Thursday, April 4, 2013

Postcards from Istanbul

One of the benefits of changing hemispheres is the prospect of visiting new far away places.

While planted in California, if you had asked me if i had intentions of visiting Turkey (the country, NOT the bird) i would have wondered where you came up with such a ridiculous question.  

Eastern Hemisphere + 1 Generous Husband + 9 Ladies = Girls Trip!


4 days is hardly enough time to soak up the richness of the city with 9 women.  
After all Istanbul has been around for A LONG time and has A LOT to offer!

Here is where i will confess i am a big time wannabe history buff.  i LOVE history but have the worst memory when it comes to specific dates, which i am assuming is a pretty important component of history.  What i lack in number sense i make up for in my enthusiasm and fascination for the ancient.  The allure of old buildings rich in history charms me with its stories of the past.
So bear with me as i gush over a bit of History.
(All dates and numbers i double checked online and can take no credit for.)  

Topaki Palace
Where Sultans ruled the Ottoman empire for about 400 years.  Imagine the stories lingering in the 400 rooms of the Sultan's harem!  


Istanbul is positioned on the Bosphorus which is a strait that connects the Black sea to the sea of Marmara and serves as a boundary between Europe and Asia.  This means within a few minutes you can cross over from one continent to another.  As if that weren't enough, this place has been host to 2 major empires and religions; Roman and Ottoman/Christianity and Islam which makes for some captivating sights.

Hagia Sophia

Currently a museum, the Hagia Sophia was originally built as a Byzantine church but was converted into a Mosque during the takeover of the Ottoman Empire.  It is as far as i know the only place where upon entering you see a mosaic of Mary and Baby Jesus flanked by the Muslim words "Allah" (right) and "Mohammed" (left).  Aside from the history, the architecture and mosaics of this building the conversation between Muslim and Christian friends was rich. 

While reading about the architectural history of this building i was at first seriously disappointed to discover this. 

"Unfortunately nothing remains of the original Hagia Sophia, which was built on this site in the fourth century by Constantine the Great." 

It's always so disillusioning to think i'm seeing a very old fascinating work of architectural genius only to discover it's merely been rebuilt over an originally old structure.  i continue reading to find out how old the "new" Hagia Sophia really is. 

"Hagia Sophia was rebuilt in her present form between 532 and 537 under the personal supervision of Emperor Justinian I."

And just like that i am instantly impressed again.  
Clearly from the picture you can see how her marble floors are sagging and her arches are beginning to slump under the weight of the history she has been shouldering.

And lest you think Istanbul is only for history buffs...

The Shopping is A..MA..ZING!

The Grand Bazaar is the oldest covered market in the world.  Tucked away within 61 covered streets and 3,000 shops there are treasures galore waiting to be discovered.  The hilarity of it all is watching 9 women shop while attempting to calculate the price in 4 currencies.  Turkey uses 2 currencies; the Turkish Lira and the Euro while some of us still think in Dubai Dirhams and US Dollars.

"How much is 300 Lira?"
"About 129 Euro."
"But in Dollar?!"
"Ok, but i need to know in Dirhams... 610...right?"
"Yeah, pay in Euros, its the best deal ;-)"

There are Kilim rugs, handmade ceramic, tapestries, jewelry and leather so soft you'll want to sleep in it.  It would take days to see everything just within the Bazaar. 

Istanbul also has some amazing upscale boutiques and shops filled with high end fashion.  As beautiful as they are, it's the bustling streets filled with people, the endless free samples of Turkish Delight, the aromatic spices and unfamiliar sights that capture my attention.
(Beware: one picture below may cause you to squirm but i just couldn't leave it out!)

Public Drinking Fountain
Need a smoke?

Sheep parts anyone?

Somewhere just past the sheep parts but before the delicious Turkish lunch, we got swept into... for lack of a better phrase... a "crowd of people."  
The part of me that thrives on experiencing a city for what it is apart from the polished touristy sections thought it was exciting to see Turkish life up close and personal.  i lifted my camera above my head and snapped a shot of what it feels like to be a salmon swimming upstream in Istanbul.

 About 30 seconds later when it became even more crowded (yes, it is possible) i realized it was NOT exciting to be packed in in such a way that you literally CANNOT move. at. all. Thankfully we did manage to get out all 6 of us totally unscathed. 

i have no idea but the phrase Turkish Smurf-a-Claus comes to mind.

Turkish Bath or Hamam 

  My kiddos giggled when i mentioned the hamam part of our trip.  "Um Mom, you know that means bathroom in Arabic right?!"  When i explained what sort of bathroom it actually referred to they were sure we were crazy.  

A hamam is a bath house that served 2 purposes; keeping oneself clean and socializing with friends.  A Hamam is split into 2 sections one for men the other for women but be prepared to leave all modesty behind if you want the traditional experience. 
We opted to try out this Hamam.  
 After you are doused by your own personal attendant with water that is the perfect temperature, you lie under a beautiful dome and relax on a hot marble slab.  Steam time is followed by a complete scrub down which can only be described as giant sandpaper scraping off every bit of your dead skin.  There is more dousing, scrubbing, piles of bubbles, washing and more steam.  When all is said and done you emerge from the bathhouse with muscles like jello and skin that is glowing and velvety soft.  Even the most modest of ladies who was at first hesitant to take part is now ready to hamam it up at least once a month.  If you want the full monty on hamams click here cause this is all the pictures and info getting from me.   

Istanbul doesn't disappoint when it comes to food and nightlife.

What's a trip to Istanbul without some STRONG and THICK Turkish coffee?  

This is why it felt like the cube of sugar was never quite totally dissolved. 

Delicious street food 

In Greece it's called a gyro, in the Middle East it's called Shwarma; meat roasted on a turning spit and carved off thinly and placed in a pita with garlic sauce and other condiments.  We have them in Dubai all the time and they are delightful!  These shwarma guys perfected thinly sliced meat by using an electric shwarma shaver which none of us had ever seen before.

Istanbul has some incredible restaurants and nightlife with unbelievable views of the Bosphorus, Europe and Asia.    

For all of the beauty, culture and adventure Istanbul offered up to us the best part of a trip like this is traveling with such a diverse and interesting group of ladies.  i am sure i have said this at least a thousand times but the BEST part of our Dubai/travel experience is the people.  This trip began as a 5 minute conversation after school drop off.  It grew from 2 women going to 9 within a matter of weeks.  Some women had friends in Istanbul so we were able to meet up with additional Turkish friends.  Our dinner conversations wandered the spectrum of the day's events to 4th grade playground gossip, life in Dubai, lives prior to Dubai, families and future moves on the horizon.  Sometimes conversations would naturally slip into native languages of Arabic or Farsi and back into English again which somehow always managed to enrich and add to the conversation rather than exclude.  Cultural stereotypes were affectionately teased because let's be honest sometimes our differences are just plain funny.  

Getting to know and love women with backgrounds from Egypt, Canada, Lebanon, Japan, Iran and the States is a gift in itself, but getting to do it in Istanbul is priceless!