Thursday, August 20, 2015

Istanbul: Day Two

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Remember how I said I hadn't slept well the night before (and really the whole week before. I was averaging about 3 hrs of sleep a night)?  Well, that all caught up with me our first night in Istanbul. We got back to the hotel around 12:30 and by 12:31 I was asleep.  I slept until nine and I think the only reason I got up was to go to the bathroom.  I felt like a whole new person! It was one of the best nights of sleep I've had in a long time and I felt fifty million times better than I had the day before.  I've always been a big advocate of sleep, but this confirmed any doubts I had about needing a full night's rest.  

Feeling recharged and ready to conquer the world, we met up with Jason to start exploring.  Our first stop was the tombs next to the Aya Sofya.  This was the first place that I've had to cover my head.  Luckily, they have scarves that they let women borrow and wear while they're touring the tombs. It wasn't the most flattering, but it worked.  I think I'll just pack my own from now on, though....

Jason and I outside of the tombs.

Honestly, the tombs were pretty underwhelming.  They were covered in felt and just looked like...tombs.  Some of the mosaics on the walls were pretty amazing, but I'm not sure if it's worth it.  

After the tombs, we headed to the Blue Mosque, but because it was Friday (the holy day in Islam), it was closed for a few hours for prayer.  We decided to go to the Dolmabahce Clock Tower, which is far away from all of the other touristy sights (a metro ride).  We ended up at an Irish Pub for lunch, which was actually really good before venturing to the the clock tower.  When we got there, though, the line was incredibly long.  I think my jaw dropped when I saw it.  The guide books and stuff aren't kidding when they say the lines are long in the summer.  By that time it was almost 3:00 and the tower closed at 4:00.  If we had made it in by four, we wouldn't have had a lot of time to explore, so we just gave up and sat at the cafe outside on the water drinking some tea. 

Once we were done, it was almost time for the Blue Mosque to open back up, so we headed out.  When we got there, we were again amazed by the long lines to get inside the actual mosque.  We decided against it again, just due to time, but we were still able to go inside the front of it, where there is an open area for people to hang out.  It was beautiful and, just like everything else, I was awestruck.

Inside the Blue Mosque. There is a huge open area where people seem to just hang out after they are done praying. 
We also were there right as the call to prayer was happening.  I can hear this from my apartment, but it's usually in the distance.  This time, we were right next to the mosque and it was an incredible experience.  It's so moving and I can see how it would be a spiritual calling.  I know it's not quite the same, but click on the video to listen.

Jason was staying at hostel that was having a barbeque that evening, so we headed back that way and made our way to the rooftop where there was a bar and they were starting the grill.  I stayed at hostel when I was in London, but I was with a big group and we didn't really socialize with the other people staying at the hostel. Plus, I had swine flu, so....

Anyways, we hung out at Jason's hostel that evening with all of the other people staying there.  We met people from all over and it was so cool.  There were two Australian guys from Sydney, an American who was teaching in Abu Dabi, and Irish man, a college student from Chile studying in France and a man from Washington, DC.  It was so cool to talk to them and hear about their travels.  The girl who was teaching in Abu Dabi had incredible stories of the culture and the lifestyle, while the student from Chile was asking us all about Izmir and trying to plan his trip there. It was a great way to end the trip to Istanbul.

Overall, Istanbul was a great city.  I think Mike was a little underwhelmed, but I absolutely loved it, maybe more than Izmir. There was so much to do and see.  It's the fifth largest city in the world and it felt big, but not overwhelming.  While Izmir has the contemporary architecture and modern city feel to it, Istanbul was the opposite.  The miles and miles of cobblestone streets and ancient buildings made it feel like we were taking a walk through history. There were many more women in hijabs, niqabs and burkas in Istanbul, but the plethora of tourists and Europeans made me feel comfortable and accepted. 

We'll be back in Istanbul in a few weeks for a visit when Mike's sister comes to Turkey and hopefully the high tourist season will be fading and we'll get to see some of the places we missed out on, as well as some new ones. 

Tomorrow, I'll be posting about our first day in Cappadocia.  Check back!