but you are not so know what's your target but there are so much barrier infront of you...
Best 1 lira I've ever spent. I love Istanbul.

Tuesday we spent the day across the European side of the city and greeted the morning by visiting the Galata tower - a 9-floor tower dating back to Justinian and Mehmet II - with a panoramic view of the city. From there we could see every mosque along the horizon and terrace gardens seated atop old apartment buildings. Afterwards we visited the French Quarter, a leg of European street lined with patisseries and bookshops. We soaked up a few churches before questing for the Istanbul Museum of Modern Art by the shore. The French Quarter was hopping once the sun disappeared - with scenester kids lining the sidewalks to play guitar, to watch someone play the ney flute, or to juggle some fire on a whim. 

It was really hard to leave Istanbul - I'm so glad that I get to check it off on my list of places to see before I die, but I am definitely going to be returning at some point. The beautiful cityscape, the coast, the breeze - these are all things I will remember of my trip. Now I'm back in Cairo, classes start up again on Sunday, and it's already October. And time really does fly.

No comments:

Post a Comment