Turkey - Istanbul Part I

The last leg of my trip was Istanbul. As much as my time in Izmir wasn't perfect, I was actually rather sad about starting leg 3 because that meant holiday was ending and I was really not ready for it. For some reasons, mom was thinking that I was on my way home at that time. She had watched some news about Turkey and I guess she was rather uneasy about it. I don't know what she watched but I guess it was about the Syrian refugees who were moving to Turkey and obviously situation there was bad. That was the news we watched most of the time then. I guess mom was rather eager for me to go home. However to Istanbul it was. Again we took pegasus airline. There wasn't anything interesting to report on the flight. Oh, YeeMaggio's luggage was overweight that she had to open the suitcase on the spot and took out some stuff. I didn't see it actually because I was done before her. I only found out after she finished. Pegasus itself gives 16 kg of luggage allowance if I'm not mistaken. Anyways, we arrived in Istanbul. Met the person who supposed to pick us up. I remembered seeing tulips blooming by the roads and they were beautiful. The drive at the main road was smooth enough but when we reached the Sultanahmet area, it was hard. I purposely chose an area in which we could kinda walk to the blue mosque, hagia sophia, and the rest of the places nearby. So this area of Istanbul is apparently in a hilly area and it was like a maze and the streets are not wide enough for 2 cars to pass through comfortably so to navigate this area takes a lot patience and skill. I think we spent around 30 to 40 minutes in this area just to get through to our hotel. Also perhaps it's because our timing in the afternoon, hence the streets were busier. When we had to go to the airport to get home at 9pm something, it was a breeze.

What mattered was we arrived at the hotel. I chose Hotellino and it was great. The staff were mostly youngsters in casual clothing. The room was big and nice. It was the nicest hotel we stayed in and it was really nice that I would love to go back and stay there again if I come back to Istanbul. It was also like on the end of a street so I think we got a bit more peace and quiet. I arrived to a news of an earthquake in Sumatra that I stopped mid sentence when I was talking to one of the staff and just tried to read the texts on the tv. It was a footage from metro tv. I think the staff was nice because I think he told the rest that I was from Indonesia. Luckily it was far from my home so all's cool. I did send mom a text. Due to the longer than expected time in the maze of Istanbul, we couldn't proceed with the plan of visiting Basilica Cistern. I would definitely get lost somewhere finding it and by the time we found it, we may not have enough time to explore it, so it had to be postponed. We opted to find dinner instead. Settled at this small restaurant but it get more crowded as we were there and I had perhaps the best meal so far. It was shish chicken and it was awesome, tender and juicy. I think I had my best meal in Turkey in Istanbul. Since I'm a fussy eater, I couldn't say I like Turkish cuisine much. The problem lies with me not them. Though I have to say that I love the dessert I had tried no matter how sweet they always came in. Perhaps that's the Indonesian genes in me that we love sweet things :P I thought that baklava was basically like a lasagna of sweet things but it was very addictive to me. Then I also like this panna cotta like dessert which I'm not sure what it's called. Then at this dinner I tried this cheese baked thingy with a surface like vermicelli thingy which of course sweet because it was doused in honey or syrup. The taste kinda reminded me of cheese martabak Bangka but it was different and I loved it a lot. I think the only dessert I didn't like was sutlac, which was the last Turkish thing I ate. It's a rice pudding and I don't know if it was the restaurant who made it that way or it's really like that but I could feel some grains of rice and that felt really wrong for me to be feeling rice that way and so I didn't enjoy it fully.

Nothing much happened that day. The next day was our so called Istanbul tour. In the morning one of the hotel owner kindly greeted us as we were waiting to be picked up. I think she greeted every guests in the morning. She's very friendly and she gave us a map and talked to us about the places to see and explore. She said, you should explore the things that you were going to see today on your own. She's perhaps right but I know that I'm not good with directions and stuff and I don't know if YeeMaggio is any good herself so that's why I chose the tour so that I would be well taken care of, so to speak :P There supposed to be 6 people in the group but 2 didn't even arrive in their hotel so it was us and this couple from Birmingham, Barbara and Richard. I admire them truly. Just as I admire parents who have toddlers and strollers in tow, I admire older travellers. Barbara is 71 and she needs walking stick to help her walk. Her husband Richard brought a foldable chair for her so that she could always sit anywhere. This physical limitation does not stop these ex-teachers from exploring the world. Last year they went to Norway to see the nothern lights. They've been to Libya some years before the revolution. Then this time they're taking a cruise which will take them to see Bulgaria and so on. Truly I admire them. I also admire them for the strong marriage they have. I can tell they care for each other a lot. I think it's obvious that Richard really loves Barbara and they have good conversation with each other. It's incredible for me to keep a marriage last that long. I did wonder how on earth the teachers' salary or retirement package can fund all these trips. It doesn't seem to be something possible in this side of the world.

First stop was the hippodrome where there are obelisks. One of the obelisk came from Egypt and I always get very fascinated that they managed to transport these giant things to places like Istanbul and Rome from Egypt! Now that I think about it, I wondered how do one make an obelisk. There's also a sculpture column that supposed to have 3 snake heads on it but none of the head is there anymore. I thought it would be cool if they were. This is the picture of the base of the obelisk from Egypt. I like this obelisk, I thought the symbols on it were very cool.

Then it was to the blue mosque or the actual name is Sultan Ahmed Mosque or in Turkish, Sultanahmet Camii. I think Camii might be the turkish word for mosque. I was most excited to go to this mosque. The excitement was there even before I left for Turkey. Even though I come from Indonesia, the country with the largest muslim population, I have never entered a mosque. The closest I've been to an Islamic place of worship is my high school's musholla which I entered because my muslim classmates at that time (I couldn't remember who, so sorry) invited some of us in when we said we were curious. I don't know if the Islamic teachers would have liked it though it they had found out. In Indonesia, it's not like there's field trip to visit mosques even though Jakarta has one of the biggest mosque in the world. I'm not sure if the muslims in Indonesia would have liked non-muslims to just waltz in their mosques though mosque like Istiqlal mosque in Jakarta does allow non-muslims to come in and see it. I want to make this a thing in my life list, to go inside Istiqlal mosque. So anyway, entering the blue mosque was something totally awesome for me. Walking towards it, I was like giddy in excitement and I tried to see everything. I think it's the only mosque in Istanbul or perhaps in Turkey to have 6 minarets and it looked really pretty. Very different from mosques in Indonesia but I should not comment about this because as I said, I've never visited any mosque in Indonesia.

Side track a bit. You can see that the trees were still empty with no leaves. Istanbul was a bit of a mix between Izmir and Cappadocia. The trees were still empty but it was greener than Cappadocia and tulips were blooming. Another interesting climate observation for me. So anyway as mentioned, I tried to see everything about the mosque. There were many tourists and there was this rule on the wall. You have to take off your shoes - of course. They kindly provide plastic bag for your shoes. So you don't have to leave it on the shoes racks and get confused later on. Women should cover their head and shoulder - not followed. None of the tourists did this and in fact I don't recall seeing anyone monitoring what you wear and such. Not like in St. Peters in the Vatican. One thing which was missing from the rule which I found to be shocking was there's no mention of women not entering if they're having their period. I asked my guide about this and he said the rules do apply for the muslims but it's alright for the tourists. It's another shocking thing for me. I wondered if they do some sort of cleansing with holy water when they close the mosque during praying time - but muslims don't use holy water. I do urge you not to enter the mosque if you are having your period though. Just respect the place, a place that holds a lot of sentiment for many people. Just think of it like in Bali, you are asked to respect the temples and not enter if when you're having your period. Then a more shocking thing happened. As we were queueing to go in, I saw a dog sleeping basking in the sun, like all the cats and dogs in Turkey. There's a dog, a DOG in the mosque's ground! I was totally in shock! It was just a 3-4 metres away from the wudhu place. Yes the dog wasn't inside the mosque, it was only outside but it's so called the mosque's ground and I was totally flabbergasted. It's another thing about Islam in Turkey which seems so not very restrictive like in Indonesia. We'll talk more about this in my last post on Turkey.

Inside the blue mosque, I thought it was beautiful. It felt like a church actually with the mosaic glass windows and the domes being decorated beautifully. As I said I've never been inside a mosque but from what I see from the tv for example, mosques in Indonesia are not like this. There's this circular low hanging light thing which you can find in all mosques in Turkey, at least in the ones I saw in Istanbul. The lighting was not so bright inside the mosque so I think you need these lights to help people when they want to read the Quran for example. The walls were adorned by ceramics and everything about it were just beautiful. Unlike a church where it's more narrow in the inside focusing on the altar, it's wider in a mosque. There's this section on the second floor which the Sultans used to do their prayers when they were still ruling. I found it interesting because I knew that by right everyone should be on the same level when they pray, everyone is the same. Obviously noone use that section anymore now. The guide was telling us that Turkey being a secular country, the Imams in the mosque who give sermons and religious guidance to the people are actually civil servants. They have to go through the whole Islamic education and then they work for the government. I don't know if this is what happens in all parts of Turkey, like even in the small villages. I don't know how I feel about this, with the Imams being under the employment of the government. Again, let's leave this for the last post.

In the mosque, I heard some Indonesians again :) It really made me smile in the inside. After the mosque, it was a walk to Topkapı Palace, another place with many Indonesian tourists :) There were also many kids on a field trip. The palace compound is of course very big and we didn't explore all. This is another place that I would really like to explore more extensively. You can't really take pictures inside the exhibition rooms /chambers. The first chamber we saw was this place where the Sultan's ministers would meet to discuss their state affairs. There's this window in which the Sultan can eavesdrop on the conversation. He didn't do it all the time but the mere presence of that window made his ministers be careful in what they're saying, of course :) Then there were chambers where there were some of the jewelleries and gifts that the Sultan received. The most amazing thing for me was the Chamber of Trust. There were these relics that made me gasp and widen my eyes and say OH MY GOD! everytime I saw one after another. There was Moses' staff. You know how in pictures when they depict the time Moses parted the sea and he'd be raising the staff. The staff was there! Well if you want to believe it that is. The guide did tell us, it's up to you if you want to believe it. There are things like Abraham's bowl. I was like, oh my God! That bowl is only a few generations away from Adam and Eve. Then there's also David's sword that made me think, David had a sword? Why of course, David had many things. There were also some remains from prophet Muhammad, like his beard, which made me think that we should do DNA testing on it. It will not prove anything but I wonder if it can determine if someone is his descendants. Perhaps not? The similarity between us and our parents is like 99% but when it has passed thousands of generations, will it it still be possible to say someone is the descendant of someone else? Anyways among other things which I was more sure of the origins were these locks and keys from the Kaabah. Everything was just awesome. It was truly the highlight of Topkapı Palace for me. It was truly truly cool.

Then it was another walk to Hagia Sophia. This used to be a church. Then it was turned into a mosque. I just read a bit about this in Wikipedia, it was a pretty hostile transformation. When it was turned into a mosque, all the frescoes or drawings were covered with Islamic things. This is especially because in Islam drawings of humans are not allowed. Then in the more modern time, it was converted into a museum and restoration of the original Christian items was taken. Of course it's hard to uncover a drawing underneath a plaster for example, so right now it's totally a mix of Christian and Islamic things. You can see Jesus and the angels but you can also see Islamic caligraphy. Being from my high school, I could actually identify the word for Allah. They have these some sorts of medallions with what I believe to be names in all the mosques I've seen. They circle the dome of the mosques. I can only identify Allah which is always at the front right. It's too bad I didn't have the time to explore all of Hagia Sophia. Didn't have time to go to the second floor. When I come back to Istanbul, I will definitely see more details of the blue mosque, Topkapi Place, and Hagia Sophia. I have to do this on my own so that I'll have all the time I need. Maybe I'll get to make a wish in the wishing column too. There were many tourists queueing for it.

After that it was lunch. Then it was to a carpet shop, again?!?! *sigh* Here the sale guy was kinda treating me and YeeMaggio like we didn't exist. While it's good to not be on the spotlight, I felt it was rather condescending. Like dude seriously, I can afford your carpets. Barbara was very particular in asking how much of the profit from the carpet was going to the carpet maker. However the carpet seller didn't give any definitive answer, he just said that the carpet makers were not suffering *okaay, roll eyes* Anyway Barbara got one, I wondered if she felt forced and felt bad about the push. Richard was muttering under his breathe when the sale guy went into his pushy mode which was funny for me to hear sitting next to him. He loves his wife though, so he's okay about it as long as Barbara's happy :) After that it was to the grand bazaar.

This place was huge and you could get lost easily and it'll get frustrating finding the entrance in which you entered. I heard some Indonesians here again and almost joined a group of Indonesians in their attempt to buy some souvenirs :P You know how in touristy places, the sellers will try to greet you in a language they suspect you're from. Well since I'm with the white YeeMaggio, we got a lot of "ni hao" or "konnichiwa". In here, one seller perhaps in his attempt to just throw anything that might catch the bait, said "apa kabar" as I passed. That made me turn and smile and I said, very good. I think he was surprised that he was right this time and I actually turned, so he said "selamat datang". To which, I said, "thank you" with a big smile. You know as a nation you've made an impression when they start learning bits and pieces of your language. So it was pretty great to be hearing this type of welcome :P I just bought some evil eyes here. I have to say I began to like these evil eyes thingy :P Then that's pretty much it for our day. We were driven back to our hotels and so it was good bye to Barbara and Richard. They were the last strangers we had the pleasure of meeting. To see more pictures from that day, you can go here.

Since we finished our day pretty early, YeeMaggio decided that we should go to Galata tower. It was one of the places that the hotel lady was recommending in the morning. From our hotel you can walk there if you want to but it's gonna be a real long walk and I was way too tired to do that. Although I think it would be fun to cross the Galata bridge. There were many people fishing there. I saw someone getting a fish. So anyway, we chose to take the tram. However, we didn't know how to do that *sigh* We got to the station near us, then we saw the machine. I wasn't sure what we supposed to buy and how much the trip was. I was pretty frustrated at that time. Along came this tourist whom I straight away asked if he spoke english. He did. I think he was American. He was with his wife and he was very kind in explaining to us how to use the machine. You put the money in and for 2 Turkish lira you get 1 jeton, which is like a plastic coin chip which you may find in a game arcade. 1 jeton is used for 1 trip, no matter how far or how near. Okay, got it, and off we went from our stop in Sirkeci to the stop across the bridge in Karakoy. I could actually saw the tower as we got off but then as we crossed the street, it disappeared from view so I didn't know which direction to walk. In times of uncertainty, follow the other tourists. So we saw some other tourists and we just followed them to what turned up to be a walk up a hill. Darn, it was difficult but I pressed on and I didn't stop at all until I reached the tower. My reasoning was, the moment I stopped, it'd be too difficult to continue and I just got madder with every step I took so with each step it was like I was lashing it out to the hill. Reaching the tower, there was this queue which was pretty long and we joined the queue. I thought it was pretty stupid to be joining a queue for something I wasn't sure what. It was the queue to go up the tower. Ticket price was 12 TL. You took a lift up and you still had to climb up a circular stairs which you know I loathe :( I wasn't enjoying it at all. Then we reached the viewing platform but the space was very narrow that people should only go in 1 direction. I thought the view was so so but you could really see Istanbul, the European and the Asian side. On the European side, you could see the blue mosque which was so identifiable with its 6 minarets and then there's Hagia Sophia and you could also see other mosques. The sun was going down at that time and I remembered a tinge of orange.

To see the view from that tower, you can go here. That ended our day. We had dinner nearby and off we went back to our hotel in the European side of Istanbul. The next day was our last last day in Istanbul. I'll try my best to get the story up soon.

:) eKa @ 1:02:00 AM •

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