This weekend in Istanbul was an amazing trip. It was by far the most foreign feeling city that I've been to and I definitely felt like I was in a completely different culture. Other places that I've visited felt different, but still western and similar, while in Istanbul I felt like an outsider. People immediately knew that I was a tourist because I am really white and I think the only person I saw in the country with red hair. Even though all of the girls dressed conservatively, I have never felt so promiscuous wearing three quarter sleeves and long pants. Aside from the tourists, who mostly covered the same amount as we did, many women were wearing long skirts and jackets or long pants, long sleeves and an ankle length overcoat with a head scarf. Many other women were wearing head scarves, long sleeves and long pants but their outfits were more western looking. There were even some women in burkhas and revealing burkhas where their noses showed. We were staying in the conservative side of town by the mosques, but throughout the city women dressed conservatively, even on the "European" side where more women did not have their heads covered, but still a lot did. Something that I found very strange about the dressing conservatively was that the men were wearing complete western clothing. Most of them did wear pants and many wore long sleeve shirts because its a culture of modesty but I thought it was strange that women were wearing a hundred layers while the men could do whatever they want. Also, there were a lot of couples walking around holding hands and canoodling and I couldn't understand why this was allowed but the women had to hide themselves. Then at night we mostly saw men out and no women. Whenever we were walking around we were especially harassed by men wanting us to come to their restaurants or just making comments because we were tourists. Note there were no women doing this, there were a lot less women working in restaurants or stores in general. I guess that this modesty makes sense because the country is 98% Muslim but it just made me wonder what a more conservative country is like becuase Turkey is known as the liberal Muslim country and wants to join the EU by 2014. Overall, I really liked the trip and the city and felt comfortable there but I would never want to live there because after a few days the comments were getting annoying and I think that it was actually pretty oppressive to women even though it was more liberal than other countries.
Thursday: We left for the airport around 3:30 and our flight was supposed to be at 6:25 but it was delayed until 8, which was boring because we had to sit in the airport for longer. The flight was only about two hours and there was an hour time change. As the plane landed I could see the Blue Mosque and some other mosques from the sky. The city was really built up and it was really cool to see everything as I was coming in. When we landed one of our tour guide, Eva's, friends met us at the airport with his bus and took us to the hotel. The hotel was small but very cute and a nice place to stay, especially since it had free breakfast. We got there around midnight and went on a short walk to see the Aya Sofiya and the Blue Mosque at night, when there was no one around and they were beautiful.
Friday: Friday was our big tourist day. Very early in the morning I was awoken by the call to prayer and very confused but went back to sleep. Hearing the call to prayer throughout the city multiple times a day was really cool and at one point I actually saw people lined up outside a mosque praying on the sidewalk. After breakfast we started at the Aya Sofiya (Hagia Sophia) which was gorgeous and huge. We went inside and had a tour guide and also got to walk around by ourselves to see everything. It used to be a Christian church so there were actually crosses all around it. The Aya Sofiya is now a museum and there are no longer services there. Then we went to the Blue Mosque which we had to go through pretty quickly because Friday is when there are longer services but we had some time to sit on the floor and our tour guide told us about it. The floor was very comfortable because the idea is that people should be comfortable and enjoy praying. I also saw where the men were praying but the women's area was on the second floor and we did not have time to go up there. Inside of the mosque it was really beautiful and decorated in tiles with blue designs on them, which is how it got the name. Inside we had to wear head scarves and have our knees and elbows covered. My dress was an inch shorter than my knees and I was wearing tights and the man at the entrance originally let me through but then called me back and gave me and ankle length "skirt" to wrap around my waist. I think that the Blue Mosque was one of my favorite sights because it was really beautiful outside andd gorgeous on the inside. After we went there, we had a break for lunch. We ate at a little cafe and had kebaps for lunch which were very good. Then we went to the Sultan's Palace and walked around the gardens and went to the harem and the treasury. I do not really know how to describe it, but I will put up pictures. After the palace we walked around for a while then relaxed a little and we went to a show that night. We saw whirling derwishes which are some sort of religious figures who whirl. It was a pretty cool show but I was tired and spaced out a lot of it because the music was really relaxing. The performance was at the train station which was really nice and was the final stop on the Orient Express. Once the show was over we went to dinner at a Turkish restaurant where we sat on cushions/ a little couch on the floor. This was where I discovered apple tea which is a Turkish drink and is basically hot apple juice but really good. It is also where I had the best hummus I ever had. Before we went to dinner we actually bought some candy to eat after. This was an experience in itself. We bought lokum, which is Turkish delight and is just different sorts of chewy candy, in different flavors and some have nuts and then some baklava. As we were waiting in line, we were just talking and laughing and I was laughing about something and turned my head and there was a Turkish man. He started laughing at me and then decided he should pet me. For some reason he really liked my hair. Needless to say I went back to the hotel and took a shower.
Saturday: Saturday we went to the Grand Bazaar, which is the biggest shopping place ever and has over 4000 shops. We were there for a few hours and did lots of souvenir shopping and then got very overwhelmed and went to lunch. To shop there you had to bargain with the people and I don't think I was very good at this and probably spent more than I should have but whatever. As we were walking around there were three girls and one guy so we got many comments such as "Its Charlie and his angels!" "Hey Spice Girls!" "You're short, but you're pretty" "Why is he mean to you, you are so prettty!" They seemed to think that this would make us want to shop there. Whenever we were asked where we were from we said Prague so that they would not know we were American. When we were done with the bazaar we wanted to go to the oceanso we just walked downhill until we reached it. We had fish on a roll for lunch and then just walked around and sat by the sea sporadically. It was while we were sitting that my friend Tim thought it would be funny to try to sell us to some Turkish teenagers, because human trafficking is a big thing there. I don't think they spoke English so we were fine. Saturday night we walked to the European side of town. Everywhere we were was actually Europe and we did not go to the Asian part but this part was considered European because it is across from the very conservative religious side and is where the academics and intellectuals would hang out. We had dinner at a fish restaurant there and they gave us free tea and french fries. Once you are in a restaurant and off the street Turkish people are extremely friendly and nice and do not heckle you. After dinner we walked to the end of the street, to Taksim square and took the tram back to our hotel. We could not walk back because Eva told us that the area we had gone through to get there beecame kind of dangerous at night. Then when we were back in our part of the city we stopped at a hookah bar where business men apparently go after work. One of the men started talking to us and they were all very friendly. He also said that he had onlyy learned English from working in a hotel and he spoke very well. This was when we especialy realized that only men were out and no women except tourists were around. This was fine because we were in the conservative part of the city so I still felt safe but it was very strange and I was just wondering what they could have been doing. While we were there a girl walking down the street fell and people from every table got up to help her. This also showed us how helpful the Turks are because if that was Prague (ormany other cities) most people would have just walked around her. We actually saw one of the guys we met the next day outside his hotel and he said hello and we just ignored him because we thought he was just another person from a restaurant or just in the street harassing us. Then we realized it was Ottoman the Friendly Turk and felt bad and said hello.
Sunday: We woke up early on Sunday morning to go to the Basilica Cistern. This was built hundreds of years ago to hold water for the city and protect it from being poisoned by enemies. The walls were actually several feet thick to protect it and it was huge. The columns inside were gorgeous and they reflected perfectly off the water so it looked almost exactly the same. There were also two columns of Medusa's face, one tilted to the side and one upside down. It was really cool. After the cistern we did a little shopping to get postcards and little things and then packed up our stuff to go home. Then we went and had lunch in between the Blue Mosque and the Aya Sofiya. I had a bagel, it was different than a bagel at home because it wasn't as thick. After lunch we went back to the hotel and we left for the airport. We again took a little bus and it was really kind of scary because the streets are wicked narrow and hilly, but once we reached the highway it was fine. The flight back was on time and they gave us dinner again which was ok. I had to check my bag this time because I bought so much stuff. Then we came back to Prague!