6th Aug 2013 - Gorillas and Game
I feel like I need to start this entry with a couple of apologies. Firstly, I went on and on yesterday about my tour guide, Sammy, when in fact his name is spelled Semih. My apologies. You would think that I would have learned my lessons about getting the correct spelling in Kenya! I guess I am a slow learner. Secondly, my favourite part of the mosque experience, I managed to leave out of my explanation, the fountains. In the middle of the grounds in the Blue Mosque, there is a beautiful structure that houses a fountain for worshippers to listen to before entering in order to calm their soul. I love this part of the mosque. I imagine that I would spend a greater amount of time there, it seems peaceful and a lovely way to pay respect to your god. Lastly, I called the Aya Sofya yesterday by the Greek name, Hagia Sofya, which I am gathering is a no-no. Ignorant tourist.
Back to today. I started with a tour of Aya Sofya and was instantly amazed at how beautiful it is. The three Imperial Doors alone took my breath away. The sheer size of them was astounding. The designs on the ceilings and walls far surpasses everything I saw yesterday. A bit of background knowledge is in order. Aya Sofya was a church (the one that stands today is the third one, as the first two burned in riots). When the city was defeated by the Turks in the 1500's the Sultan immediately converted it to a mosque by plastering over some amazing mosaic works, erecting minarets, and placing the calligraphy symbols I discussed yesterday. In the 1900's it was converted to a museum and the mosaics were uncovered (surprisingly the plaster preserved them) and the building now shows a unique balance of two religions. The marble work, mosaics, paint work, etc. all were so beautiful that it would be very hard to not be moved by the sight of it all. As this was the third building constructed, it is noteworthy to mention that the unskilled workers used only bricks and cement to create the largest unsupported dome (at the moment some scaffolding blocks the entire view). Again, Semih, showed a great knowledge of history outlining the significance of the mosaics (my favourite being of the one Empress who married three Emperors in a row, all who died within a decade of marrying her, and they changed the mosaic 3 times to reflect the proper name and facial features). Aya Sofya is a must see for anyone going to Turkey.
Next stop was to a Hamam, a traditional Turkish Bath. I should explain here that I am a big prude. In fact, my mom loves telling the story of our family trip to a public swimming pool in Germany. Hundreds of women, one private change room...occupied by 7 year old me! So, I was very excited about this bath, but worried about how to follow proper customs. I changed into my bikini bottoms and wore the required sarong to cover myself. I was led into a very, very hot room and was told to lie on the marble bed and relax. It was so hot. I was hoping for other people to be there, so that I would be able to follow the lead of other Turkish women, but I was alone (con). But I was alone, and therefore no one could see if I messed up (pro). I got water from the ornate stone basin and rinsed the marble (many times) to 'cool' it down from scorching to almost scorching. Did I mention it was hot? Lying on the marble with my head on a pillow I finally had a chance to admire the beauty of the room. Above me was a beautiful white domed ceiling with many small skylights that created a nice ambient light (I actually would have liked a picture in here). A lady appeared by my side in a flowing gown and told me to follow her. She quickly undid my sarong (you can imagine my surprise) and had me lie down. Using a loofah mitt she scrubbed every inch of me and removed so much dead skin. It was quite invigorating and needed after all of this travel. I was rinsed with warm bowls of water dumped over my head and told to lie back down. This next part was amazing. She covered me in soap suds in a way that felt like I was being hugged by clouds (cheesy, but true). My goodness it was amazing. Again, warm water was thrown all over me and then she washed my hair. I haven't been this pampered in ages. I was escorted back to my changing room, so I started to change, but was asked to stop as I still had a massage ahead! Yay! I was then led to the massaging area for another 30 minutes of bliss. After which I changed and was given a nice Turkish tea (served in the traditional tulip glass). If only all of this could happen again tomorrow morning before my flight...or after...or both!
I could have just relaxed all day, but there was more to see. Yesterday focussed on the traditional and old sights of Istanbul, but today was more modern. We went to Taksim which was the location of the protests in June. I must say that I agree with the protest, it was to boycott the building of yet another mall (there are 300 in Istanbul alone) on top of some remaining green space (not much here for residents). This section of the city has some very interesting architecture tucked in some small corners of the city. Regrettably, some beautiful areas are being demolished for newer buildings of little character (some stores or the now Turkish government offices). One section, all residents were evicted due to them being all Greek and it left a large number of buildings abandoned which resulted in homeless and other 'undesirable' people to squat in them. Taksim has a vintage cable car that runs the gamut of areas here amongst all of the shopping (many similar stores to what we have at home). There are many passages (passajis) where vendors of different types (depending on the passage) set up store. We stopped at one lamp vendor to inquire about mosaic lamps. When Semih explained what I was looking for the man said it didn't exist. When I said, that is what I wanted his reply was, "Well you are one in a million!" I loved this comment! It was nicer than the Masai Market men calling me picky (I am).
Part of the tour is to have your fortune told. I hope that I do this next description the proper justice it deserves (I am sure I won't). We arrived down a side street to the entrance to a Transvestite Bar...complete with rhinestone banisters, disco balls, and feather boas. "Don't worry, this is just the first floor" says Semih. The second floor was a gay bar as well, golden gates, mirrors, and more disco balls. The third floor is where our fortune teller was. This floor was quite plain. Wooden floors, tables and chair, and absolutely no decorations to indicate that you could learn about your future here. I drank a Turkish coffee with many coffee grounds (I tell Murray this is thick coffee) so that they can be read later. I easily drink it all (all of those days with the Hendersons prepared me well) and Semih is surprised that I didn't need the provided water. I place the cup upside down with a coin on top as a tip. The grounds get read, as do tarot cards in response to 3 questions I got to ask. I won't share what my fortune was (you can ask later if you like) but I thought it was hilarious that the first things my coffee grounds told about me was that I am a very sensitive and emotional person. True!
We went into a contemporary art exhibition. Weird. Disturbing. In fact most of the art was incredibly controversial and we covered our eyes for most of them. Probably my fastest art gallery or museum visit ever. I hope this exhibition is moved soon.
Semih showed me the bar and restaurant he called the "Temple for Hipsters". I loved this comment. The best part was the looks of the people in the place (I don't think they spoke English, but it was perfect timing).
We heard Norah Jones coming from a restaurant. I told him that I love her music and he told me that before she was officially discovered she was playing in bars and venues here. Again, another first for Turkey!
Semih's phone rang a couple of times today and his ring tone was "Tubthumping" by Chumbawumba. Hilarious. He claims that last week it was The Smiths...not sure I buy it!
I got a freshly squeezed pomegranate juice here. It was very sour. I probably should have asked for it to be combined with another fruit, but when would I ever get this in Canada?
Semih left me late in the afternoon after kindly helping me to get a cheap river cruise of the Bosporus River (not the 4 hour tour for 30 euros). It was quite nice to sit and relax in the shade and breeze after a hot day walking around. The sights along the riverbanks were fun to photograph. When back on land, I walked and wandered to find my hotel. This took me down one road of restaurants with very assertive men trying to get you to eat at their establishment, most were friendly except one (definitely would never eat there). I found my way back to my hotel to relax in my room before another long day of travel back home.
Thank you to all of my readers these past three weeks. It has been great sharing my stories with you. To those I have met along the way, thank you for all of the great memories!