Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Istanbul, Not Constantinople


If you don't know this song, go look it up on iTunes, but not without the warning that YOU WILL NOT BE ABLE TO GET IT OUT OF YOUR HEAD!

Our last stop on our magnificent Aegean Adventure was Istanbul - Europe's 2010 Capital of Culture (or something like that... the signs were everywhere). And, it was quite cultural. Unfortunately, we really didn't have the best timing as we arrived on the night that Muslims break their month long Ramadaan fast, and the next two days were a national holiday. We still had a great time, but a lot of businesses were closed and practically everyone from all around Istanbul came into the city to celebrate. The first day we were there, two major sites didn't open until 1pm and the Grand Bazaar was closed the entire time. Bummer. Oh well, we definitely made the best of it and still saw quite a bit.

We arrived at night and were very tired, so we had some baklava and a drink at a little cafe and went to bed. Our hotel was in the Sultanahmet District, so the next morning we enjoyed our breakfast from the rooftop restaurant in our hotel overlooking Istanbul and then set out to see some sights. This is when we realized pretty much everything we wanted to see was closed until 1pm except the Sultanahmet Mosque (Blue Mosque), which was so incredibly crowded, we didn't even try to go in. It was also pretty warm that day, and I did not have appropriate attire with me (legs covered and scarf to cover head and shoulders). Matt was wearing shorts, as well, so we decided against waiting in line forever, because we didn't want to be disrespectful by entering a holy place in our western attire. Instead, we just started walking and ended up walking along the Bosphorus outside the walls of the old city, and then walked through a pretty park back to Hagia Sophia. Let me just say that besides the fact that I have blonde hair and blue eyes, I stuck out like a sore thumb. I was wearing a dress that I wouldn't call extremely modest but I certainly wasn't letting my goods hang out. Holy looks from men, Batman. I had every intention of keeping my shoulders covered when we were there, but it was just too warm that day. Between the heat, the looks, the crowds and just being tired, I was pretty sassy. Not to mention, the entire time we were there, I couldn't get over how little regard people had for your space or for the concept of waiting your turn. Pushing, shoving, cutting in line, etc. seemed to be totally acceptable. I ended up getting pretty pushy just to hold our ground. It was crazy.

Anyway, so we had to wait in line for a bit (and try to keep people from pushing their way to the front), but we finally made in into Hagia Sophia, and it was really neat. It was a Byzantine church that was converted to a mosque during the Ottoman era, and then when Turkey became Turkey in the 1920s, the government converted it to a museum. It was really neat to see the Christian and Islamic religions coexisting in a beautiful building. (As a side note: if you don't know much about Islam, I highly recommend looking up the 20/20 program that aired recently. I felt like I knew a lot about the religion, but I learned a lot from that program. With all of the tension toward Muslims in America today, I think everyone should watch it.)

After lunch and a quick nap, we walked around a bit more and decided to take a ferry to Asia. I was obsessed with stepping foot on another continent, since we were so close. Earlier in the day, Matt asked me if we were going to China. LOL literally. For being so smart, he sometimes says some funny things. He was serious. He was none too thrilled about getting on this ferry, but we made it to Asia and back with no problems, but a lot of stares. That night we grabbed a yummy dinner and then walked around the Sultanahmet District enjoying the nice weather, pretty fountains and the sites all lit up.

The next day we visited the Topkapi Palace, which was awesome. I was just in awe of the history, the riches, the tiles, the architecture... everything. It was amazing. Honestly, the pictures do not do it justice. It amazed me how well preserved everything was. We did the audio tour, which was pretty good but I would have liked even more information. I honestly wish I would have read a book on the history of Istanbul and the Ottoman Empire before we went. Yes, I am a dork and I love PBS documentaries. And, I am okay with that. After we saw all we wanted to see, including the Harem, we walked through the park and found some yummy street food for lunch. Since we couldn't go to the Bazaar (TOTAL bummer), we relaxed for a bit and made appointments for the Turkish Bath. That was a really fun experience. Matt had never even had a massage before, so I wasn't quite sure how he was going to feel about half naked men scrubbing him down and massaging him while he was also half naked, but he enjoyed it. He did note that his guy did not say a word to him but my guy wanted to talk to me the whole time. I will save you from the picture of one possible reason... my amazing outfit. Let's just say it consised of a plaid flannel like fabric "bikini top" and shorts and was a tight squeeze for the girls. After the bath, we once again dined al fresco (besides airports, we never ate a meal inside during the entire trip) on the same street as the night before. After dinner, I figured, "when in Rome Istanbul," so we smoked a hookah. Mind you, I've never even smoked a cigarette, not even a puff, but surprise... I didn't die! It's not something I would seek out to do, but I guess I kind of enjoyed it, and I did feel a little light headed. Whoa... Kristin's getting crazy up in here!  After that, we packed up and got ready to depart back to the good ol' USA. We had an amazing trip, but we were ready to be home... unfortunately, our flight was majorly delayed, so we hung in the airport for about 8 hours and missed our connecting flight. Oh well, 'tis life. We made it home safe and sound, happy for our experience abroad!

Hagia Sophia

Istanbul from our rooftop

The Golden Horn

The Bosphorus beyond the Topkapi Palace

Hagia Sophia

Sultanahmet (Blue) Mosque

Blue Mosque

Inside the courtyard at the Blue Mosque

peeking in through a window


one of the entrances (not open to public)

View from the east side of the mosque

old city walls

inside Hagia Sophia


Fun street where we dined two nights

Blue Mosque

This means "May your Bayram be blessed" - Bayram is the three day holiday celebrating the end of Ramadan.

Topkapi Palace

obsessed with the tile work

I'll take this in my bath, thanks.


I'm kind of obsessed with quatrefoils, therefore I must have these windows!

Part of the bath in the queen mother's apartment... I'd also like this in my master bath, thanks.

Bathhouse!  We look hawt.

Istanbul at night!


Kristin said...

Oh my goodness!! Did you have to wear that to walk around in the Bathhouse?

Kristin said...

Haha, yes. I was going to post a picture of me in the outfit you where when getting the scrub down and massage, but I don't need that circulating the interwebs. :)

Pretty Lil Birdie said...

Wow! Awesome pics. Loving the historic look about Istanbul. Definitely in our travel list.