"My soul is elsewhere, I'm sure of that. And I intend to end up there." -- Rumi

Friday, February 15, 2013

Venturing into Sultanahmet

So I've just completed my first week of teaching in Istanbul.


It feels like not much has happened since I got here, but that must be untrue because now I am staring at an empty screen with no idea where to start.  Hard to believe that a week and a half has passed already, and that it's only been a week and a half.

I'll get into my first teaching week in the next post or so, but I wanted to start with last Saturday, when I first got myself into the city proper.  I took a metro, a funicular, and a tram (seriously Istanbul??) to get myself into Sultanahmet and check out some sights.  I navigated just fine but once again my body betrayed me and suddenly I felt really sick to my stomach.  Ugh.  Had to duck into a convenient cafe and luckily their bathroom was where I thought it should be.  After that one incident, I didn't have any other emergencies but definitely didn't eat anything all day.  I'd been in Istanbul since Thursday and had yet to actually eat in a restaurant!

I took the tram across the Golden Horn and into EminönĂ¼, where I saw a very big and famous looking mosque and decided to step off and check it out.  Turns out it was just a "normal" mosque but still incredibly beautiful.  I fell in behind the steady stream of worshipers entering the mosque, took off my shoes and whipped a quick scarf around my head.  Must have done okay because at least no one yelled at me.  Inside it was just breathtaking.

In the courtyard
Pretty enough to be a movie star
 I had both a map and a guidebook with me for this afternoon, and was not using either of them.  Consequently I got lost trying to find the Hagia Sophia, which meant I lucked out and stumbled upon this amazingly crazy market district.

I'm dying for one of these lamps!
Finally I did pull out the map and correct myself, and finally got to scratch my waiting-in-line-with-other-tourists itch.  I'd missed this so much from Europe.  (Not really.)

Hagia Sophia
(Confession:  for a long time I thought the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque were the same thing.  They're not.)

Inside the Hagia Sophia, I was surprised at how much of the interior needed some serious restoration.  I mean, of course it was beautiful, but sadly showing its age a little.

Restoration happenings over to the left.
Oh, it costs 25 TL to get into the Hagia Sophia.  Something I absolutely had to do once, but if I get any visitors here I think I just might send them in alone. :)

Across this very pretty park, full of fountains, is the Blue Mosque.  And I have to say, I loved visiting both of these places but the Blue Mosque does edge out on sheer gorgeousness.

The mosque was temporarily closed to visitors for prayer time, but the very kind guards told me about a small seminar that was about to start in one of the adjacent buildings that would talk about the history of Islam and about this particular mosque.  So I went to check that out and it was really quite a cool presentation.  Definitely worth the time, especially since it was free!  And then I finally went in to check out the mosque itself.

These pictures do not do it justice.  It is seriously just so breathtaking inside.  I wandered around for a while taking it all in.  It is exactly moments like these that remind me how very lucky I am to be living this crazy life!

When I came out, it was raining.  And I still didn't want to trust my stomach with food.  So I headed home for yet another quiet night.  I needed to harbor my strength for the trials soon to come -- otherwise known as 1st, 2nd and 3rd graders.

I loved the bustling, colorful, loud Old Town.  I wish I could live there, but cost and commute make that a total pipe dream.  And there is still SO much more to explore.  I'm going to have to do some planning if I want to fit it all in in four short months.

It just so happened that on Tuesday I found myself in Sultanahmet once again, as I met up with three other teachers for dinner.  I met a girl who'd also volunteered in Georgia!  We had a hilarious time recounting our very best stories for the horror and amusement of our dinner companions.  We found an "authentic" Turkish restaurant that was pretty budget-blowing (for us), but the staff were incredibly nice and they had tables where you could sit on cushions on the floor.  We found out that doing this is actually a lot less comfy and more awkward than it might seem at first. :)  But the food and conversation were excellent.

Mallory (former TLGer!), Joshua, Rachel
Verdict:  You'll never lack for sights, fun, or food in Sultanahmet.  Just be prepared to pay for it. :)  So... maybe only on special occasions.  I prefer the back-alley random-find restaurants anyway.

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