Sunday, February 26, 2012

Come To My Family Shop...We Do Small Business!

     My travel buddies and I arrived safely in Istanbul at about 9 am on Tuesday morning. Sure, I had only slept a measly 45 minutes on the plane, but that wasn't going to stop me from exploring this city during our 11 hour layover. We paid $20 for our Turkish visa, got caffeinated at Starbucks, threw our luggage in lockers and hit the metro. With directions to the Hagia Sophia in hand, we were off!
     At least we thought we were. We had to watch a few people use the metro coin machines before we figured it out...then we were off! It was a relatively easy trip into town. We went about fifteen minutes by train and another fifteen or so by tram, and found ourselves right in the center of the city. It was truly beautiful. We got quite lucky with a bright and sunny, albeit a bit chilly, day. There were gorgeous lanterns hanging from the store fronts and delicious looking pastries in ever other window. Istanbul is a seriously cute, quaint little city!

Hagia Sopia
     As we were marveling at the day and the fact that we had just been at JFK a mere 10 hours ago, we happened upon a friendly local businessman that was willing to point us in the right direction. Well I guess we must look like new homeowners or something, (or maybe just dumb Americans), because we found ourselves in a carpet store. Now, let me be clear, we knew this is where we were headed. It just felt impolite to say no, even knowing full well we had no intention of purchasing any carpets. So, we wound up in a shop full of beautiful hand crafted rugs with a man telling us he'd like to do 'small business.' This was apparently the least we could do as he had, after all, walked us toward the hugely obvious Hagia Sophia. (i.e. We did not need to be shown where it was.) There we awkwardly stood, surrounded by carpets until we could convince him that we would definitely not be making a purchase.
Ceiling of Hagia Sophia
Maureen, Ben and I
      Finally, we made it out of the shop and headed down the block to the amazing Hagia Sophia. This breathtaking piece of architecture was originally a Greek Orthodox basilica, which was turned into a mosque and then finally turned into a museum. I can't really express how gorgeous it is. All of the art and designs meld together and it is sometimes difficult to discern the Greek influence from that of the Muslims. There were some portions I was certain must be original to the structure, but then later realized upon visiting the Blue Mosque, were in fact Muslim. It was really interesting and every nook and cranny had some intricate art work on it. I think the mosaics were my favorite portion. It was particularly interesting to see photos next to half covered works, showing what it should look like if had never been covered up when the building was converted into a mosque. I also quite enjoyed how some pieces of the ceiling were ripped away to reveal the original Greek artwork underneath the layers of (I presume) plaster that the Muslims had covered it with. I found it really interesting how close the artwork was, especially in the archways. I'm no art history buff, so I could only tell which was which by seeing the layer on which it was painted.
Cat 'sunning' himself in front of the steps that
are in fact a Muslim influence...who knew?!

Half covered mosaics

On the balcony

Chunks of ceiling. This is part Greek, part Muslim.
Outside Hagia Sophia
Blue Mosque
     After we had our fill of the old basilica, we ventured off for a quick walk through the Blue Mosque. It was almost prayer time, so we had to scoot through pretty quick. When we got in the courtyard, we once again must have looked like dopey Americans.  A kind young man informed us that the non-Muslim entrance was around the back. He was friendly enough to walk us toward the correct door and told us that once we were done we could come around back to his family store to look at, you guessed it.....CARPETS!!! Well after that we officially learned our lesson and stopped talking to locals altogether.  The Blue Mosque was quite beautiful and although most people did take pictures, there were signs everywhere saying not too, so I chose to respect that, perhaps stupidly, and only took pictures outside.
     Upon finishing our quick romp through the mosque, we realized we were pretty famished. We wandered back up the street and found a cute little shop that had lots of tasty stuff. They had baclava, so Ben was happy! The men working there were quite funny and flirty. The chef wouldn't let go of my hand and referred to Maureen as his "Turkish beauty", so it was amusing and tasty all for the price of one! After food we realized that we were actually pretty tired as well. We headed back to the airport and along the way saw some beautiful lanterns. I think I will go back for one eventually. We didn't head back a minute too soon, because once we found a place to sit near our gate, it was all I could do not to fall asleep. We managed to get wifi and then I was able to doze off for about and hour and a half.

Flirty chef
     Once we woke up, we met up with some more travel buddies. Irma, Sherry, Safiah and her husband joined us on our flight to Abu Dhabi. It was nice to have a larger group together so we could start putting more faces to names. So far, everyone was very friendly! Soon it was time to board, and then we were really about to start the adventure....Abu Dhabi, here we come!!

1 comment:

  1. MMmmm. Love all the tasty snack photos, and the Hagia Sophia! You are so fortunate.