Turkey, two continents?one day; check!

July 31, 2010 

First off I have to apologize that it has taken me so long to write this entry, it’s been nearly a week since I left Istanbul but school is setting in and in the two day between Istanbul and Egypt (yes I’m in Egypt right now!) I had two big papers and an exam to work on….needless to say my Istanbul blog was put on the back burner lol.

I don’t even know where to start with Istanbul other than it was amazing! In my opinion Istanbul was the first city that I had been in on this trip that was truly a huge cultural difference than the United State or what I had ever seen before. Walking through the streets of Istanbul there was no doubt in your mind that the western culture that we are used to is not what they are accustomed to but it made for an amazing time to people watch and try to learn about another culture that is so foreign to what I am accustomed to. We docked in Istanbul on Tuesday the 20th of July and let our adventures go from there!

Let’s see, day one!

We started off the day with hopes of going to the palace in Istanbul and our hopes were only a little dampened when we stepped off the ship to see that it was raining, not that we could complain too much though because it was the first rain I have seen since leaving the United States almost 2 months ago! Our wishes however were completely crushed when we stopped to buy an umbrella from an older man on the street corner and he informed us that the palace was closed for the day so instead of letting him be the bearer of bad news we used him for several minutes as our personal translator asking him how to say everyday phrases in Turkish and watching him laugh as we stumbled over the pronunciation. After getting his opinion on what we should do for the day instead of the palace, we said a quick “tesekkur ederim” (yeah now you see why we had problems with pronunciation!) which means thank you in Turkish and headed for the Blue Mosque situated in the middle of Istanbul. Being the first mosque I had ever been into I was not sure what exactly to expect but the mosque was amazing. Before entering inside, which visitors had a different door than the Muslim men as well as the women having a different door too; we were asked to take off our shoes and were given a head scarf to use. Once entering inside the mosque though it was amazing! We stayed inside for about 45 minutes or so just looking at all the artwork on the walls and watching the local people praying and in general just soaking up the atmosphere of the mosque and its people. After leaving the mosque we walked across a small garden and were then face-to-face with the Hygia Sophia, another very well known and important mosque in Istanbul that started as a Christian church, was changed into a mosque, and now is a museum. The Hiyia Sophia was not near as impressive as the Blue Mosque had been but it was still very interesting with its impressive history. After visiting both mosques Olyvia and I decided we were hungry and found ourselves in a Turkish fast-food chain that served the McDonalds version of typical Turkish food, so after enjoying our doner and fries we headed back to the ship walking about 30 minutes back to the boat simply soaking in the atmosphere of the people around us and of Istanbul itself.

Waking up early on day two we grabbed a quick breakfast on the ship and headed out for a day of shopping at the well known Grand Bazaar in downtown Istanbul. After several turnarounds and troubles with miscommunication between us and the locals, Olyvia and I finally found the bazaar and couldn’t believe what we had found. The Grand bazaar boasts that it has over 4000 shops of locals selling their goods and products and after walking through the doorway to the bazaar I completely believe them on their count; the place was HUGE! There were hundreds of Turkish vendors selling everything and anything under the sun from Turkish pottery and Turkish delights to silver and rugs, antiques and clothing, it seemed as though if you needed anything, the bazaar was the place to go. Though it was overwhelming at first we were able to quickly situate ourselves and with our “shopping lists” in hand we quickly began looking for the perfect presents, souvenirs, and mementos from our trip. Besides the fact that we were in Turkey shopping and not Ohio, lol, one of the major differences from the bazaar and let’s say good old Wal-Mart was that in the bazaar we had to bargain for everything. Most of the time the initial price that you would be given may be as much as double the price that they actually want for the item and it was up to us to figure out how much we wanted to pay for the item and them to get the vendor down to the price that we wanted! Whether it took some simple negotiating, buying multiples of an item, talking with the owner first for several minutes, or even sitting down and having tea and Turkish delights with the shop keeper and then deciding on a price; we tried them all…and boy was it fun! It was such a fun way to both shop and to talk with the locals and learn more about both Turkey and their everyday lives. One of my favorite shopkeepers from the day was a man named Hasen whom invited us in for some traditional apple tea and Turkish delights and after talking with him for nearly 45 minutes we made a deal on a price for some of both for myself! After a long day of shopping with our arms full of bags and feeling god about the deals we had bargained for the day we made our way back to the ship just in time for a late 2pm lunch. After lunch and a quick power nap, Olyvia, Laura and I headed back out towards Taxim Square, one of the “hot spots” in Istanbul where we were told all the locals hung out. Once finally arriving in Taxim square we quickly discovered why it was proclaimed a “hot spot” in town. The street was not only lined with hundreds of Christmas lights, shops, and musicians, but the streets themselves were completely packed with hundreds of people walking around, talking, eating and just having a good time! We walked the length of the street enjoying ourselves while people watching and treated ourselves to a cone of sticky ice cream (I’m not quite sure how else to explain it other than the ice cream was sticky! Lol) before heading back to the ship several hours later.
Waking up and eating an early breakfast on day 3, we were on a mission; go to the palace in Istanbul before all the other tourists and the hot sun both get there which included being at the palace by 9am! I am proud to say though that we made it, Olyvia and I, to the palace before 9:30 in the morning! Once paying our entrance into the palace which once housed the Sultans of Turkey and their families until the 1920’s we headed straight for the Hiram where the Sultan used to keep his many concubines. It was so interesting to walk through the Hiram, the only part of the palace that still looks like it did when the Sultan’s used to live there, and we were able to see the living quarters of the Sultans’ concubines and were able to catch a glimpse at what everyday life in the palace may have looked like. After touring the Hiram we next went to the treasuries of the palace where all of the Sultan’s most valuable items are now housed including their golden thrones and pendants containing 86 carrot diamonds (and I am proud to say that the diamond was my souvenir for the day! Haha I wish!) After the treasury we continued touring the palace and the different rooms they had set up as part of the museum learning not only the history of the palace and the sultans that once lived there but of Turkey and the religion of Muslimism as well. After the palace Olyvia and I decided went in search of food and found ourselves in a small street side restaurant enjoying a meal of traditional Turkish pida which was a type of boat shaped bread filled with meats and cheese before heading to the Istanbul archaeological museum and then back to the ship for the night.

Day 4 was another day of shopping and soaking up the Turkish atmosphere in both the grand bazaar and the popular Turkish spice market. After making what we promised to be the last of our stops to the grand bazaar to pick up some last minute gift items for Olyvia’s family we stopped in to talk with Hasan one more time before saying what I thought would be our final goodbye to him. After walking around the bazaar for a while we decided to stop looking around and follow our noses instead and boy were we glad we did; the nutella crepes were delicious! Lol After our short crepe break we made our way out of the maze of the bazaar and began heading towards the spice market. Now I don’t like to ever say we get lost anywhere because it always just leads to a new adventure, so I will just kindly say that we asked LOTS of people for directions  . On our way to the bazaar though we ended up in a Turkish market that was not at all directed towards the locals and it was amazing to see the Turkish people and their shops and how they go about their day-to-day living. The street was lined with shops selling head scarves, trench coats (many women wore these instead of burkas), local produce, and even a shop containing the frilly outfits for boys preparing for their circumcisions. While walking through the back streets we were fortunate enough also to witness up-close one of the 5 daily calls to prayer. After the prayer began the streets were lined with men young and old with their shoes removed kneeling on either rugs or cardboard boxes that they keep stored in their shops praying along with the prayer that is broad casted over the loudspeakers across the city. Needless to say it was an amazing thing in my opinion to witness! After finally making it to the spice market we walked around for a while before deciding to grab a quick and cheap lunch of doner and ayran (a chicken sandwich of sorts and a drink) for only 2.50 lira (roughly 1.25 USD…talk about cheap!) and let’s just say that was an experience! I had been told I had to try this Aryan drink but had not yet found any and all I will say is it may have been the worst thing I’ve tasted yet on this trip! The drink is (you have to envision what this would taste like!) a mixture of milk, cottage cheese, and lots and lots of salt so it was pretty much thick salty milk…blah! A guy in the market saw Olyvia and I cringing as we took the first sips and all he could do was laugh at us and ask if it was the first time we had drank Aryan! After the spice market and our brief encounter with Aryan (which I will admit I dumped most of it) we headed back to the ship happy with our day and the experiences we encountered!

Day 5, our last day in Turkey  . Olyvia and I slept in for a little bit before heading off the ship in search for a ferry company to take us across the Bospherious River to Asia for the morning! After finding a ferry company that would take us the 10 minutes across the river (and coincidentally running into two different Turkish people who have lived in Ohio!) we made it to Asia (officially continent 3 in the past 1 ½ months)!!! After getting to the Asian side of Istanbul we quickly came to the realization that it was definitely not the touristy side of the city and spent the next couple hours browsing through a Turkish grocery store, outdoor mall, and outdoor markets enjoying ourselves as we people watched and soaked in the Turkish culture. After several hours on the Asian side of Istanbul we headed back to the ship for a quick lunch before I left by myself to go spend my last 12 lira at the grand bazaar as well as say goodbye one more time to Hasan (fyi 9 USD goes a long way when you’re good at bargaining)! Once retuning safely back to the ship for the last time we said our last goodbyes to the beautiful city of Istanbul and began our journey towards Egypt!
Ok so I’m really sorry that this entry is so long but I had a blast in Istanbul and enjoy telling everyone all that I did while there! But I’m in Egypt now and as I finish off another Turkish delight I must go now to write a couple papers…it’s nice when I’m able to forget about that part of the trip though! I hope everyone at home is having a great summer and as always I love reading everyone’s emails!