Sunday, February 15, 2009

Getting Settled in Istanbul

The view out of the plane of the Mediterranean, the Tel Aviv coastline... And the wing.

The hideous Turkish Airlines seats.

In front of Hagia Sophia, the unique building which set a model of architecture for Eastern Orthodox Christian churches and then, after being converted into a mosque, for 500 years set an example for Islamic architecture. And now in secular Turkey it has been turned into a museum.
The beautiful Blue Mosque, with birds congregating around the minarets the way they do every night. Funny story: Zeki told me as we approached to go inside the mosque that I was going to need to cover my head, but that they would give me something. They were handing out plastic sacks at the entryway. I thought, I'm going to feel funny putting that on my head, but oh well. I did and Jacob was following suit when Zeki, the Kurdish man pictured a little later, said, "No, no! It's for your shoes!" So I started to put them on my feet but that wasn't it either. It was simply to carry your shoes in. I was given a scarf later.

In the famous Grand Bazaar:

See the curly tips of the shoes? Very cute.

Istanbul's skyline is full of mosques such as this one.

Jacob sampling the pickled vegetables. We've definitely been converted to the pickle-every-vegetable idea they do over here.

You see these little booths all over the streets. At first we thought they were selling the drawings, which we found amusing, but in actuality they're selling the stylograph kits. You know the kind, right?

We were trying to find our hostel when a very kind man helped to show us the way. He spent the next two days with us until he abruptly cut off the friendship. More about that later, but here he is, discussing why he fought against being in the Turkish army (he's Kurdish and claimed they wanted him to fight against his own people).
A view from the marina

Playing checkers. Jacob beat Zeki, then Zeki beat me. Guess that makes me at the bottom of the totem pole... Jacob must be his Grandpa Spencer's grandson...

An incredible mural depicting a typical Turkish scene: Turkish men with their little dark moustaches smoking nargiles (hookahs, water pipes) and drinking tea. Everyone drinks tea out of the same curvy cups.
Jacob took a picture of me like I was a movie star...

Sorry for the dark pic... This is Yusef, the owner of the hostel we're staying in and a good friend. Here Zeki got angry with us because we told him we were too tired to go to Taksim. When he ended the friendship over that, we knew it wasn't a good sign, especially when there's a notorious scheme involving taking tourists to Taksim, where you're charged hundreds of dollars for drinks and "entertainment" and then beaten up if you don't pay. Not sure if that's what Zeki had in mind, but we don't miss his company that much. He literally breathed smoke (chronic smoker) and burned all his money on beer and gambling. People in Turkey are incredibly friendly, but we actually started missing German people here, ironically. Germans aren't the friendliest bunch, but you don't suspect ulterior motives from them. They'll give it to you straight. You just have to be on your guard with the Turkish, who overall are among the most hospitable and genuinely nice people you'll ever meet (even the taxi drivers don't rip you off!) but among the bunch are some who take advantage of the hospitable system.

Heavily concentrated complexes along the shore

A typical counter of Turkish treats. Turkish delight and the Turkish form of baklava is what we like to sample.

The gateway entry to Topkapi Palace, home of the sultans who ruled the Ottoman Empire for 400 years. The empire extended, at one time, from Hungary to Yemen.
The tiling of Turkish and Islamic buildings is colorful and intricate.
Jacob in his Muslim cap. The writing of Arabic is artistic in itself.

I took this picture illegally and got yelled at for it and it's not even that great. But the contents of the museums are quite incredible: especially the treasury. Emeralds seemed to be the jewel of choice. The clothes they wore included sleeves as wide as a tent. But coolest to see of all was memorabilia from Mohammed, the Prophet. Like bits of his beard, his tooth, a letter he wrote to other countries calling them to Islam, a dress of his daughters, etc. Impressively, his footprint from the Dome of the Rock. Also in the museum was Moses's rod, Abraham's saucepan, and a man singing the Koran as we looked around. Crazy how the three monotheistic religions share the same origins, or at least the same stories.

Where the Sultan used to accept his Grand Viziers to discuss the matters of the empire... that's right, like Aladdin. Nobody around here's heard of that show, though!

Domed ceiling

These pictures are of the Sultan's throne, which actually looks like a bed. Couches surround the periphery of every room around here, including the library.

The view the Sultans had. No wonder they picked Istanbul to rule the world...
Gorgeous fountain

A mimicry of the Queen Mother with other members of the Harem. I was very interested to visit here, and I'm pretty sure others are too, because they charged a separate entry fee. The sultans kept up to 1000 wives and concubines here. And there was some major competition going on among the wives. We're talking killing each other's sons to ensure their son continued on the rise to sultanhood. The concubines were slaves captured from conquered land. The Queen Mother, the sultan's mother who had risen to the sultan's father's favorite, was in charge of all affairs women-related. Eunuchs, or often black slaves who had been castrated and therefore considered safe, administered the women.

Room of entertainment such as plays in the harem...
Courtyard in the harem...

A room where sultans in miniature learned their lessons. The eldest became Sultan; the others ruled other parts of the empire. Note the little couches surrounding the room.

A fat little sultan sitting on his throne, painted on the wall
These are our friends. The lady is from Tajikistan, can't speak a word of English, and speaks very loudly. She makes our breakfast and does an awesome job of housekeeping. The one closest to the camera is Ali and he is CRAZY! But fun. He bought my old laptop, duct tape and all. He cooks us dinner and one night convinced me to sing. I sang Edelweiss while he and his friend, not pictured, recorded it on their phones. Now every time I see them they play it! It's funny. They don't speak English either, but we communicate through facial expressions. Ali always says "Shake Shake Dolar" and we respond in kind. It doesn't mean anything, it's just a phrase he made up. He's a really good cook. He's made us chorba, excellent Kurdish salads, rice wrapped in leaves, spaghetti and more. His family lives in eastern Turkey. It's very common for men out there to come out to Istanbul for work.

We took a tour of the Bosphorus on a boat. Jacob with the Turkish flag waving behind him

A tiny little fishing boat...

And a super close-up of us! Love you all and Happy Valentine's Day!


GooberDiva13 said...

oh man, if i were to go there, i'd have that one They Might Be Giants song stuck in my head: Istanbul was Constantinople, now it's Istanbul, not Constantinople...

oh said...

Please bring Turkish treats home with you. They look oh so good! Yes, the display of Turkish treats was probably my favorite picture of the bunch from this posting. Of course, it is 5:45 p.m.--dinner time.

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