While all my friends abroad are posting photos with head-size steins from Oktoberfest, I can’t leave Turkey until we get our residence permits. Before I came on this program, I envisioned that I would be stuck and unhappy that I couldn’t fly to Germany for the weekend. Actually, it’s almost the opposite – I know I couldn’t handle the chaos of Oktoberfest for that many days, and I’ve really, really enjoyed exploring Istanbul during these early weekends when we have to stay in the country.
On Thursday, Charlotte and I tried to go to a political forum on the infamous Gezi protests. The forum was in Kadiköy, which is on the Asian side of Istanbul. We planned to eat and have plenty of time to stroll over; of course, traffic ended up being awful and we got incredibly lost. We missed the forum…but had an amazing dinner and made friends at a local pastanesi (bakery) by teaching them Chinese phrases and knowing basic Turkish.
The next evening, our program planned an evening boat cruise on the Bosphorus. It felt unreal to be sailing on the Bosphorus at sunset, under the bridge, chatting, dancing, and singing along (to Miley Cyrus. Classy but you know you love her). It was just overall a great time, and reminded me of how well our group gets along.
My rationale for coming to Istanbul was seeing the interplay of all the different cultures that have influenced modern Turkish history and culture, including the Mongols, Christian Romans, the Ottoman Empire, and Islam. It’s always great when something lives up to your expectation; I saw a lot of this hybrid culture on our two-part city tour with our history professor, Yavuz.
Now a museum, it used to be a church and then a mosque. Of course it was ornately decorated inside, with frescoes of baby Jesus next to big wooden plaques proclaiming “Allah” in Arabic.
My second time here was just as awesome – I could spend hours just sitting in here, watching and listening.
Also my second time here, but we visited the weapons museum, which was very well done with dramatic music and lighting. It’s weird to see these weapons, which were basically works of art with inlaid jewels and carvings, and think that at one point they had killed someone and were probably covered in blood. Euch and wow in one for sure. We also learned a lot about the history of the palace and the harem.
They used to keep water down here for usage, but now it’s just still water with fish in it. This was unexpectedly one of my favorite parts. It was dark, dim, and the echoes of the crowd mingled with the dripping of the water. Some of the columns had Greek statue heads turned sideways or upside down at the base.
That ended our tour the first day, and some of us stayed behind to drink çay and smoke hookah in Sultanahmet. We ended with a dinner at the same place Charlotte and I stayed the first night, surrounded by prayer calls and warm shawls.
Almost every square inch of the inner walls of this church were covered in frescoes and glittering mosaics. One was of Jesus, and looked different from every perspective (his fingers would be bent out of proportion, and his eyes would follow you), and the stones were cut so that the afternoon light would reflect a perfect picture of Him onto the stones below.
Defense Walls of Istanbul
Even though we only drove along the wall, this was my favorite part of the day. It was so interesting to see the ancient, ruined walls next to modern gas stations and malls. Also, our guide said that the land around the wall was really fertile because there used to be a lot of dead bodies from casualties during wars and sieges lying around the area – really gruesome, but also kind of fascinating.
Suleymaniye Mosque and Rusten Pasa Mosque
Another day, another mosque or two. They’re all so beautiful, and they use this architectural trick nicknamed the Turkish triangle to make the inner ceiling seem like one big dome (in reality, it’s one central dome and 4 semi-domes). They had beautiful blue, white, and red ceramic tiles as decoration.
This place was the main administrative center of the Ottoman Empire, after Topkapı Palace. It was incredibly ornate and more than a little gaudy, and heavily influenced by European décor, though it was interesting to see that there were still Arabic symbols and seals everywhere – a true fusion of East and West. The library and sultan’s bath were more to my taste of beauty, and the grand ceremony hall was overwhelming and majestic.