Saturday, August 27, 2011

Turkish Rugs

One will quickly learn when visiting Turkey that carpet salesman have the same reputation that car salesman do in the US. Those who are not carpet salesman don't always have the highest respect for them and there is a healthy skepticism that travelers should take when considering purchasing a carpet. 
HOWEVER, Julianne and I actually found that the carpet salesmen we met were some of the nicest, most genuine, down to earth folks that we met while we were there. 

It could be that we are naive
It could be that business is particularly slow right now
It could be that the folks we met were unique
It could be that often our perceptions of others are not correct

Maybe its a combo

Any how, I did purchase a carpet while in Urgup and it just arrived at our house yesterday! 
You need to know that my decision to purchase this was not an easy one and quite a saga for the afternoon we spent ducking in and out of the shops on our favorite tiny street.

If you know anything about Matt and I, we don't really like to spend money on ourselves and if we are making major purchases, we usually take weeks if not months to make a decision about it. I only had about six hours to decide what to do and wasn't sure what Matt would think... There was a 7 hour time difference to take into consideration, but we actually did end up talking in the afternoon and I felt better about buying the rug... however, the pit in my stomach for the 4ish hours before talking to my husband made me a slightly irritable traveling companion.  Thanks Julianne for respecting me need for silence on the issue :) 

That afternoon we met a man who played the "Saz"-- similar to a guitar, you can kind of see in the pic above (Serdar was one of the older gentleman's students). Anyways, in the carpet shop 3 older gentleman busted out an authentic Turkish diddy (Saz, bongo drum and wooden spoons). 

They played
I danced
Julianne cried happy tears
I bought the carpet

**I only purchased one carpet, but we met several other carpet salesman in each of the cities and I will write more about those encounters later.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Topkapi Palace & The Hagia Sophia

Not quite time adjusted, I woke up on Day 1 very early and very hungry... and quickly found out that not much happens in Istanbul before 8AM. I took a brief stroll through the same crowded streets we were on the night before only to find them empty and a few people sleeping on couches inside the cafes.

Thankfully, a bakery resided just around the corner from our hostel and I popped in to get some bread. It kind of looked like a soft pretzel, but was much better and was coated in sesame seeds. Yum!

Finally others started rousing and we enjoyed some breakfast where me met a very sweet gal from England, Emily. She was waiting her for her boyfriend to arrive later that day so she joined Julianne and I for our morning exploration... Topkapi Palace was our first stop.

I don't pretend to know much about the significance of this place, but I can tell you that it is very popular (as you can see by the mass of people walking through the gate). Some pretty important people lived here at some point.

We liked to imagine how it would have been as children running through these large gardens with your very own breathtaking view of the Bosphorus each day...

Just outside the palace walls we found the famous Hagia Sophia. Now, this was one of my favorite 'museums' that we explored... let me explain why. 

1) IT WAS HUGE!! -- really it was built to be the largest church cathedral by (can't remember) in I think the 6th century.

2) IT OOZED RELIGIOUS TENSION: I will explain this in the next few pictures.

3) IT WAS THE FIRST SITE WE WENT IN: After seeing a bunch of different buildings and mosques, my interest level waned a bit.

When the Hagia Sophia was in its Christian hay day there were magnificent frescoes artfully covering the walls. These frescoes all included Jesus, some with the Virgin Mary and others with some of the Apostles. This particular one has the emperor (I believe) bowing down to Jesus' feet. To me, this is a beautiful expression of humility and how we are meant to worship the Lord.

However, in the 13th/14th century a new Muslim empire conquered Constantine and took over the Hagia Sophia as their place of worship and power. These frescoes were covered over and almost lost completely. Gaining control was a sign to them that God was with them and was fulfilling some of the prophesies they believed in. (I can't remember exactly what it was, but it had something to do with the sun and the view of the world... which is perfect from this location).

 **On a lighter note, there were cats EVERYWHERE in Turkey and the Hagia Sophia was no exception. President Obama apparently pet his particular cat when he visited Turkey.

Now the building is more of a museum than a mosque, a palace or a cathedral, but it contains elements of all of these things and they are all right on top of each other... this was quite striking.

This seat was for the emperor... I place of power and some people have considered emperors gods themselves. Behind this seat, you can see the Arabic writing on the black paint, which I have no idea what it says, but there were large black paintings similar to these strategically placed around the ceiling of the building.

*And, you can see another cat!

We walked about 20 feet and found this gate that signifies the direction of Mecca. When the building was a mosque the people would say their prayers facing in this direction.

However, the fresco revealed above it is of the Virgin Mary holding baby Jesus. It was almost as if Jesus was watching the mix of power, Islam and Christianity... it was comforting, powerful, and a bit eerie.

We walked throughout the rest of the structure taking in the history and art before heading out to explore some more of Istanbul. Quite a full morning.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Relating with a good friend

Not only did Julianne and I spend our time experiencing and learning an new culture, we also connected deeply and shared important aspects of our lives with one another. One of thing things that we discussed and  I have been contemplating recently is femininity and what it means to be a woman... this has been something that I have struggled with my entire life.

I'm not quite sure why my journey with these issues has been more challenging than most, but it might have something to do with some of the following... wanting to be so much like my brother, idolizing my father, never wanting to be too emotional, experiencing emotional and sexual abuse, struggling with my body image, being married to a wonderful man, having a hard time starting a family and being part of Christian community where my views don't necessarily align on gender roles...

what is a girl to do?

Well, thankfully when Julianne was moving to Armenia she left me with a box of books that have been in my extra bedroom since I got them. I knew I was going to be on a plane for at least a day, so I needed something to read and I picked up the book, "Ruby Slippers" by Jonalyn Grace Fincher.

I ate up the first third of the book on my way to Istanbul and then continued to read it as we traveled throughout the country. Although, I may not agree with every word, reading this book was like drinking a tall glass of water for my soul. I passed it back to Julianne when I was finished and ordered another copy for myself. I am now looking for other daring women of faith to help me process some of this further. Any takers???

Thanks to Julianne for processing so much of life with me already!

Getting Acclimated

After our relaxing dinner we wandered around town to get our bearings and take in some of the night life. One big tourist attraction is to see "The Whirling Dervishes"... this photo is as close as we got, as going to one of the shows is fairly expensive and the dancing is supposed to be meant for a religious ceremony rather than a gawking audience. Its still hard for me to picture such a stoic human whirling around... I guess I'll never really know how they do it.

Do you want to smoke some shisha? (Water pipe) We partook only twice while we were there. Apple-mint and Watermelon Flavors. I will say that the first couple breaths taste exactly like a jolly rancher, but then the tobacco starts to sink in and its not quite so yummy.

Before heading back to our hostel (Tulip Guest House) for the night we hit the shopping scene.  All around there were a variety of 'pants', skirts, and dresses... I thought this looked like a one piece, but apparently most people wear it as pants. Julianne thought this was hilarious and so did the store owner. However, (to my credit) I will say that I saw a another woman trying on the same thing in the same way... she was also a shorty!

*A word on the hostel-- We very much enjoyed our stay at the Tulip. Matin & Enis were welcoming and helpful. In fact, Matin was the one who took us to see how the locals hang out. He thought it was odd that I would rather have wine than smoke, and I settled on drinking sage tea that evening. 
However, the accommodations were simple. Julianne and I had our own room, but it was quite small and we shared a bathroom and shower with the other guests (which was never a problem).  
There were 3 floors and the stair well was rather tight and scary for someone who stumbles. *I do not think they have the same building codes that we have in the US... But, breakfast looked out over the Bosphorus and held a beautiful view for our morning wake up session. 

Istanbul with Julianne

After taking a long hiatus from blogging, I am have been re-inspired by my recent travels through the amazing country of Turkey. I hope to give you a glimpse into the very special adventure that Julianne and I got to share 7 time zones away... yes, I am still recovering.

My husband was a little nervous about how two beautiful women would fair in a foreign country, but the reality was that the worst of the harassment I received was by an American at the DC Airport before even leaving for the trip... Drunk men are not attractive, nor do listen very well when you remind them several times that you are married... Thankfully this was the only sketchy encounter I faced.

We stayed in the "Sultanahmet" region of Istanbul, which is pretty much code for "Tourist Area". We could walk to all of the major historical and religious museums and sites, which was very convenient, but not necessarily "authentic Turkey". We did meet some locals who helped us discover what Turkey was all about though and I realized that I might be more of a 'tourist' that I would like to admit...
1) My luggage says "American Tourist" on the label
2) I wanted to go to a cafe that served alcohol, food, and where you could smoke hooka (or shisha) - apparently the one stop shops are only for tourists, Turks only drink tea when they smoke the hooka (which just about everyone does).

The first night Julianne enjoyed great conversation over a delicious meal at the Metropolis Cafe. It was such a joy to connect with one another and discuss our lives while sipping good wine and watching cultures collide in front of us.