Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Istanbul, Turkey

March 13, 2010
Clear, cool

Last night I went for a walk with Matt in a park near our hotel. We played on some public exercise equipment, walked through the gardens, and ended up sitting on a bench to talk. Shortly after we sat down, two park officials came over on bikes – one was actually a trike with a child seat in back, but they were still ferocious officers of the state. They made one lap around, then circled back and stopped to talk to us. They began with what I imagine is a Turkish greeting, and quickly found out that we did not speak a word of Turkish and they did not speak a word of English. One of the officers pulled out his ID and started waving it at us, so we pulled out our room keys and pretended we didn’t have our passports, and pointed to the hotel we were staying at. By this time, we were all hysterical with laughter and trying to use hand signals to communicate: he stuck his pointer fingers out and started smashing them together. We took it as our cue to leave, and so we began to walk towards the street and two of the guards chased us down on their bikes and escorted us out. As we walked past the entrance gate, a whole group of guides waved to us and yelled something in Turkish, probably good night.
This morning we woke up late to get in the bus and drive back to Istanbul. I had settled down for a good long bus ride to the ferry, and was just dozing off when not five minutes into the drive we stopped, and we herded out into the cold. We were going to look at the Green Mosque and a tomb in Bursa. Both were very cool and beautiful with very nice colorful tiles, and in the mosque a group of teenage boys approached me and asked to take a picture with me. They then found Nate, our Biomes Ambassador, and crowded around him and took a few pictures. It’s so interesting because I could never imagine asking to take a picture of a foreigner in the United States, especially when they aren’t dressed any differently or doing anything particularly “cultural.”
After the mosque and the tomb we got back on the bus for several hours, got on a ferry, crossed to Mediterranean in under an hour, and ended up back in Istanbul. We stopped to get a picture of the strait and the bridge that joins Asia Minor with Europe, and I desperately had to pee. Allen, Zypy, Matt, Aysen and I did a mad dash to another mosque and I used easily the most disgusting bathroom of the entire trip. Strangely, there was soap and water – Muslims are required to clean before they enter a mosque.
The rest of the day was spent at the Grand Bazaar. I’m not a big fan of shopping when I don’t need to buy anything, and there is something sort of depressing about walking through miles and miles of a dark enclosed filled with shops each filled with identical stuff – pipes, rugs, shoes, lanterns, etc. All these “Turkish” things. I left and drank some fresh-squeezed juice and wandered over to the Istanbul University and through the city. On the steps on the University, two girls tried to get a picture of me as I walked by, and I turned to wave at them and they snapped a photo. It’s really quite strange, but I don’t mind.
After that, we went to our hotel, and then ate the slowest and longest dinner ever (pushing three hours), and now I’m here journaling. I feel like this is one of the most important parts of the trip for me; like I said I’m not a huge fan of buying things and so I feel like what I write will be my most treasured souvenir.

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