Tuesday, January 1, 2013

December 14th- 17th

Istanbul, Turkey.
Everything that I am now writing is a reflection of my travels from the past two weeks.
Sitting on a plane back to home has given me plenty of time to think about the adventures that I have had and remember the highs and the lows.
Starting in Turkey. Exams and essays had occupied my mind before leaving, so I had no preconception of what Istanbul would be like minus only a few accounts from other people. Flying in to Istanbul you could see hundreds of mosques, some big and some small. The city lies on several hills breaking it up into its different sections. The Old City, where most of the tourists visit, the Downtown, which is more European than the rest of the city, and then the more Eastern part of the city. We departed London super early in the morning and arrived in Istanbul in the afternoon. We were able to take a shuttle from the airport directly to our hostel. The ride to the hostel reminded slightly of the my travels in India a couple of years ago. There was more infrastructure in Turkey than but the atmosphere and sounds of the city were similar to many cities in India.
The first part of the day that we were in Turkey I couldn’t stop thinking about what I got myself into. We walked around the Old City where we were staying. Just behind our hostel was a square that had access to an old Palace, Red Mosque and Blue Mosque. The Red Mosque is not really any longer in use for prayer but is now a museum. It used to be an Orthodox Church, then changed to a Catholic Cathedral, finally taking the role of a mosque until present when it was secularized. The Blue Mosque is still highly used and there are people praying most of the time in the mosque.
After a quick dinner we returned to the hostel for a rest since our sleep up to this point in the journey had been lacking.
After a cat nap we headed back out into the city to a restaurant/ bar that had a traditional Turkish band playing along with a Whirling Dervish. A Whirling Dervish is a religious dance. The dancer wears a white robe and has a tall black hat. They spin around rapidly until there cloak rises up. Depending on the skill of the dancer, the robes will be nearly parallel with their waist or resemble an upside down tea cup. This was pretty interesting to watch, the spectacle took place outside under a canopy with heater on the ceiling. Surprisingly Turkey was really pretty cold.
The second day we were in Istanbul we headed to the Grand Bazaar. Where they sell tapestries, lamps, phones, and anything that a household could possibly want. The Bazaar was overwhelming, there were people trying to get us to look into their little shops or just to stop and talk. Some of the store owners, most being men, were a little too forward for comfort. I think that the main part of their English was bad pick-up lines.
After the Bazaar we wandered around for awhile. Then we stopped by the Palace on our way home. I don't recall much of the history of the palace but there were beautiful tile mosaics in nearly every room in the palace. 
The Bazaar and palace were a lot of walking so we took a break sitting for near the fountain in the middle of the square people watching and enjoying the sun since we hadn't seen it in weeks in Scotland.
We headed back to the hostel for a short nap and  then off to dinner. After a good hearty meal, we went to watch the Whirling Dervishes. This time there were about six dancers and a band. It was very interesting.
The next day we went to the Red and Blue Mosque, underground Cistern that was constructed by the Romans, and some more wandering. The cistern was very interesting. The lighting was dim and there were many columns. The cistern used to hold and store water for the city in times of old. Apparently there are others that are in the city as well but this one is special because at the base of two columns are heads of Medusa. One head is turned sideways and the other is upside down. We went to the spice market and the National Archeological Museum as well. The Spice Market was just as overwhelming as the Grand Bazaar but maybe even more so since we went when it was dark. 
I know that it is silly but I think that I am still afraid of the dark maybe a little bit.
The last night that we were in Istanbul Sofia and I went to this restaurant that was probably target for tourist but we sat on floor cushions and enjoyed a nice cheese platter and some phenomenal apple tea. The one thing that you HAVE to try wile in Turkey is the Baklava and APPLE TEA!! After a nice snack we partook in the Turkish tradition of water pipe or commonly known as hooka. It is not a drug just flavored tobacco. It went quite nice with the apple tea.
Istanbul was nice wake up after finals. I have mixed feeling about Istanbul, I think that it is having a bit of identity crisis. It doesn't really know if it wants to be European or Asian. If I went back I would venture across the river and into the more modern side of Istanbul. Pictures to follow. On to the next city and country! 

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