Turkish Hospitality - Turkish Thanksgiving Day 3

November 23, 2012

Well, we burned thought Thanksgiving without thinking too much about it on this side of the globe. I saw the Facebook posts wishing everyone a Happy Thanksgiving. We haven't found Turkey (the food) over here yet. Then again, we've only been to one place so far.

I don't know about Adele, but I slept well last night. It sounds like a no brainer after a full day of travel, but usually I'm one of those who toss and turn on the first night of a hotel stay. This time, I was out cold. Maybe it was because we are not actually in a hotel, but in an apartment.

Sophie was the first to bring up the idea of an apartment instead of a hotel. I think we saw the comment and didn't think too much about it at first. But as we kept seeing hotels we like not be available and as we kept thinking about the idea, it began to grow on us. We'd have room to spread out. The apartments would be near the action, but a little more off the beaten path. We could make our own breakfast if we wanted. Adele did most of the legwork on the hotel research (usually one of my areas, but I kept getting distracted) and found the place we're in now. And it's a lovely little place.

There are two bedrooms, a small kitchen, plenty of open space, free (and pretty decent) WiFi. We also realized last night that there are two showers (a secret shower exists in Adele's room). Sure, we nearly got bested by the apartment door (it took a bit of time for us to figure out how the locks worked. And the doorknob), but we figured it out.

We realized last night we were in a very Arab neighborhood. That made Adele deliriously happy. Signs in Arabic were everywhere. The falafel cart on the street was overrun with street eaters. We can't go hungry here. The door to the building is right next door to the Kebab King. Every other storefront on our street is food-based. Adele thinks she's going to end up flying home in a mumu. I think I'll need a seatbelt extender...

We are moving a little leisurely this morning. The plan was figured out last night. We had to find the tram (which is across the street. The public transportation is SO CLOSE to the apartment!!) and we'd be off to the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia. They both open at 9a, but the mosques are a bit tricky on Fridays as the prayer services are heavier in the afternoon. We figured we'd go there first.

Neither one of us was wildly hungry for breakfast (and we were moving a little slower than we could have been), so we just found the tram and moved our way towards Sultanahmet, where we found the rest of the tourists gathering. First stop...the Blue Mosque.

The Blue Mosque is an active mosque, which brings with it a host of rules and regulations. Visitors (not worshippers) have a specific entrance to use. No shoes can be worn inside. All ladies have to have their arms and heads covered. Adele and I knew about these in advance. We made sure to have scarves ready to go. And the mosque people know...they had bags for the shoes and they had head coverings for the ladies who were unprepared. Though it did surprise me that inside the mosque, some of the women didn't cover their heads and no one called them out on it.

The Blue Mosque was very lovely. The detail inside the mosque was amazing. Adele was able to point out several things that I would never know about Muslim religion. Like the different shade of red on the rugs. That shows people where to kneel down to pray. I never would have known these things.

This was my first time in a mosque. I guess it's a good one to go to if I want to see a mosque. It was interesting though...there were a few people actually praying and studying the Koran while the tourists gaped and gawked at the building. It made me wonder if the people going to worship resented the tourists or wished they weren't there. I never thought of that before when I was in a cathedral. Maybe because the mosque is so foreign to me. Though getting information from Adele was really great because it seemed certain parts of the religion are very accommodating to people. There is the whole "role of women in society" part that doesn't seem all that great, but I think that's religion in general. And I have to say that I don't know that much about the Muslim faith. I don't know much about the Christian faith either. So who am I to judge??

We grabbed a bready treat on the way across the street to the Hagia Sophia (bagel-ish and filled with Nutella!!). But midway there, we changed our minds on where to go. Adele had read that a great time to go into Hagia Sophia was at night...closer to dusk. The crowds are less and the sunsets are amazing. The crowds when we were making the decision...meh...not too bad, but they were there...and getting bigger. So we made an executive decision...Basilica Cistern, then Grand Bazaar. Done.

I didn't know too much about the Basilica Cistern. I remembered reading about it, but I didn't pay enough attention. Turns out the Basilica was built in the 500's. Marble columns rose from the water, fish lived there. It was quite a sight. Several renovations happened in the ancient world. But it was also renovated in the 1980's. In the '80's, they piped in calm music and kept the lights down low. It is really cool to walk down to the dark area. We both kept trying to catch the ambience of the cistern on our cameras. I don't know if it worked or not, but we think we got some good shots.

Sidebar #1 - Adele's camera broke today. Or it broke a few weeks ago. Either way, it doesn't work. And it's a glorious camera. Luckily, she got the iPhone 5, so she can do some things. But she's really disappointed about the whole situation. I get it.

Sidebar #2 - I feel like I may have said this before, but the best class I think I had in school (junior/high/college - not grade school, through...that was when I learned to spell and read and stuff, which was pretty damn important) was Humanities. Everywhere I have gone in the world has directly related back to Humanities class. Today, I pulled the different column types out of my memory bank (Ionic, Doric and Corinthian). So...go, Humanities!!

We walked a few blocks to go to the Grand Bazaar. This was what we'd been looking forward to for a while. Shopping. Plenty of shopping. And the fates seemed to be with us...after a bit of a tumble. Literally.

The streets are not smooth. There are bumps and divots and big steps and things everywhere. I made a reference to Adele in one area as we were walking to the Bazaar. But I missed an alert on the final stretch to the Bazaar. Adele didn't see a gutter in the middle (!!) of the street and went down hard. Two shopkeepers came to her rescue and steered us towards their shop where they asked us to sit and rest. One owner even offered us a cigarette. We politely declined and caught our breath for a few seconds. After a bit, we went along our merry way. Here's where the crazy random happenstance began.

Adele stopped at a shop at the end of the street where the previous calamity occurred. This is a place we don't think we would have stopped if she hadn't fallen. As she a looking for a wallet, I noticed the kabob skewers. Her sister wanted those. So Adele began haggling. Turns out the owner's friend (who was there to ask his buddy to go to the prayer service) has a nephew (and other family members) that own a jewelry shop in the Bazaar. The man walked us to the shop, where Adele found a pair of earrings she wanted. The nephew then gave us a tip for a lunch joint in the Bazaar (not before we were served tea in the shop).

The place we ate was Pedaliza, a pretty hopping joint. I got some Doner Kebab and Adele got another kebab. That one was pretty uneventful after the Doner kebab. Adele continued her shopping run as she found a lamp. She negotiated hard for it and came out victorious. I still haven't really found anything. I think I don't know what I want. Which will either mean I won't get anything or...yeah, I'm probably not going to end up with anything. That sucks.

Sidebar #3 - We found Turkey!! In Pedaliza, they had a turkey dish. I didn't order it. I barely like turkey at home. But it was found. And now Scott owes me. Woo Hoo!!

But along our journey, we keep meeting up with Turkish men who are nothing but wildly friendly. We had heard about Turkish Hospitality, but as cynical, single, Gen-X, city-dweller ladies, we didn't expect the hospitality would extend our way. Ummm...so wrong. Not only did we get the family member of the jeweler, but we had a young guy from an art shop who gave us his card in case we needed help in our hotel's neighborhood (apparently we're in a prostituty sort of area). We also met up with someone at the Haiga Sophia who not only told us to get a hot milk drink (more later), but he steered us to a kabob place and hookah lounge. And we had a nice long chat before we extracted ourselves from the conversation. About 20 minutes later, we met a man who recently had his picture taken for United Airlines' Magazine. He wanted to take us to the same hookah lounge the first guy told us to go to. Again with the cynicism, we took off after a bit, but "promised" to meet him after a while. It was tiring to keep getting hounded by people trying to sell things, but it was kind of nice to have a few conversations with good people...who I'm sure were still trying to sell us something...

We made a stop at our apartment for a few minutes in the middle of the afternoon. Adele needed to check on her camera (verdict...bad) and we just needed to take a load off. The bad part of going back to the apartment is that we are five flights up. With no elevator. It's like 85 steps. Blah.

We made it to Hagia Sophia just before 330p. They closed at 430p and kicked you out at 5p, so we didn't have a ton of time to see everything. Again, I didn't know what Hagia Sophia completely was. It was a basilica, then a mosque, and now a museum. It is a big deal for both the Byzantine and Ottoman Empire. We made our way up to the second floor to get an overview of the building. It was massive. And really beautiful. There were mosaics of Jesus (and other Jesus-things) right next to Muslim signs. The bottom floor was filled with chandeliers. It gave the whole place a Hogwarts' Great Hall vibe. I desperately wanted it to snow inside...from magic. It was also here where Adele got a little more optimistic about her camera situation. The iPhone 5 is no Sony DSLR, but it is much better than that crappy CyberShot.

Soon enough, they started turning out the lights. It was kind of our hint to get the hell out. It was here where we found the street drink vendor. A few weeks ago on The Amazing Race, we watched as contestants sold drinks out of a giant golden pot (so big they had to wear it). Our street drink was also poured from a giant golden pot, but this one was on a cart. The drink was milk-based. At first, I read the drink as a chai, but our new buddy (see the story above) kept telling us it wasn't. We decided to go for it. Adele caught the vendor haggling with an Arabic-speaking guy, which ended up saving us one Turkish Lira. The drink was really good. It was Sahlep, made with milk, honey, orchid buds, vanilla, cream, cinnamon and "special spices". Yum. It makes me want to search for recipes to make that at home. And we are going to the Spice Market tomorrow...hmmm...

Our final stop for the day was for dinner. Adele wanted to get a Doner Kabob. Which worked for me as I dug it heartily for lunch. We found a place a little ways off of the main drag and ordered a kebab (in a pita/wrap). We moaned in joy as we were eating, but the mood turned sour as we got our bill. It was about 40 lira over what we thought it would be. Cause we pointed to one thing, but asked for something else. The something else was significantly more expensive. The good news is that the food was excellent. And it still didn't cost us that much. The Dollar/Lira conversion is good for the Dollar. It was just a little bit of a shock.

So we decided to head back to the hotel. It's not because we are old ladies or anything. But we are still dealing with the remnants of jet lag. And we had a freaking full day. The best part of the tram ride home was the dude behind Adele who I'm 90% sure was smelling her hair. Ahh...Turkish Hospitality...


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