Thursday, 8 May 2014

Istanbul: The Other Side

I was wary of travelling over to the European side of Istanbul because I knew the likelihood of getting lost was high. However, a very kind woman who spoke English kindly helped convey how to get a token to ride the ferry and which ferry to take to Eminönü (Kadıköy). 

I didn't see a language button on the token dispenser, but a young, unkempt girl magically appeared out of thin air, and in almost perfect English explained how to use the machine and how much I needed to pay. I couldn't ignore her or the fact that she'd helped me; smiling and thanking her, I dropped a few 1tl (Turkish liras) coins into her hand. She quickly disappeared and I was on my way to the docking area.

I sat atop the boat where it was freezing (even though it was a beautifully sunny day). I took pictures and reveled in the fact that I was FINALLY going to see some of the historical wonders that I'd been excited to check out! I docked, sat a few minutes to get my bearings and made my way to the other side of the street. I saw the sign for the Grand Bazaar and made my way to the top of a VERY steep hill where I thought I was going to die. Even though I'd been walking up steep hills around Üsküdar, I wasn't prepared for how long the steep climb to the area where the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia (Ayasofya) are. Once at the top of the hill, I made my way into a tiny restaurant where I decided to have tea (çay)...Let's not kid ourselves though. I was really stopping because my legs were aching, my lungs were screaming and my bladder was none too happy with me.

As I made my way towards the sights, I was taken aback by the grandeur of the Blue Mosque! It's very large, but also had several other structures around it. As I walked through the gates I felt the crowd surrounding me. People were trying to sell everything from flowered crowns to scarves and candy. At that point, I wasn't sure I wanted to go into the mosque. After a man tried to haggle me about taking me through the mosque, I turned and said (more aggressively than I intended to), "No, thank you." and sped past him. I was annoyed that the few moments I had to make a decision were interrupted. Why should it matter, you may ask. Well, I'm not Muslim (I know that according to Islam this doesn't actually impact my allowance into a mosque). More importantly, I didn't want to enter a religious sanctuary where I would be forced to change my physical appearance (still don't). I know many people won't agree with my decision and I understand, but please respect that I have had my share of wearing a hijab, and I won't wear one again. So, instead, I stood outside the Blue Mosque, gazing at the structure and admiring the beauty of it. I eventually left and headed over to Hagia Sophia, not even a two-minute walk away.

 The Blue Mosque: the mosaic inlay under the domed-roof of a fountain where people were washing-up
The splendor isn't captured in this photo...I think I need a new camera

The Blue Mosque had been crowded (perhaps because it's free to enter?), but the queue to gain entrance to Hagia Sophia was sooo long! I couldn't believe how long it was. I stood in shock and thought, "Do I have to wait in line AND pay to get in there???" I ditched the idea of going in for another day when I could get there early to prevent lining up for ages. Although it lacked the initial impact of the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia did call to me...Maybe it's because it gave me the impression of a mishmash  and I feel like I'm a mishmash, too (my mixed heritage). To me it represented survival...Maybe that's why I felt a connection with it. The structure is painted several different colours that are faded, and it looks a little worse for wear, but I felt some kind of connection to it while I was there. The architecture makes you think that it was initially a mosque, but it wasn't; It was originally a church and then converted to a mosque, and today it's a museum.

 Where's Hagia Sophia hiding?!?
There it is!!!

Leaving Hagia Sophia I meandered down a side street and ended up at a restaurant where they served Campari (my poison of choice while I was living in Japan). I couldn't resist ordering Campari and orange juice. I felt nostalgia, contentment and comfort sitting in the sun, away from the large crowds and noise. A solitary cat curled up in the sun next to me. It was great!

Mmmm! I took this picture when I'd almost finished the drink, hehehe!

I drank my first Turkish coffee at the same shop I'd gotten tea at earlier and then purchased a rather large box of Turkish delight (when in Rome...), eventually making my way back to the Asian side. The next day my thighs were aching, so I stayed relatively close to the flat, but the day after I ventured back over to the European side to visit Galata Tower and meet a friend's friend.

 Turkish coffee comes with Turkish delight? Seriously?? Awesome!
 Turkish delight=Mik's delight!
 Regular and pomegranate Turkish delight with pistachios (covered in coconut), and nougat with pistachio Turkish delight
 Ahhh, stores FULL of Turkish delight! This isn't even the half of it!!!

Again, I ended up walking up a very steep hill. By the time I'd made it to Galata Tower I felt like I'd ran a marathon. I decided to pay the entrance fee and go to the top of the tower...What a waste. 19tl later (about $10CAD/3.5KWD), I had walked to the very top and if I wasn't exhausted before, well I was now! Although the view was spectacular, the one from the balcony of the flat is still better (in my mind). I was herded along the pathway around the tower (extremely narrow) and managed to capture some OK shots. After leaving Galata Tower, I went to Taksim Square to meet the Irish chef's friend, let's call him Ohio (since that's the American state he's from). That story, however, is for another post :)

 Inside the base of Galata Tower. See the tower carved in the centre of the metal plaque?
 View of the Asian side. Hello Üsküdar!
 The view of Topkapi Palace
 The view of an information board on a landing between flights of stairs
The view at the bottom

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