Four Day: Days 1 and 2 - Topkapi Palace, Sultanahamet Mosque, Egyptian Spice Bazaar, and more.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Well, I never thought we would reach this point, but we am officially halfway through this amazing semester.

Yes, four-day is finally here!

Cue the celebration for a short break that is well-needed by everyone. A group of girls and I packed up our bags and ventured out from Yeditepe and the dorms, and booked a small hotel in the heart of Sultanahamet - "the old city," where we are spending our long weekend exploring the must-see sites of Istanbul, as well as venturing around an area that we no longer have quick access to like we did when we lived in Galata.

After classes on Friday, we took an evening off and hung around Yeditepe - I took the evening to organize some stuff for this weekend, catch up on some emails/work, and clean up my room. Then come Saturday morning we took public transportation over to Eminonu, and checked in to our hotel. We dropped off our bags, and then ventured out to explore the city on an overcast, but pleasant day. Shea and I headed over to check out Topkai palace and Istanbul's archeological museums.

For starters, Topkapi palace is INSANE. It is literally a palace, full of rooms carrying so many priceless artifacts, decorated as beautifully and intricately as you can image - and I got to explore all of it! We walked through many rooms displaying everything! I saw ancient Ottoman clothing, priceless jewelry (which included a diamond the size of my fist that required its own security guard), a hall of ancient artifacts where I saw hair from Prophet Muhammad's beard, and my personal favorite: a whole hall dedicated to ancient Ottoman weapons. I have never seen so many things that could viciously kill a person in one convient place!

We wandered throughout the courtyards, which were super busy since it was Saturday, and also not raining - which is a rare occurrence. Amid hundreds of other tourists, I took a couple hours to stand in awe of all that Topkapi held. The Ottoman Empire doesn't look very backward when you look at all the stuff they managed to have in this palace by the sea.

We spent another good hour exploring the Harem, which is like a mini palace in itself. This is where the Sultan's wife and female servants and children lived. It was beautifully decorated, filled with pools, baths, and apartments for the individuals who lived there. Really, really, cool stuff.

Shea and I took a late lunch at a cafe near Sultanahamet Square, got some kebabs - as well as chai on the house thanks to our good ol' Turkish! Funny story, people get really impressed when you use Turkish here. Perhaps it's just such a touristy area, they find it really intriguing when a "tourist" can speak the native language. After lunch (and the afternoon call to prayer) we headed back to the Istanbul Archeology Museum for a couple hours and explored ancient artifacts from all over Turkey and beyond. I loved looking at all the different tombs, corpses, and sarcophagi in the necropolis hall on the ground floor. I felt like Temperance Bones, exploring ancient human remains!

We came back to the hotel for naptime (much needed) and then ventured back out for dinner (street food!) later. After a well-rested night, I woke up this morning ready to explore more of the city - this time on my own and have a little "me" time on a new adventure.

I started off going to Sultanahamet square, took some fantastic photographs of the Hagia Sophia and Sultanahamet mosque since today was sunny! I haven't seen bright blue skies in a while. I went inside the mosque and got to look around at this amazing work of art. I managed to coordinate my visiting times so they didn't interfere with the call to prayer, which is when tourists are encouraged not to be inside the mosque as it disturbs those who come to worship there. Regardless, this building took my breath away. It was BEAUTIFUL!

I then walked over to the Basilica Cistern, which is an awesome underground museum of the old water ways in the Ottoman times. It was creepy, wet, and smelled funny, but was super cool. I loved being able to see all this old architecture that is still standing today!

I walked over the Golden Horn, went under the bridge and found a restaurant where I tried my first "balik ekmek" which means "fish bread" and is essentially a fish sandwich. They literally are catching fish off the bridge above their resturaunt, bringing the fresh meat in, grilling it and slapping it on a hoagie roll for you. It is so good! Ate lunch overlooking the Golden Horn/Bosporus - and got to listen to the call to prayer coming from the "new" mosque nearby.

I wandered into the Egyptian Spice Bazaar, which first of all smelled AMAZING. So many spices, teas, dried/fresh fruits, and turkish delight! It was super awesome. I tried a lot of different types of things offered to me by friendly shop owners who were so excited that a Californian girl can speak decent Turkish. My favorite sample had to be some pomegranate-honey-pistachio turkish delight that was...well, delightful! I bought some tea to bring home, and wandered around for a bit before I excited and found myself standing right in front of the Yeni Camii - "new mosque."

I decided to go in and have a look around, and I was so glad I did! It is also a beautiful mosque, but not as touristy as the blue mosque. There were a lot of Muslims doing their prayers in there, so I was careful not to be a typical tourist and disturb them. I am gaining so much respect for Muslims and the Islamic faith since I've been here, and it was amazing to get to experience what a real mosque feels like on the inside. Beautiful designs, and stunning architecture.

Tomorrow brings one more full day of four day, which I plan to spend going back to the Grand Bazaar for more shopping, a bit of time in Galata, a sufi demonstration, and whatever else the day brings. Tuesday we head back to school - homework and all that fun stuff will probably come with it. But for now, let the four day adventures continue!

Respectfully submitted,