Published: January 23rd 2012January 13th 2012
For starters, yup, I'm safe, and mostly settled into my new home on the outskirts of Brussels, in Belgium. It's nice, but I'm fairly certain that once a new semester starts, it's probably for the best if all wacky hijinks from the last have been recorded; or at least the legal fees connected to said hijinks have been paid. With that in mind, and mostly because my brain is like coral (memories don't vanish, just new ones build on them) I think it's high time I updated for Istanbul! Let me explain, well no, there is too much. Let me sum up:
Here are six snapshot memories from Istanbul that made the trip, well, fucking awesome. This is just a part of it, and to spare you a college thesis that's what goes here. Walking into Hagia Sofia
And realizing that any preconceptions I might have had about beauty have been woefully undersized. To back up, Hagia Sofia is a church that dates back to Justinian times in Byzantium, in other words almost fifteen hundred years old. This place was literally the largest enclosed space in Europe for centuries, a hallmark of a civilization that reached its
And inside, really, words and photos don't do it justice. Size does matter sometimes.
glory at a time when much of Europe burned. If I sound a little like the gushing history fanboy I totally am, it's mainly because this place has been somewhere I've wanted to be for five years. Going there does a lot more than check off an item on my bucket list. Walking inside one is left with the impression of faded glory, and the feeling of history literally looming over you. The glorious mosaics were chipped and in pieces, and the sumptuous carpets of the Mosque Aya Sofya rolled up and stored, and yet even without the added splendor the building just towers and shines regardless. One glimpse of that kind of forgotten beauty was sincerely humbling to me, and if I had only seen that it would've been worth the trip. Walking, rain or shine
Istanbul is in a rather unique location, and as befits a place nestled at the world's crossroads, the weather seemed bipolar. The first day it was gorgeous, sunny, and blue skies all around. The second day paid me back in spades for this nicety with a delightful mixture of rain, followed by snow, followed by a simultaneous encore performance. The
one of the only really intact ones in Hagia Sofia (the rest were smashed), Constantine presents the city, Justinian the Church
weather continued to mess with my head, and as I'm an incredibly cheap man with a rather snappy hat and coat (which would get me into trouble), I ended up walking just about everywhere in this mess. Most people treated weather like that here, rain or shine you could count on men standing on every bridge with fishing rods, hoping for a bite. Fortunately, not everything was outside, and after a while, someone might even guide you to a nice place, though only after: wandering through a carpet shop, then a leather factory
Remember how I said about three lines ago that my hat and coat were snappy? Well apparently I looked like a monied sort to any local Turk who saw me, and at least six people tried to take me to their (insert relative's name) carpet store/shirt factory. Maybe they thought I was a mobster who needed a place to hide some bodies, and wanted to look classy while I did it. Regardless, after two wasted hours and a haggled pair of socks (don't ask), I realized that most men coming up and saying hello were the mildest form of predator around, though at least
It's raining. Also snowing in this. Still fucking cool.
one of them gets points for keeping up with a brisk sprint to get away. Winning at haggling
Unless otherwise stated, I quickly learned that most shops treat sales as a kind of game, one they usually end up winning. The secret to success here was not giving a whit about the item. In this case, some sorely needed socks. Do I feel slightly miserable about reducing a sixteen year old to swearing in anger? mm, maybe, but on the other hand they're mighty fine (and cheap) socks. ...and not so much
the Grand Bazaar's a fascinating place, so many things bought and sold. Think the world's first shopping mall, expanded and run by hagglers who are powered strictly on small cups of tea and fried burgers made only in one area. Basically, I did get attached to one item, and after half an hour of arguing with the man, and reducing the item to a third of the initial price, and then some, I thought I'd done pretty well...until I left the shop and realized just how much I spent on something that will go unnamed. Still, a few snags are always expected, and
Beware, here be hagglers...
this wasn't anything new. Finding Byzantium's Mines of Moria
I attached a picture, see for yourselves. Another jaw dropping moment for me, these were simply the cisterns the Byzantines had in the event of a city siege. Today they resemble nothing so much as the real world version of JRR Tolkien's Dwarf City. Having a Turkish Bath
I had decided after many persistent comments by various tour guides, friends, and passing drunks shouting from the streets that visiting one the bath houses in Turkey was a good idea. These places had been all over eastern Europe, every city from Vienna eastwards that had some experience with the Ottomans touted their cultural legacy from when the Turks had bashed them senseless (or come close to doing so), so I figured a trip to the real McCoy wasn't a bad plan. I picked one of the older ones, which looked disappointingly plain from the outside, and then splurged on an attendant's help and massage. Wandering in I quickly found the main room was nice to look at, old, and generally relaxing to lie in the sweltering heat. It did a lot to remove that lingering doubt
Behold, the great realm and Dwarven City of Dwerwodelf...
To quote Gandalf...
one gets when wearing a loose fitting towel and nothing else. Of course, after about twenty minutes the attendant walked in. Any stereotypes that might've lingered about a beautiful woman coming in were brutally smashed by the reality of Mahmoud, the large hairy Turkish man. Another thing that Mahmoud beat into submission (aside from my spine and upper back) was the traditional concept of relaxation. This man's approach to cleanliness was this side of a sterilizing purge, and the idea of a soothing massage was a dozen quick punches to the spine. Still, after it was over I realized something. Apparently the spine punches had beaten the feelings of fatigue and angst I'd had for a month into submission, and threatened with the concept of more violence, my shoulders forgot about the 20 kilos I made them carry. In short, totally worth it for a few hours of the most relaxing feeling I've ever had.
There's so much more I could talk about. The heavy metal bars, the food, the...well kind of everything. There's a limit to how much gushing is polite, so I'm stopping it here. In short, the city's wonderful, go if you can, and I've
The Blue Mosque was an attempt to sort of "top" Hagia Sofia. Still a functioning mosque, the call to prayer took some getting used to.
no regrets. Til next time.
There are more photos below