What a week! Istanbul is absolutely crazy. After living in a small town for most of my life, going to a small school (in a smaller city), and then moving to Paros which is a pretty small island, Istanbul's 14 million population really threw me. At first it was really refreshing, always seeing someone on the streets and knowing that there are actually other people where you live, but after a few days, that many people got stressful. I guess I'm just a small town girl at heart.
The first thing we did after our exhausting day of traveling was go out for dinner together and have our first experience with Turkish food. Turkish pizza, Turkish ravioli, Turkish bread--which puffs up to be huge but then becomes interestingly cracker-like after it's broken into, Haydari--which is like Turkish tzatziki, and some really delicious hummus. A man on the street was playing the drum in a traditional Turkish way, and we all acknowledged him and clapped for him, but as much as he seemed to appreciate our enthusiasm, he finished and immediately asked for some money. Lesson number one of Turkey: I know it's hard not to acknowledge people, but even if you tell someone no, they think it's possible to convince you otherwise. Just keep looking straight ahead and don't give anyone a chance to try to make you buy something or donate money.
The next day, we went on a massive walking tour of the city with Cameron leading us along. We stopped first at the Hagia Sofia, a building with a wild amount of history. First, it was an Orthodox cathedral, then a Catholic cathedral, then Orthodox again, then later turned into a mosque, and now it's a museum. Talk about a chameleon building! It's very interesting architecturally and design wise because it still retains elements from most of its different phases. It still has massive medallions with calligraphy and the intricate geometric patterned walls from its mosque days, but it also still has stained glass windows and Christian iconography.
Then we went through the Grand Bazaar, where there are shopkeepers constantly trying to get you to come in to their shop. They'll say things like "Hey, Angel!" "Hey, Sweetheart!" and "Hey, Spice Girls!" when you are with a larger group of girls. Even though haggling for prices can be fun, the constantly being called at can be grating on your sanity. Still, we weren't there for long, because we still had so much to see. We went back several other times in the week, and I bought a dress, jeans, shoes, and a scarf. All in all, a good vacation shopping haul.
We went quickly through the old book bazaar. Then we walked through Istanbul University, which looked a lot like an American university, but with a lot more flowers planted on the grounds, and a cooler view across the Golden Horn. Cameron let us stop there briefly while we all caught our breath and took pictures.
After the break, we went through the Spice Bazaar, and made our way to a restaurant just outside the spice bazaar. It had pretty good food, great hummus, but it was definitely the beginning of spending a lot of money on food. Even though it never really adds up to a lot of money in US dollars, or even in Euros, I'm still one to prefer staying in and cooking my own food, so going out every lunch and dinner becomes sort of exhausting, especially when it's such a big city with so many places to choose from.
The next exciting thing we did was have a group dinner with everyone and Barry where we all sat on the roof cafe of our hostel and had a good time and a few drinks. Nothing too crazy, though. Except maybe how crazy I am about Turkish Pizza. ;)
Later in the week we went to the Blue Mosque, otherwise known as the Sultanahmet Mosque, which is one of the most famous in Istanbul. We made sure to cover our heads with scarves so we were respecting their culture while we visited such a religious place. A woman there even gave Laura a skirt with velcro on it to cover her up further (although I don't know why--she was wearing full length leggings). Ah well, when a Muslim woman gives you a skirt, you wear it. Turkey Lesson number 2.
On another day, we got to see a very different but still very cool part of Turkish culture: the young part. Across the Golden Horn in Taksim is Istiklal Avenue, which is heavily populated all of the time by young Turkish hipsters and lots of American and English brands. It's almost completely westernized, and so it reminded me of home to see Gap and Sephora and Starbucks. It's nothing new, and looks kind of like SoHo in New York, but it was at least refreshing to not get called at on the street and actually choose which stores we wanted to visit. Plus we took the tram to get there, and then we took a shuttle train to get to the top of the hill, which was actually really fun!
Anyway, it was really quite fun for parts of the Turkey trip, but we really just missed Paros. Taking a break and seeing something new was definitely worth doing, but by the time we went home, I was very ready to get here.
Well, TTFN, Ta Ta For Now!
P.S. As a sidenote, another thing I learned in Turkey is that the most important thing you can do for yourself as an American girl is to briefly abandon your feminist views, because the culture of a place you go isn't going to change for you. I know it might be hard, but just let a guy friend walk with you when you go places. Or go in bigger groups. Safety is more important than trying to convince anyone that you're independent.