Thursday, June 12, 2008

Meeting Robin and Kanyon Mall

It was looking like it was gonna rain so we decided to postpone going to Princes' Island. Instead we decided to mosey around and explore one of the Boho neighborhoods off of Istaklal. David, Kristina, Kevin, Emily, and I all headed out (we left sick Edward, Kelly, and Zoe at home to watch The Sound of Music). While wandering about we found some cool antique stores with tons of junk that will be cool to look through at a later date. We stopped and ate at Miss Pizza which was so good! I recommend the Pesto Pizza. We weren't really set on eating there until we walked in and there was a puppy sleeping on the window sill. That sold us, especially because we got to hold it!!! It was sooooo cute and the owner feeds it out of a baby bottle. We all wanted to take it home. While eating lunch David got pooped on by a bird of some sort and we of course were cracking up. Then we saw a woman doing her grocery shopping via a basket tied to a string that she would let down to the teenager on the ground. Interesting. Then Kristina called Robin (the lady we went our flats from) so that we could possible meet up for coffee. She was free so she came and met us at this cool cafe/bar her friend owns. She is a very neat woman. She moved here all on her own and has been living here for a little over a year. We made some loose plans about getting together to have a barbecue on our terrace so she could meet the rest of the group.

Still threatening to rain so we decided to take a metro to one of Istanbul's huge malls. None of us (Edward, Kelly, Yekta, David, and I) knew what to expect of the mall. What kind of stores would there be? How expensive would stuff be? Well, it didn't take long to find the answers to these questions. The stores were expensive and the stuff in them was too. None of us had really gone to shop anyway so it didn't matter. We did however stop by a bookstore and read in the kiddy section. Man we must have sounded so dumb to the Turks as we asked out TA (Yekta) how to pronounce different words we found in the learn how to count book or in the transportation book. To have story time we of course sat in the little kiddy chairs too, just to round out the whole scene. We were getting hungry so we walked all around the food places and settled on McDonald's. We had been wanting to try an American fast food restaurant to see how the prices were, if it tasted the same, and if the menu was the same. So, I ordered 2 cheeseburgers (bc it was cheaper than buying a double cheeseburger) and fries. That came to 6.50 YTL. I thought it tasted just like home but some of the others thought it tasted a bit different. Other items on the menu included a McRoyal and a McTurko (hamburger patty in a pita). Then we went to the grocery store in the mall, finally a place we could afford. We all were really thirsty for some reason, like really really thirsty. So, I bought 3 drinks! ha. The grocery store had really cool shopping carts that could turn on a dime, so we entertained ourselves for probably an hour in the grocery store. A good time was had by all! : )

Hagia Sophia, Sultan Ahmet, and Gedikpasa Hamami

Whew, last Friday was a busy day! We started off by meeting with a graduate student/previous tour guide who was kind enough to lead us through both the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia. First was the Blue Mosque, which a few of us had already been inside, but it's the sort of place who's beauty and wonder never seems to get old. Before entering we sat outside in the courtyard and listened to the grad student explain some of the interesting history behind the building of the mosque and of it's namesake. Inside he was sure to point out the place where the sultan would sit and he said there was a special prayer room just for the sultan there too. After spending some time inside we decided to get lunch before going to Hagia Sophia, so we stopped in the Green Corner Cafe which is right next to the historical Byzantine church. I got some Gozleme which reminds me alot of a quesadilla, it was pretty tasty. Then the long awaited event came, we passed through the gates and security of Hagia Sophia!! As we entered the ancient doors I was impressed with how cool it was, unlike the mosques we've been in which are always a little on the warm side. Coolness seemed to radiate from the marble which was everywhere, all along the walls and the floor. Stepping into the main part, I have to admit was a little disappointing because there was scaffolding in the middle which was being used to restore parts of the dome. However, that minor disappointment soon faded away as I continued looking around at the 1500 year old church. I was so impressed by the way that natural design of marble was used to create beautiful patterns all around the church. Of course the best part was when we walked up the never-ending ramp up to the second floor. MOSAICS!! This is what everyone comes to Hagia Sophia for, the spectacular Byzantine mosaics. And although some were worn and missing pieces, the precision with which they were made did not go unnoticed. The gold reflective tiles were my favorite. They do such a great job of adding luster to the already gorgeous works. We learned that the reason that some of the mosaics were missing pieces from their lower parts was because people used to pick them off believing that they had healing properties. There was also some ancient graffiti showing that vandalism is nothing new. O, and did I mention that the dome of the church is so high that the statue of Liberty could be put inside and the torch would just hit the top! Amazing! And, tests have been run to check the stability of the structure and evidently the building could still withstand an earthquake of a 7.5 magnitude! This can partially b attributed to the fact that the planning of the building was done by mathematicians not just architects.

The last thing of Friday's agenda was Edward and my presentation on Hamams. We decided to do hamams as our site presentation because they are of both great hisorical and cultural significance. We chose Gedikpasa because it is one of the oldest in Istanbul, it was one of the cheaper ones, and it was bound to offer a more authentic (less touristy) experience. Presenting some background information on the many ways hamams were incorporated into cultural rite of passage as well as the historical basis for having hamams was just the beginning. We then, as a class, had our very own hamam experience. The girls and guys went to their respective areas and the fun began. We changed into our bathing suits and headed into the main room. We had the whole place to ourselves pretty much so we joked around, had water fights, and of course gossiped (in the true spirit of the hamam). We all had a blast. Afterwards we sat and had tea with two of the ladies that had bathed us in the hamam. What a day!

Dolmabahce and the Military Museum

Sorry it's been so long since I've posted, it's been a crazy week and half. Last week was jammed packed with events from morning to night, but it was great.

Last Wednesday: Dolmabahce Palace and the Military Museum

We met at Taksim at 9:30 (the least harmful of the single-digits, haha) to take the bus over to the palace. When we got there I was already overwhelmed at the grandeur of the grounds, everything was so huge and ornate seeming. It was destined to be a very different experience from that at Topkapi. We wandered around the outside for a while taking pictures of this and that and then decided to head back up to the front entrance of the palace to begin our guided tour. Also, I forgot to mention that a journalist that some of the group members had met the night before had met us at the palace because he was interested in interviewing some of us, I was not interested. Anyway, so we got to the front and stood in a huge blob behind a huge group of Asian tourists. In order to enter the palace everyone had to put little plastic booties over their shoes, they were pink, looked like shower caps, and looked hilarious on everyone (especially ones wearing rainbows). After putting on our booties we joined a huge tour group, to big to actually hear anything that the guide was saying. Thankfully we had a pamphlet that gave little snippets about each room and besides we were all to busy gawking at the rococo-ness of the place to really care about all the minute details. We proceeded all around the place seeing grand rooms, apartments, hamams, entertaining halls, bedrooms, and of course the room where Ataturk died. After exploring both floors we exited and proceeded to get some Dankek and su from the Harem Cafe because we were all sort of fading by this point. Then we went through the harem, which was a series of lounges and apartments used by the women of the harem. It was nice and all but it wasn't Topkapi's harem which will always be the coolest : ) We wrapped up the tour with lunch at a cafe near the palace and the journalists proceeded to ask some political questions to those at the other end of the table. I ordered a pizza and wondered how sunburned I'd be by the end of the day. ha

Next was David and Kevin's site project, the military museum. We hailed 3 taxis and headed over there. Outside of the museum was a huge canon barrel, big enough for Kristina and Zoe to climb into. David and Kevin lead us inside and began describing some of the items and the history behind them. I'm not one to really care for looking at tons of relics, but I found it very interesting to learn more about the specifics of the fall of Constantinople and about some of the legends that surround it. Also, the exhibit on the "Armenian Issue" and the Turkish government has decided to call it was truly eye-opening. It proceeds to make the Armenians out as the instigators and has picture after picture showing Turks that were martyred. After this we headed back to collapse in the flat after a long day of museum-ing.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

NGO, Sirkeci Train Station, Sufis

Tuesday was a busy day. First we went to meet with a lovely lady who works at an NGO who works with educational and women's issues. She was delighful and did a great job of answering our questions about Sufism. Then she surprised us by saying that they had prepared lunch for us! Yay! She must have heard my stomach growling or she's a mind reader one. They had made lamacun (Turkish pizza) and it was sooo tasty!

Next stop was Sirkeci Train Station for Emily and Kristina's site presentation. Although we had briefly been in the station on Monday (bc we took the train to get to Yedikule to walk the walls the day before) it was still interesting to see the rooms. We started outside with learning some of the history then we went into the museum to look at some railway items. Kristina and Emily treated us to cay at the cafe in the station. There we discussed our favorite parts of the article they had assigned from the Washington Post which had alot of cool anecdotal stories about the Orient Express in it's hayday.

From here we had some free time, during which Edward and I asked Yekta to go with us to Gedikpasa hamami to help us make some arrangements for Friday's visit, aka try to get a discount, which we did get thanks to Yekta : ). Then we went to a TarTar music session. We were led us to a room on the third floor and took a seat in a room full of awesome instruments, many of which I had never seen the likes of. The musicians came, played, and hande dout music. I was sitting next to one of the cutest little girls and kept having her help me play the drum they had passed to me. Her mom eventually switched places with her daughter and began speaking to me in english. She helped me keep my place in the music and gave me some advice about how to get more "involved" with the music by closing my eyes and swaying. She was so nice and helpful and made me feel very comfortable. After quite a few songs, a dirvish came out and began his worship ceremony. It was amazing to see a legitimate performance, and we all knew that it was a once in a lifetime experience. Then to top it all of it was the main guys birthday and the group invited us to stay for dinner. So we did and it was tasty. After dinner they began dancing and pulled us up to start dancing. I was hestiant at first but then I thought "what the heck, I'm only gonna be here dancing with Sufis once" so I got up and danced. Edward was given a fez by the dervish to wear while dancing, David put it on too. Classic. Then the dervished started shimming and I was cracking up. It was a great time, I'm sure Prof. Shields got a kick out of seeing us all dancing like crazy people when she came back up from helping wash the dishes. What a great experience!

Walking the walls

So Professor Shields wanted to take us to walk the old land walls of the city on Monday. Little did she know that we had more acrobatic plans for the walls. When we got of the train at the Yedikule stop and moseyed our way to the first watchtower, we were immediately giddy and couldn't wait to climb (not walk) on everything, giving Prof. Shields a heart attack. As we wandered up the winding, sunlight lit (and sometimes not lit) stairwells i couldn't help but feel the great sense of wonder and mysteriousness that surrounded the place. The ten of us went all the was up to the top of the first watchtower and did what any group of 10 college students would do, sing "I'll make a man out of you" from the Disney movie Mulan (our group's fav.). At one point Edward came running out of the stairway to chime in, making all of us die laughing! The song just seemed so appropriate bc it's about getting prepared for battle just as many people had to be prepared to defend the city, and it's one of the songs we all know by heart : )

It was really cool when we went over to another part of the wall and got to see the old prison. It was pretty spooky, especially when Prof. Shields told us that the shaft in the ground was used for. It was used to put the decapitated bodies in and it drained out into the sea. Ahh!! Creepy!

After walking (aka climbing) the walls of a bit we stopped for lunch at this cool place that had popasans for chairs. Perfect! Later we finished walking the walls but not before walking through a gypsy neighborhood, seeing an old Armenian church, getting lost, meeting some kids, and missing our ferry back home. It was a great day, one of my favorite yet : )

Monday, May 26, 2008

Monday 26th of May

Today we visited Topkapi Palace. We met outside the gates with Leslie Pierce who has studied Ottoman history. She kindly lead is around and answered out questions about all that we were seeing. We went through the kitchen, council areas, the sultan's throne room, and of course the Harem. The entire compound was decorated ornately and I never got tired of taking pictures of the beautiful tile work and the painted and gilded domes! And then we came to the room with relics. OMG! Turkey does not play around with relics. The palace is host to some of the belongings of important biblical figures. It had the sword of David, a rod of Moses, part of the skull of John the Baptist, the turban of Joseph, and the sauce dish of Abraham. Wow is all I can say. Then they had one of Mohammad's swords, pieces of his beard, and a plaster of Paris print of his foot. Wow again. The Harem was also very exciting. enjoyed the pebble walk way and mother of pearl inlaid shutters. The entire experience was utterly overwhelming with how gorgeous and how absolutely grand everything was, especially when we have nothing to compare it to in the US.

Afterwards, we were all starving (our Nutella and ekmek sandwiches had worn off in the course of 5 hours) so we headed out to grab a bite. Yekta, Kristina and I went to this place that served this one dish that started with a G, was like a very thin quesadilla and was very tasty. When I got my change, a lira fell up under our seats and a search ensued to find it. I think the waitstaff and the fellow diners found this very comical, but in the process we found my lira and 10 cents. The boys wanted to head off on an adventure, but Kristina and I had big plans for dessert so we let them run off ahead. We stopped and bought some Turkish delight at this bakery. The guy working there kept giving us free samples which was very nice. I never cease to be amazed at how friendly Turks are to us, and at how surprised they are that we are from the states.

Kristina and I decided that we wanted to go over to Istanbul University and people watch, too bad the guard stopped us because the university evidently closes at 3 and we were there at 4. What a weird concept? Universities can close. Hmm... interesting. So then we proceeded to walk aimlessly around the city to see what we could see. We saw alot of jokes and crazy things. Mainly how cars just park anywhere and how people can haul sooooo much stuff on their dollies. Turks are such hard workers, I don't know how they do it especially up all the hills! The two of us had joked the night before about how we needed to find a cheap bathmat for the bathroom to replace the towel we're currently using. Kristina said we should just find bathmat street and peep a cheap one. Well lo and behold, we ran across bathmat street today!!!! We were cracking up! : ) To make it even better we found on with two Carolina blue feet on it. Perfection. I mean it is obvi for a baby's room or something but still it means UNC for us. So for a mere 3 YTL we got the mat and were in disbelief that an entire store exists that sells just bath mats.

Later we went to dinner. And where else would hungry Americans go to eat dinner, the corner doner stand. All we wanted to be was full, something we don't experience every day. haha. So we all loaded up with doner, lamacun, and pilaf. Edward got something to eat and he wasn't sure whether it was meat or not. ha, oh Edward.... Over the course of dinner we learned that Zoe had been ordering the cheese bread at the same corner store by using the Turkish words that were just in front of it, Afiyet olsun. She thought this meant cheese bread, but it actually means Bon appetit! HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! We were of course dying of laughter at finding this out. Then one of the guys that carves our doner for us brought us all out some Turkish tea on the house. We were all very thankful and happy that we are all officially regulars : )

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Real World

This is the true story... of nine strangers... picked to live in a together (learning about Turkishness) and have their lives observed (by Turks)... to find out what happens when people stop being polite... and start getting real...The Real World Istanbul.

Seven weeks in Turkey, 5 in Istanbul and 2 traveling around Turkey. While we are here we will have class with Prof. Shields M-F. Sometimes we met for class in a medresse building built by Sinan near Aya Sofia. Other times we met at a tram stop, on our terrace, or in front of a monument. Its very flexible and perfect. We have already learned so much and it's only been a week. I've learned that Turks get involved with other disputes, want you to eat alot, drive recklessly, get off ferries before they're docked, often learn their English from tourists, are very hospitable, and always interesting.

Friday Night.
We met up with out Turkish friend Murat who lives on the 3rd floor of our building. We headed over to a bar off of Istiklal called Darkness. The 10 of us grabbed a table outside and ordered some Efes, which is Turkish beer, We all sat around, chatted and laughed and then later some of Murat's friends Sarat and Mehmet took us to a nearby club, not before we realized that waterfalling is not a game played by Turks. Here we American learned that American dancing is very different that Turkish dancing. Turkish dancing is all in the shoulders whereas American dancing is mainly in the hips. We did have fun though, especially after we went to the 2nd club (the one with no name and the one where Sarat got us all in for free!). Strobe lights and techno were the buzz words of the night, so was loudness. I felt like I was going a little a crazy with all the strobe lights and the constant request to pass the energy ball (a little piece of American dancing we decided to export) or catch the fish hook. Later back at the apartment Kristina figured out the best was to sum up the night. We had essentially done the Hokey Pokey with some Turks. Perfection.

Edward and I decided that were we're ready to bite the bullet and really get into doing some exploring and work for our project. We decided that we are going to do our project on Hamams, Turkish baths. We researched for what seemed like forever, found the hamams on the map (a joke!) and then I of course took a nap. We left at about 5:30 and headed over to some fo the historic hamams. At the first one, Gedikpasa, I got to take a tour of the women section. My glasses fogged up of course from all of the relaxing steam, but from what I could see with them off it seemed like a very cool place. It was built in 1475 and although it has not had undergone many of the same renovations as other hamams, I feel like that is the appeal. I ran into a fellow American woman from Philly and she told me that she had been to the Cemberlitas bath and that it was wonderful. Perfect, that was the next one on our list anyway.

We headed over there but not before a Turk asked us if we needed some help and told us how not many American vacation in Turkey, a little tidbit that we keep hearing. We found Cemberlitas which was built in 1584 by Sinan. It was cool but we weren't allowed to tour the facilities. We could definitely tell it was more touristy though. I stopped to exchange my $100 in US money and we encountered a real Turkish dispute. It gave some interesting cultural insight we thought. We found that random, uninvolved in the altercation Turks can and will get involved in disputes that do not involve them. Whereas in America we are encouraged to mind our own business thank you very much, the many that was helping to calm things down in the exchange office was not treated meanly by the man being reprimanded. Interesting.

Now for the far away hamam, Suleymaniye. It took us a hot minute to find this one. We walked through a ghost town and landfill to get there. By this time we were both getting hungry and all we wanted was some kumpir, a stuffed potato, but they were no where to be found. Everything was sort of closed seeming and it was not a tourist area. Let's just say that two of the things were not like the others. We finally found the hamam and went in. There was a European couple having some sort of dispute with the people working there, we took some pictures and left.

After returning to the room, exhaustion ensued.

Red Bull FlugTag 2008! What a crazy time! We all met William down at the base of our flat and headed over to take the ferry to Asia after we all put some more $$ on our Akbils. Then when we got to Asia we hopped on the number 4 double decker bus and rode for a ways out along the coast. This was my first time on a double decker and it was cool to have such a view of the street and all the traffic. What wasn't cool/smart was for all of us to be on the 2nd story when William (the only one who knew for sure where to get off) was on the 1st floor. I mean just because we're in the Honors program doesn't mean we have loads of common sense. When we arrive at the Red Bull event I was totally overwhelmed with how many people were there. The heat was also suffocating after a while. I got a kick out of the creative "flying" machines and at the paper hats some of the people in front of us were wearing. Emily needed to cool off and I was ready to have some space so we headed over to McDonalds with Zoey. McDonalds was packed of course so then we just started walking back along the main street. Zoey headed back to the group and then Emily and I had an adventure getting food, dessert, Cappy apricot juice, finding a rose garden, learning how to count to 10 on the ferry, and passing out back in the flat.

Six of us went to dinner at the restaurant next to Darkness. Yum!! I was cracking up that the menu had denoted one salad as only for tourists!! haha!! : )