Wednesday, April 18, 2012

I'm not sure why blogger is being so screwy with these Trip to Turkey posts. Now they're all out of order and some aren't even showing up! Sorry everyone, I'm trying to get it sorted out once and for all.

Since coming back life has been pretty much back to normal. The weather has gone back to the chilly 50s and rainy (does it ever stay warm here?) and there's been a lot to do in terms of sorting through all the post-travel to do list. All the unpacking and laundry is finally done-that took a ridiculous amount of time since German washing machine cycles last an hour and a half to two hours if you use warm water, so it becomes an all day event. Not to mention they're smaller so you have to split it up over more loads. ah, gotta love laundry day! :P

After over a week of sleeping in new beds and walking everywhere and go go go it's been kind of nice to be back in my own space and relax. It was nice to have my kitchen again and cook my own food. I played the harp and the fiddle and drove to the town to go grocery shopping and it was nice to see familiar German brands after a week of not being able to read anything in Turkish.

Yesterday I had a harp lesson with the daughter of a woman I met at the Wives' Club. She was really cute and shy but we got her to play a few notes. She's 5 but she's already had music training so she could find the C and start picking out songs from there. I think she's still too little to play but still, I'm excited to share my love for the harp with someone else.

Thursday I'm off to explore the nearby city. I'm meeting a friend for lunch and then I'll probably look around for things I can't find in our village. It's so great having a car :)

Monday, April 16, 2012

if you start reading the Trip to Turkey posts...

by the way, there are 5 parts to our Trip to Turkey blog post. Make sure you read part 5, it keeps getting hidden but it was my favorite part! :) If you have trouble finding them, look to the right hand side under the "Blog Archives" and you select it from there.

Istanbul: Blue Mosque and Hagia Sofia

Sorry for the lack of updates, but we've been in Turkey all week! I was SO excited about this trip. I've been interested in Turkey (even tried to learn Turkish for a while) since high school but I never thought I'd actually get a chance to go. Fionn had a week off as a kind of "spring break" and when we started talking about where to go he immediately suggested Turkey, knowing how much I've always wanted to see it. We had some passport issues that I was afraid would derail the trip (maiden name/married name mix up!) but all was solved by our trusty marriage certificate and we were on our way.

So here comes the mammoth post dedicated to our week in Turkey (I'm posting it oldest to earliest so you can read it easier and in order).

Saturday we left Munich for the 2 hour flight to Turkey. We arrived and found our hostel which was...well...interesting? It was a little shady and the bed was the craziest thing-sheets from that animated "Cars" movie, bright pink flower pillowcases and this weird black duvet cover. We laughed about it and chalked it up to travel experience. I felt kind of bad since I was the one who had picked the hostel (it had good reviews, in my defense) but since it was just ugly and not terrible, we decided we'd stick it out. We always joke we have to do this now when we're young cause when we're old and traveling we won't put up with this. :)

Our hostel was near the famous Taksim Square, which is a bustling shopping and restuarant area that used to be home to many famous protests. It feels like total chaos, with cars going in every direction, absolutely NO pedestrian right of way (we were pretty sure we were going to get hit sometime during our trip), people everywhere and vendors and restaurant owners screaming for your attention. Oh, and a huge statue of Ataturk too (but he's everywhere, after all). We braved Taksim Square to find some dinner, then called it a day and went to bed.

When we woke up Sunday the weather was gorgeous. Sunny, warm, blue skies. We decided to check out the Grand Bazaar. Once we got there, we realized it was closed, but the small market around it was still full of shopkeepers harassing us for attention. They kept thinking I was French and Fionn was German (probably his blond hair) but we got some occaisional Russian or English too. Frustrated by the constant attention, we went around the corner to the courtyard of the nearby mosque. I'd never been inside a mosque before so Fionn suggested we check it out, especially since it was small and not very touristy.

After a look around inside we stopped for lunch and watched these old men trade and discuss their prayer beads. Then we wandered around through the market stalls, tasting new things...

We walked along the street til we came upon two huge mosques and crowds of tourists...must be the Blue Mosque and Aya Sofia! But right then the call to prayer started so we had to wait until it was done to visit it. So we killed some time by walking around, trying some apple tea and Turkish coffee and Turkish delight, and enjoying the sunshine.

Then, to the Blue Mosque! It was nice, though I was a little underwhelmed to be honest. I thought it would be...bluer? It was still pretty but there were a ton of people so we didn't stay too long.

no shoes allowed!

The Aya Sofia was right next door so even though we were tired we went in. I'm so glad we did, because that was probably my favorite part of the day. Aya Sofia was originally a church built during the Byzantine times, then it became a mosque after the Turks took over, and now its a museum. There are still a lot of beautiful Christian mosaics left over from the Byzantine era.

We capped off the day with a walk in the park, looking at all the pretty flowers, especially the tulips. The Tulip Festival was going on, we learned!

and that was it for day one :)

Trip to Turkey Part 2

We woke up Monday morning to rain, rain, and more rain. On top of that it was super cold too! We bundled up and headed for Topkapi Palace (where the Ottoman Sultans used to live) but on the way it started pouring. We were drenched by the time we got there and shivering cold. I bought an umbrella, but it was a little late at that point.

We walked around Topkapi Palace for a while, but it wasn't the best option for a rainy day. The palace is unusual in that it isn't all connected, rather it's a bunch of smaller compounds near each other. Not the warmest thing, and getting from one place to another meant lots of walking back through the rain. We did see some cool stuff though-those Ottoman sultans covered the surfaces of everything in rubies, emeralds, and diamonds, so even the most boring water flask became jewel encrusted finery. They had some of the Sultans' robes from the 14th and 15th century, as well as jewelry, thrones, household was really cool to look at. We also went into the Hall fo Sacred relics which ahd things like Moses' staff, David's sword, Mohammed's beard, and a piece of John the Baptist's skull. Cool to look at, but you never know for sure if it's real, y'know?

You could also see the Sultan's harem, but there were so many people in line (in the rain) and you had to pay extra so we skipped it. I took a class on Ottoman History when I lived in France, so I was interested to see it, but oh well. I was too cold! :)

We saw some other buildings-ceremonial halls, private mosques, etc. But it had been a few hours and we were too cold to go on. We went back to the hostel to get dry clothes and warm up. We had planned on seeing the Basilica Cistern but it closed right before we got there, so we scoped out the Grand Bazaar to get an idea of what we wanted and decided to save that for Tuesday. We discussed visiting a Turkish bath but we didn't want to split up and only one hamman allowed couples and that one was reviewed online as being very touristy. Oh well, I think I'll be ok without a Turkish bath experience :)

Tuesday was still rainy and cold, but not as bad as Monday. We had breakfast at the hostel (tasty Turkish white cheese similar to feta, olive spread, bread, jam, and lots of strong black tea) and then headed to the Basilica Cistern. I'm a total nerd about stuff like this, so I was in heaven.

The Basilica Cistern was built by the Byzantines so they could have fresh water. The giant arches and columns that hold up the ceiling were recycled from other ancient sites, and it's cool for history nerds like me to see such a hodgepodge of styles and time periods all in one, even a Medusa's head! You can walk around above the water via a platform, and it's spooky in a cool way.

We headed for the Grand Bazaar, stopping on route for some coffee and Turkish mosaic cake...

and then to the Grand Bazaar!

The Grand Bazaar is totally covered and kind of like a big maze. It's been around since the 1400s and the covered streets are beautiful, decorated in tiles and colors. Before I came to Istanbul a friend warned me there would be a million cool things to buy and to be prepared. She was right, and I lamented the fact that I'd only brought along a small backpack. They had so many beautiful things-handpainted pottery, colorful glass lanterns, rugs, wood work with mother of pearl inlay, scarves, everything. It was hard to limit yourself.

I am a big souveneir person, probably because I grew up with family members who traveled a lot and I loved looking at the colorful souveneirs they had collected. When I started traveling on my own I started my own small collection, thinking one day I'd have a house to display them in. Well, that day has come sooner than I expected so when I saw streets and streets of colorful Turkish stuff it was hard to remind myself I only had one small bag to take everything home in.

I was in love with their colorful tiles and pottery (I get that from my mom, she's got an enviable collection herself) so that was the first stop. The vendor we talked to had everything imaginable-bowls, plates, cups, platters, all in endless combinations of patterns, colors, and sizes. I just got one bowl, but it's gorgeous. Fionn picked out a tile with the word "sultan" written on it in Arabic calligraphy. Even though I was drooling over everything else, I left it at that. When packing time came I was glad my level headed husband intervened because our bags barely zipped closed as it was ;)

Fionn turned out to be quite the skilled haggler. I was pretty impressed by his ability to get even the hardest vendor to come down so fast on their prices. He laughed and said he perfected the art of the "walk away" when he visited markets in Jerusalem and Jordan. Worked like a charm though, and we picked up quite a few cool things, including a beautiful blue scarf for me :)

After wandering around for ages, we'd spent enough money in the Bazaar. We stopped for a pide, which is a boat shaped flatbread with spices, meat, cheese, egg or whatever else inside. So so so good :) We walked to the old Aquaduct in the city and then through a kind of sketchy neighborhood to the Spice Bazaar. There they had tables full of spices, Turkish delight, dried fruits and nuts, cheese, meat, everything! We just walked around trying the samples and eventually bought some Turkish delight and apple tea. So many good things to eat! Perfect for foodies like us :)

Trip to Turkey Part 3

Wednesday was cold, but not rainy (thankfully). We decided to walk over to the Dolmabahçe Palace, where the Ottoman sultans lived during the end of the empire, so from the mid 1800s til WWI. It was interesting place-very much in the style of contemporary Europeans at the time, but with lots of Turkish influence. To go inside you had to wear covers over your shoes and no photos were allowed inside. That's too bad, because it was so pretty inside. Really gorgeous chandliers and stuff, especially in the Ceremonial Hall :) Luckily outside pictures were ok, which was nice since it's right on the Bosphorus!
also, lots of cats and kittens, but that's everywhere in Istanbul. :)

After looking inside we saw the adjacent gardens and saw the peacocks and other birds there. We kept walking, trying to find the ruins of this old castle/fort on the Bosphorus. We followed some Turkish signs through a garden, hoping that would be it, but instead stumbled upon the Yıldız Palace, where the Sultan's visitors stayed. There was a tour but we were the only non-Turkish people so it was all in Turkish. That was funny. The guide was very nice and would give us a quick recap in English while the rest of the group looked around. Very pretty place.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Trip to Turkey Part 4

Thursday the nice weather was back! We were kind of running out of things to do in Istanbul, so we decided to try a boat tour of the Bosphorus. It was a pretty sweet deal at 10 TL a person (around $6) so we hopped on, got a seat, and watched the world float by. It was a lovely day and nice scenery, plus we found the castle ruins we'd been looking for the day before. It was actually way farther than we thought...

Once back on shore we saw these funny boats bobbing up and down with the waves. Then we realized they were floating kitchens making fish sandwiches! Fionn was adventurous, so he went and got one. I had a bite. It wasn't bad but needed some seasoning or something. We sat in the sun for a while before the nearby Spice Market lured us in with its good smells. We had lunch and some homemade ice cream (it kind of tasted like sweet cheese, but was good) and then wandered around the local nieghborhood.

the essence of Turkey...tea :)

We saw a travel agency advertising trips to Troy and Ephseus and we stopped to look. The owner came over and convinced us to come inside. He crunched a few numbers, came up with a pretty reasonable price for a two day, one night trip to Ephesus and Pammukale, and we decided to go for it. After all, tax refund just came in :) We stopped to try some Turkish pudding we kept seeing in all the bakeries (we got chocolate and pistachio), and then looked into seeing some whirling dervishes later that night. The travel agency guy said that tonight was a Turkish dancing show instead and that it was better since the dervishes were "really boring and just spin around for an hour". It ended up being a really cool local event showing bellydancing, Ottoman dancing, and traditional Turkish dancing from around Turkey. Lots of costumes, great live music, interesting dancing, it was a really great show. It was held in an old Turkish bath and run by the Hodjapasha Cultural Center. Even Fionn liked it, and I thought he'd be dragging his feet to a dancing show :) Sorry for the blurry pictures by the way, they moved too fast!

isn't he handsome? :)

oh, while we were out i found some awesome shoes... :)