Only Planet

One Child, One Year, One Planet. A family of three traveling around the world...

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Friday, August 16, 2013

Turkish Delight

The sun was setting as we landed in Istanbul. After negotiating a bus and taxi to our hotel and finding a quick meal, we watched the sky grow dark. As we sat in the restaurant munching our kababs, we noticed a never-ending stream of headlights; cars driving past, heading up the hill. After dinner we wandered up the narrow streets past our hotel, tangled with cars and pedestrians, past families carrying bags of food and watermelons. We rounded the final corner and ran into thousands of people sitting on the grass, milling in the square and wandering amongst booths enjoying the warm summer night. 

We had landed during Ramadan and it seemed all of Istanbul was out celebrating. The locals were enjoying Iftar, the meal that marked the end of the daily fast, which is the most well-known aspect of Ramadan. At this point, I uttered the oft-worn expression, “guess we’re not in Kansas anymore.”  

And here is the Hagia Sofia (Aya Sofya)
Here’s how I feel about travel.  If I’m going to get into a flying metal tube and sit there for fifteen hours, when I get out I want to feel like I’m somewhere different.  The more exotic, the better.  Istanbul filled that need for me. 

Women covered from head to toe in black, herded children running around the plaza.  Men selling everything from corn on the cob, to huge chunks of watermelon, to hand spun candy were providing food and entertainment to the crowd.  The grandeur of the Blue Mosque and the Aya Sofya  behind it, were backdrops to a temporary lane of stalls selling everything from rose-flavored lemonade to brass lamps. 

Speaking of shopping, one of the most amazing shopping experiences is an afternoon in the Grand Bazaar.  Described with superlatives, such as the largest and oldest covered markets in the world, it covers 61 streets, holds 3000 shops and sees 250,000-400,000 visitors a day. The Grand Bazaar is the Bazaar that all others are measured against. 

Istanbul is at a crossroads. It’s a smash-up of east and west. Having spent a considerable amount of time in both Europe and Asia, it was easy for us to suss out what seemed European and what seemed Asian, but in many ways it felt like we were on neither continent. Time and time again, with the exception of the monuments and grand mosques, Istanbul felt more like Cairo to us. The heat, the crowds, the calls of the muezzin, the ever-present fountains for washing, and a culture deeply steeped in Islam, rather than Christianity or Buddhism, has allowed Istanbul to develop its own flavors. 

This sweet lady who was selling scarves outside of the Blue Mosque helped Dylan fix hers. 

Inside the Blue Mosque

"Loki was here" This is honest-to-god graffiti left by the vikings inside the Hagia Sofya 

I wish every westerner could visit a Muslim country, just to see that Muslim countries are not all Al Qaeda and radicalism, like the United States is not all the Westboro Church or Snookie and LiLo.   People shop, work, and take their kids to school just like we do here in the US.  Well, maybe there are some jobs we don’t see in the US, like those of the urban porters who navigate streets too small for trucks.

My first thought, that's a weird car seat. 

 But the point is, despite the concerns and warnings about traveling to Turkey, especially after the protests in Taksim Square over the razing of Gezi Park, I’m glad we went and hope to return, except maybe when the weather is cooler.  

Turkish delight was sold here, but we were buying the many awesome baklavas.  The guys at this store waved Dylan behind the counter so she could snap some pictures. 


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