Sunday, March 13, 2011

Istanbul, Yes Please My Friend

Yea, I'm finally getting around to blogging about our trip to Istanbul, over a week later, but we just had spring break, I wasn't gonna blog during that week, but anyway, here it goes...

We left for Istanbul two weeks ago on Saturday and flew there by Pegasus Airlines (yea, I had never heard of it either) and the plane was so small that we had to take a bus from our terminal to the actual plane and board from the ground. The plane landed on the Asian side of Istanbul and we had to travel to the European side to get to our hotel (the city stretches over two different continents and yes I was in Asia!). We hit a good amount of traffic getting from Asia to Europe so by the time we got to our hotel it was pretty late. We had a group dinner on the seventh floor of the hotel our first night and the view was absolutely gorgeous, we had a perfect view of both the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia out the window. We had a traditional Turkish dinner, which was pretty good, but I couldn't have told you what any of it was. Later that night we walked around the neighborhood of our hotel and around the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia, they were both incredible to see lit up at night. Before we went back to the hotel, we were treated to some free baklavah (or I guess technically it was pre-paid) and it was delicious! The first night I couldn't wait to go to bed, it was a pretty tiring day, but of course I was woken up at about 5:00 am by the call to prayer from the nearby mosques, yea that happened pretty much every night there.
Our second day we got to go inside Hagia Sophia. It wasn't quite what i expected, but it was incredible nonetheless. It was really cool to see the changes made when it was converted from a church to a mosque and I enjoyed seeing the combination of the Muslim symbolism and artwork as well as the Christian artwork, mainly mosaic, that was uncovered when it became a museum. We spent about three hours or so in Hagia Sophia sketching and it wasn't nearly enough time, in fact I have to finish that page of my sketchbook still. While we were sketching though, we became a show. There were tons of people taking pictures of us, of us sketching, and even just our sketches. Some of the people were even getting closer to my sketchbook than I was just to see what I was doing. It was really nice as well to get a random flash or pre picture orange light in my face or on my page as I was trying to draw, but it was well worth it. When we were all done sketching we found these, what we thought at first, random x's on the floor. What we realized they were there for was to outline the circumference of the dome, so of course we turned it into a photo opportunity, everybody stood on their own x and we traced the path of the dome ourselves! After Hagia Sophia we went to the Basilica Cistern, which is just a huge underground room full of columns with a layer of water at the bottom. There were even fish swimming around inside! From there we went to the spice market, a market full of stands selling tea, spices, and Turkish Delight, which were delicious. After that we finished the day in two mosques around the area, all in all a pretty good first day.

The next day was a pretty simple one. We started off by visiting the Blue Mosque and from there we walked around the neighborhood around it out of the tourist area. The Blue Mosque was huge and very nice, but we were not there very long because it filled up with tourists pretty quickly. We sketched for about a half an hour in there before it became too crowded. I was surprised by the number of tourists though who seemed to not care about the Muslim culture. There were a good amount of women walking around with their heads uncovered and as we were coming in, I'm sure there would have been people who didn't take their shoes off if there wasn't somebody at the entrance telling us to. We visited a few more mosques that day before we broke, all very similar in main design, but each with their own intricacies that gave them a unique feel, it was very interesting to try and draw and diagram those subtle differences and it helped to relate all of my drawings together, not just the seperate buildings.
From there, although they were all incredible, the mosques began to somewhat blend together. We saw too many that were too similar and when we started to do other things in the city the mosques began to take somewhat of a backseat. Our first extra activity (besides our initial trip to the spice market) was going to a Turkish Bath! Most people were a little hesitant at first, and in fact some decided not to go, but I am so glad I did. The experience was interesting and I certainly won't forget it, and I felt so great afterwards. Our next activity was visitng the grand bazaar, which consists of hundreds of shops selling pretty much everything, from gold jewelry, to tourist souvenirs and antique Turkish items. It was also full of the most persistent sales people I have ever seen, and they would guess where you were from and yell to you in your language as you walked past. I heard everything from English, Turkish, Italian, Spanish, German, and more while I was walking through it. Several of the vendors actually thought I was Spanish and tried to talk to me in Spanish before English, while another guessed that I was from Texas. Our next activity was carpet shopping. One of our professors knows a dealer in Istanbul (who also has a factory in Maryland) that he met when he was a student studying there, so we visited his shop to see all the different carpets he had and some people even ended up buying some, not me, I would have but I had no room to bring it back and no money to pay for it, oh well, next time. Our last non mosque activity was visiting an old palace in the city. The palace was incredible and the tile work inside blew me away. They also had exhibition rooms full of the biggest jewels I had ever seen placed in random objects completely unnecessarily. If I had just one of those items I probably could have paid for college several times over. We tried to sketch in the palace, but anywhere that we could sketch was outdoors and it was just too cold. After the palace we all went back to Ismet's (the carpet guy, Uncle Ismet as he referred to himself) and had lunch, Turkish pizza. It was pretty good, but I prefer Italian and New York pizza. On our last night we had our second group dinner, this time it was on the Asian side of the city. We took a ferry there and it was awesome to see the city at night, because we could see the entire thing from one view or another.

All in all it was a really good week. Istanbul was incredible, the sights were phenomenal, and the culture, though very different, was extremely interesting and I'm glad I got to witness it. I will hopefully going back to Istanbul again, even more than once, and hopefully sooner rather than later!

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