Many of you know of my recent excursion to Turkey! I find that the best way to post about this is to post all of my adventures on one post, one day at a time, including our very short time in Amsterdam, since I journaled each night on what little paper I could get my hands on. Here goes!
Day 1 (Thurs, 4/10)
We got off the plane to an insane line in customs, but once we got through, we enjoyed a scenic shuttle ride to our hotel, with the Turkish driver using his broken English to point out a fish market, remnants of the old wall of Constantinople, the Topkapi Palace, the Blue Mosque and (at last! at long last!) the Hagia Sophia – which we stopped directly behind, as that’s where our hotel was. In the Ritz, you find chocolates on your pillow. At the Ottoman Imperial, you’re greeted with a fresh glass of hibiscus tea and Turkish delight on your pillow. Turkish delight, people. So far, I love Turkey!
After settling in to our hotel, we had a light dinner and attempted conversation with the kind-faced Kurdish man who worked there. As we walked back to the hotel, we passed a shivering young boy on a doorstep in the rain. Even the most exciting of trips don’t allow anyone to tune out those in need.
We returned to a front seat view to a huge group of Egyptians chanting about something or another, just in time to hear the 9:10 call to prayer, which was extremely exciting for me!
Day 2 (Friday, 4/11)
First, we had breakfast in the hotel. I had a delicious black olive spread, fresh figs, börek (a cheese pastry), coffee and menemen, a dish with egg, red pepper and green olives. Next we went to the Aya Sofya, what I’d been waiting for ever since I started my work in Religious Studies! I was ecstatic, and we spent 1 1/2-2 hours admiring the exposed mosaics and relishing the history of the church-converted-mosque-converted museum. Upon exiting the museum, we accidentally tried to enter the men’s side of the nearby hamam (Turkish bathhouse)…whoops. We stopped in a mausoleum and went shopping in the Arasta Bazaar, experiencing the full extent of Turkish hospitality, from sampling literally every kind of Turkish delight they had, then leaving all of our spices, teas and goodies in the shop while we received a restaurant recommendation, where we ate a ridiculously enormous meal consisting of fresh stuffed grape leaves as meze (Turkish starters/appetizers/tapas), lentil soup, a kebap for my mother, and a seafood salad with fresh and perfectly-seasoned seafood. After some complimentary tea and baklava (YUM), we stumbled on to our waiter’s cousin’s store (seriously, everyone in Istanbul seems to know each other…Turks are phenomenal sales people!) and bought some more treasures. Next, on to the Blue Mosque and Kücük Aya Sofya (Little Aya Sofya) and then back to the hotel to drop off our things, have dinner and walk around some more.
Day 3 (Sat, 4/12)
Another delicious breakfast of eggs, ekmek (bread), olive spread, figs, Turkish coffee (which I actually enjoyed!) and kiwi. We took a cab to the Western District to see the lovely Chora Church, followed by a long, adventurous walk through the winding streets, getting different directions from 3 different people, until finally coming upon the church of St. Stephen of the Bulgars, which was closed, and ending at the Ecumenical Orthodox Patriarchate. After this, we headed to the Grand Bazaar, which was a sensory overload experience of epic proportion, and then the Sahaflar Carsisi, the Book Bazaar, where we bought some art.
We braved the public transportation of Istanbul (which was actually phenomenal) and had tea and baklava right outside Topkapi palace before entering and seeing the palace and harem quarters. We went to the hotel, stopping at a small handicrafts store on the way, and took a quick rest and journal break before dinner. We went to a small, lovely jewelry and antiques shop near the restaurant where we ate lunch yesterday (Friday), and then went to the same restaurant where we had a very long meal – a few hours spent at dinner, where we were then joined by our new friend from yesterday (the one who owned the store where we bought some lovely things) for tea. Exhausted, we finally went back to the hotel for a good night’s rest.
Day 4 (Sun, 4/13)
We thought we’d head over to Aya Eirene for mass (a small church on the grounds of Topkapi Palace), but it was closed! A wild goose chase ensued via public transport, ending in mass in English at the cathedral of St. Anthony of Padua in Beyoglu. After mass, we took the Marmaray (an underwater metro to the Asian side of Istanbul) to Kadiköy, a gorgeous coastal area where we had a delicious lunch and wandered around fish markets and outdoor bazaars. After returning on the ferry, we went to the Cemberlitas hamam, where we encountered and experienced a hot marble room, lots of scrubbing, being covered of at least 2 inches of soap and a soak in a hot tub. After stopping at our hotel to moisturize and deodorize, we went back to the same shop as yesterday to spend some more time, where I bought a few souvenirs. We had a quick dinner and packed to leave the next day (Monday) for our 5-day Aegean tour!
Day 5 (Mon, 4/14)
Please excuse how short the following posts are – there was not much time to write on these days, so I essentially just wrote a list of everything we did!
We were picked up by the bus at 6:30 am at our hotel, and joined by the rest of our group shortly thereafter. First, we went to Gallipolli, stopping to see various trenches, sites and monuments, as well as the Anzac memorial. When we went to the Turkish site, a group of Turkish girls (let’s say early high school age) approached me and mimed with their camera. As I reached for it, they pulled away, shook their heads, and pointed at me. “Oh, you want a photo with me?” I asked/mimed. Yes. Safe to assume it’s because of this crazy curly hair of mine? We took many, many photos, and, satisfied, they wandered off to their somewhat frustrated teacher.
At this point, I am learning how the letters in the Turkish alphabet sound, so during the long bus rides between stops, I’m reading everything I see! Alas, I don’t know how to use various characters on the computer to write in Turkish here, but these are the English equivalents of the words I learned in Turkish:
Hello. Good morning. Please. One water, please. Numbers 1-5. Thank you. Thank you very much. Where is…? I do not understand. Bread.
Pretty good, eh?
Day 6 (Tues, 4/15)
After breakfast, we left Hotel Iris to go to Troy. Not the most exciting trip, but interesting to be there anyhow. After an incredibly long drive following Troy, we stopped for lunch and headed to Pergamon and the Acropolis which, as I wrote in my journal, was amazingly wonderful – it was beautiful and we had views of the entire city (although the amphitheater was so high it seemed dangerous). After much more driving, we got to another hotel and had a quick dinner before bed. While riding in the bus, it was interesting to reflect on how many minarets I was seeing as opposed to steeples. It was a different experience to be in a country where there are more mosques than churches, often 2-3 in a 5-10 block radius.
Day 7 (Weds, 4/16)
We started out at Ephesus on this beautiful morning and saw many temples and the enormous library! We also got to talk about some mythology, both Greek and Roman, including the stories of Hermes and Medusa. We stopped at a women’s carpet-weaving cooperative, where the government sends women from remote and poorer villages to learn to weave carpets by hand, a lost art form. We saw some women weaving beautiful carpets, on different-sized looms and with various threads. We also saw how silk is made, from the cocoon to how it is spun and then dyed. Followed by this, our entire group enjoyed some rolling around on various carpets made from wool, cotton and (our favorite!) silk.
For lunch, we had gözleme, a sort of Turkish crepe filled with vegetables and/or meat (mine had potato, spinach, onion and Turkish feta cheese). After having way too much gözleme, of course we had to have ice cream – so we went to the village of Sirince for shopping and dessert. The ice cream we had, dondurma, has orchid seeds in it (the ice cream is not crunchy), which makes it very chewy. It was pretty good – I had a chocolate and vanilla cone. The most interesting part about ordering this ice cream is that the vendor scoops it with a long metal pole with a small spatula on the end and lifts it in the air, often waving it on the street. It looks like a long chunk of taffy is being stretched out. The vendors also love to play tricks on those who buy it, pretending to put ice cream in their cone and then snatching it away, or attaching a rubber band to the cone and then yanking it before the person can eat it; a young boy on our our experienced this, but he had a great sense of humor about it and we all enjoyed the show.
After dessert, my mother and I headed to St. John the Baptist’s Basilica and then the grounds where the Virgin Mary most recently lived, where there is a small chapel now. There were few people as it was the end of the day, but it was peaceful. After returning to the hotel, we went to a Turkish supermarket, tried to see the sunset (failed finding the harbor), attempted to pick oranges off of some trees (again, failed, as I was not tall enough to reach even the shortest-hanging orange) and had dinner at the hotel before tucking in.
Day 8 (Thurs, 4/17)
Our day started with a “fashion show” at the Baggio Rossini leather factory. As a vegetarian, I was less than impressed with the lamb leather coats and clothing, but it was interesting to see that these manufacturers supply for much larger, famous labels such as Chanel and the like.
For lunch, we had pide, which is like the Turkish version of a pizza – or so they claim. In reality, it was a pita-like flatbread with toppings, no sauce, and only cheese if you asked for it, which I foolishly did not, so I ended up with a salad on top of pita bread which I desperately tried to season with chili, red pepper, salt and finally some slabs of Turkish feta cheese (which is incredibly delicious and, in my opinion, better than the Greek feta that is sold in the US).
On our way to Hierapolis and Pamukkale (where we saw hot springs and terraces where even Cleopatra once bathed!), our tour guide told us about Turkish marriage customs. Way back when, women used to put glass bottles on their roofs when they wanted to signal that they were ready to get married. Sometimes, these bottles might indicate something about the women (a short, round bottle vs. a tall thin bottle…maybe this was our tour guide making fun, but I’ll never know!). When a man and woman want to get married (and I believe this is what happens today, but it also might be something that mostly happened in the past), the bridegroom’s family goes to visit the bride’s family. The two eldest members of the family do most of the conversing, and everyone continues asking, “How are you? How are you? How are you?” for a very long time, after which the eldest member of the groom’s family asks the eldest member of the bride’s family for the bride’s hand in marriage for the groom. At this point, the eldest member of the bride’s family asks the groom various questions (about gambling, drinking, salary, etc.). Once the family agrees to the engagement, the bride brings in coffee (normal, European coffee for everyone), but with an especially disgusting cup for the groom. Think back to those times you were bored in a restaurant and put all sorts of seasonings and sauces together to make “witch’s brew.” Now add coffee. Essentially, that’s what it is – and here’s the catch: the groom has to drink the entire cup without making any faces or sound, as a reflection of how he will act during the marriage. HA!
After spending some time at the terraces and wading in the warm water, we headed back to the hotel for a belly dancing show and dinner. At this point, I am still loving Turkey more than ever!
Day 9 (Fri, 4/18)
This day was filled with mostly driving. We did make a few stops, one for a delicious dinner at a place where yogurt is made (apparently, Turkey made the first real yogurt, which is quite different from the yogurt we eat here and in Europe). After this, we stopped in Bursa to go to a silk bazaar and another bazaar before heading back to Istanbul.
After a very long drive (about 11 hours), my mother and I finally reached our hotel, where we got about 5-6 hours of sleep before waking up at 3 AM for our flight to Amsterdam.
Day 10 (Sat, 2/19) – Amsterdam
Upon arriving in Amsterdam, we exited and airport for our 4-5 hour layover and proceeded to get very lost and end up in Zaandam. Not Amsterdam Centraal, which was where we were trying to go. Literally, everyone in the city speaks beautiful English and was very kind in helping us get to our destination. We braved public transport yet again and got to the Anne Frank house, located behind the Westerkerk Church. It was about 10:30 AM at this point, and we joined the line (which was possibly the longest it has ever been – seriously, that’s what the tram driver told us) and waited. And waited. AND WAITED. For hours. About 3 hours, to be exact. This was broken up by me and my mother leaving in shifts to wander around the church, buy coffee, see a few shops nearby, etc., but it didn’t change the fact that by the time we got in at around 1:35 PM, we had about 25-30 minutes total to breeze through the Secret Annex to make our flight in time! Despite the long hours spent in line, it was still an amazing experience. Finally, I got to see what I’ve been reading about for so many years, including the pictures that Anne put on her walls as decoration when she was living there. Unfortunately, photos are not allowed, but I don’t think I’ll be forgetting what I saw anytime soon.