After Crete, the four of us flew to Istanbul. Fun fact- you have to buy a visa at the airport in order to enter the city, who knew?
Going to Istanbul was kind of a scary idea to me. It’s in a Middle East country, has a different currency (Liras, not Euros), a language that I know nothing of, and is one of the largest cities in the world. Although it is a more modern city, the culture is still very different from the United States and Italy. Some differences that we notices are women are much more modestly dressed, there are a bunch of markets, selling objects on the street is a father and son business, cats are everywhere, and Istanbul’s kebabs are the equivalent to Manhattan’s hot dogs and burgers.
The first place we went to though when we arrived in Istanbul was the Dolmabahce Palace. The Palace was created in the mid-1800’s. The design includes various elements, such as Baroque, Rococo and Neoclassical, as well as its classic Ottoman architecture. Each room is ornately decorated with fine paintings, detailed tiles, rich colors, and grand, crystal chandeliers. Even the green gardens were beautiful with its fountains and arches looking out into the water. It was the home to six sultans. This is when I first realized how pretty of a city Istanbul is.
I had a very pleasant and unique experience with a Turkish woman in a Water Closet (bathroom) near a market. The public toilets were located down a flight of stairs and they were charging 1 lira for its use (this is common in Europe). I didn’t need to use the restroom, I just needed a place to put leggings on under my dress in order to cover my knees for various religious locations.
As I was struggling on the staircase, trying to put on the leggings while trying not to fall or lift up my dress to the public, the older woman working the bathroom grabbed my arm and pulled me down the stairs. She set in the bathroom doorway and waved me on to continue my outfit change. When my guy friend peeked down to make sure I was okay, she gave him a dirty look and blocked me from him. And she didn’t try to charge me.
It was such a simple yet nice gesture. I think that she saw that I was trying to cover myself in order to be respectful and she appreciated that. She just wanted to help me out. It was nice being looked over.
The reason I put these leggings on was because the first place we went to, a sultan burial room, I had to put a long skirt over my dress that was supplied. The place also supplied head scarfs for us to cover our head (just the women of course). We had a lot of difficulties; one friend got it right while the other looked like a pirate and I looked like Snoop Dog. The security guards were amused by our struggles.
The Grand Bazaar was unfortunately closed for holiday (Republic Day). But we got our shopping done at a different market. There were rows of shops with spices, candies, and tea. I bought apple tea because of a recommendation from a friend. There were also shops with jewelry, scarves, and beautifully detailed glass lamps.
Afterwards, we went to the Blue Mosque. The Blue Mosque was large, but even taller than I imagined. It was so beautiful, the detail was simply astounding with its rings of blue and gold. As the large amount of tourists were walking around with their heads lifted towards the ceiling or looking through a camera, there were people in a roped off section, on their knees, praying. Such a marvelous place to seek solace.
We then went to Hagia Sophia (or Ayasofya), which is a former Orthodox patriarchal basilica, later a mosque, and now a museum. It is much darker than the Blue Mosque, which was light and full of spirit. This reminded me of many of the cathedral I have seen. It is very grand with its high ceilings and large chandeliers. The light came only from the dozens of small windows circling the exterior. Hagia Sophia is two stories; on the first floor are the religious ceremonial pieces and on the second floor were frescoes from its history.
Before we left the next day, we stopped at a cafe chain type of place called Bambi’s. We asked if they knew English, the waiter responded yes and it quickly became clear that was the extent of his English. When we were having trouble deciphering the menu, the waiter ran up the hill to the piazza, where another Bambi’s was located, and ran back, handing us an English menu. It was very comical. Although they got all of our meals wrong I will always appreciate the fact that he was willing to run and get us a menu.
Istanbul as a city is so unique; it is increasing becoming more modern, yet it has all of these grand places that mark it with its history and continue to connect them to their culture. I keep on repeating myself, but everything was so beautiful. Istanbul is also located on the water, which also helps with its aesthetics. I really enjoyed getting a non-European experience and I would love to go back there.