Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Turkish Delight!

When I thought about traveling Europe, I never thought about Turkey. Not only do I not know anything about the country... but, well, I didn't know anything about the country. I barely even knew where it was. But thanks to Rick Steve's (and the Barger family stories) we decided to give it a chance. I started to read up on it and immediately Istanbul was bumped up on my "Places to See" list. Then when I realized that it's a 98% Muslim country so everything is "business as usual" on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and "Boxing Day," I realized istanbul was the perfect place to maximize our 3-day Christmas weekend!
(Unfortunately I have to consider these things now that I'm back in the working world!)

So Merry Christmas and helllooo Istanbul...

Day 1 (Christmas Eve):

Since we were only there for three days, we pretty much hit the ground running. We dropped our luggage off at the hotel and were off to the Grand Bazaar (Ohhh, so that's where that big indoor flea market filled with random goodies in Silver Spring, MD got it's name...).
And we were properly fueled with Starbucks!

There were mosaic lamps galore!
And we just might have splurged and bought one as a souvenir...

Tons and tons of shops!!!

After wards we had to take our great purchases back to the hotel, then we headed to Istiklal Street - kind of like their Georgetown in DC.
A Christmas Tree!

They don't celebrate Christmas, but they decorate for New Year's in a way that is similar to the western world's Christmas decorations... I'll take it!
Merry Christmas!

We ate dinner at a place right off the street, where they made us a large platter to share with samples of all the different Turkish traditional foods.
We crushed it. No Pics. Oops.

Luckily, like the Turks, we aren't very tall:
This was the bathroom entrance. Not everything in Turkey was this short...

Finally, we were back at the hotel where we realized we were about to have an amazing shower:
The rainfall shower head did not disappoint. Merry Christmas (Eve) to ME!
Note to self for dream home...

Day 2 (Christmas Day!):

We started the day with breakfast and a little Christmas devotion. Together with the Rivera's, we brought Christmas to Istanbul in our own small way. In our hotel room we read and talked about the Christmas story together before starting our next adventure.


Ready... set... Hit-everything-you-can-in-one-day-so-you-can-shop-the-Grand-Bazaar-again-before-we-leave-tomorrow ... GO!

We started out at Topkapi Palace. Home of the Sultans:

This bed was HUGE! You can't see it all because the glass case is in the way, but it had to be the size of two queen beds put together.

Each sultan built on to the palace so the styles seemed kind of random.
There were several cool sections (including a treasury with a 86-carat diamond!), but most you couldn't take pictures inside, so we'll move on...

Our next stop was just outside of the palace grounds - Hagia Sophia:

The was originally a church built by Justinian in 530s A.D. where it served as the "eastern Vatican" for 900 years. Then when the Ottoman's took Constantinople in the 1450s, they added some minarets, covered up the paintings and converted it into a Mosque.
Now, it's simply a museum:

The interior:
Huge and beautiful!

When originally built, the center of the Apse was facing Jerusalem... However, when it was converted into a Mosque, and Muslims pray towards Mecca, the niche had to be moved slightly to the right to point just south of Jerusalem, to Mecca.

Here's a better view of the off-center niche:

Going to the upstairs part:

Here you can get a better sense of the size (and extreme height!) of the structure:

An old mosaic on the wall from when it was a church.
The little pieces used on the mosaic were quite awe-inspiring!

A picture of what it would have looked like:
Here the virgin Mary and John the Baptist are asking Jesus for the salvation of souls.

And back down...

Another Mosaic above the entry way.
When the church was converted to a mosque they painted over the mosaics of people because they didn't want it to distract worshippers from focusing on the one they were worshipping. Once it was turned into a museum they took off the plaster to reveal the incredible art work underneath.

Lots and lots of Donor Kebabs... though this time we got chicken rather than lambs meat. It was a nice break for me!

James Lunch:
As usual, he always seems to find the yummiest thing on the menu.

Next, Sultan Ahmet Mosque, or "the Blue Mosque" as it's called by tourists because of all the blue artwork on the inside.:

The Blue Mosque was built in 1616 by the same architect who rebuilt Kaaba (the holiest shrine of Islam- the giant black cube at the center of the mosque in Mecca).

First we got into a long line to enter in the front:
Only to realize we were in line with the locals, not the visitors...

Self Explanatory:

Going through the visitor's entrance off to the right side of the mosque:
Notice my apparently-too-short skirt...

We had to take off our shoes, and I had to wear a sheet to cover my knees...

Hello Mosque-appropriate Heather:
We were told that we didn't have to wear a scarf over our hair. Apparently that used to be the rule, but they have been Westernized and now a scarf is only appropriate to cover your shoulders for exposed-shouldered-visitors during the summer months.

Our shoeless feet:

Check out all the artwork. It was really beautiful!
And I thought it was crazy how open it was inside.
Oh, and there were no pews. I never knew that about mosques...
Visitors had to stand in the back. Only worshippers could go into the front area. There was a barrier to separate us.
You can see a few people kneeling in the front.
Also, women had a separate prayer room so the opposite genders would not be distracted by one another during prayer.

Hello shoes...

Random man making some cool looking goodies:

We had to try them out:
Not as good as they look.
None of us finished them...

The mosque from further back. It's huge!
According to Muslin tradition, the imam (prayer leader; often called a muezzin) would climb to the top of a minaret five times each day to announce the call to prayer. Today, the imam still performs the call to prayer, but now it's amplified by loudspeakers at the top of the minarets...
A single minaret was adequate for its strait forward function, but mosques financed by sultans often wanted to show off with more. According to Legend, Sultan Ahmet I asked the architect for a gold (altin) minaret- but the man thought he said "six" (alti). In all likelihood, Sultan Ahmet I probably requested the six minarets to flaunt his wealth. But at the time, the central mosque in the holy city of Mecca also had six. The clergy at Mecca feared that Ahmet's new mosque would upstage theirs- so they built a seventh minaret at mecca.
-Taken from Rick Steve's Istanbul

On to another shop stop... The Spice Bazaar!

This bazaar is just as hectic as the grand bazaar but significantly smaller!

They sell spices galore!
And DELICIOUS teas and dried fruit!

Danielle and I trying to decide which teas to purchase:

Stephen taking a whiff of some seasonings:
There were SO many options, and each store had a few mixtures of their own special seasonings, along with the usuals.

This nice man was our favorite.
He even helped Danielle make a tea-to-go.
Notice her Turkey Starbucks mug- we're such tourists!

My favorite was the Turkish delights (I'm holding a bag of them):

And to reenergize after the Bazaar, what better than a Starbucks run:

That night, our Christmas presents to ourselves was to indulge in a Turkish Bath. There you start in a steam room - where everything is hot (including where you sit and walk)! Then you get a little exfoliation and a total body massage!

Also, everywhere we went people would wish us a "Merry Christmas," which we appreciated-knowing they don't celebrate it. The Turks are very hospitable people, and we loved them and Istanbul for it!

Day 3:

I woke up to Muslim prayers.

I forgot to mention that here the prayers, all five times a day, are broadcasted through the loud speakers on each of the Mosques' Minarets (and there are mosques everywhere!). During the prayers, for the people going about their daily lives it's business as usual. There aren't people all over praying- here prayer is only done in churches and at home, not on the streets. But everyone will turn off their music if they have any playing.

It was quite an eye opening experience, as being an American in this day and age, I think we are traumatized by Islam to an extent. It was a little uncomfortable to see (and hear) their devoutness, because part of me is reminded of the extremist and their hate for the country that I love. And the other part of me was uncomfortable because they have the discipline and respect for their religion, more than any other religion I've seen. In some cases, even including my own. It is quite intriguing. And completely convicting.

After the prayer it was time to get up, get breakfast and head underground for a quick trip to the old cisterns:
In it's functional days (6th century A.D.), water would have filled it at least halfway up- the cistern covers an area about the size of two football fields and is big enough to hold 27 million gallons of water.

There are 336 columns supporting the ceiling.
Most of the columns were recycled from the earlier Roman ruins.

Don't look into her eyes!!!

Underneath two pillars in the far corner were two medusa heads.
One was sideways and one was upside down.
The Greeks used Medusa heads on tombstones or cementary walls to scare off grave robbers. To the Romans she was a protector of the temple. And to the Christians, Medusa was a reminder of the Romans persecution- so it may be no coincidence that these pagan fragments were left here in the dark corner of the cistern, never to see daylight again...
(Rick Steve's Istanbul)

On our walk to Grand-Bazaar-Experience-Day-Two I got a little distracted by all the Turkish Delights in the store windows... Mmmmm!

...Until someone mentioned shopping of course!
Us outside of the Bazaar entrance.

More items that people were selling...
Scarves, pottery, hookahs...

More Light fixtures...
Helloooo handsome shopper!
Everyone there was confused by James' nationality. They always thought he was Spanish, Italian and even Turkish... hah!

Clothes, purses, shoes... Oh my!

Fresh-squeezed pomegranate juice...
That's right, I said it. Fresh. Squeezed. Pomegranate. Juice.

Turkish hospitality, Grand Bazaar, Spice Bazaar, fresh-squeezed pomegranate juice, delicious teas, Turkish bath, amazing shower head, a purse, a scarf, and lamp and some Turkish Delights later... we were broke...Uh, I mean, we were back on our way to Naples!

Wish you were here!

PS. I never knew Troy was in Turkey- the whole Trojan Horse thing happened in Turkey! Who knew?!? We just realized/learned that on our last day. I just might have to go back to Turkey afterall!