Monday, July 7, 2014

Week 6 Part 1: TURKEY!

Istanbul was Constantinople!

I. Love. This. Country.
If Jerusalem weren't the hub of most world religions, I'd say Turkey was more impressive to me. The history of so many cultures and empires, the architecture, the shopping bazaars, and the oh-so-lovely landscapes make it altogether one of the greatest places I've been.

Istanbul, Hagia Sophia, & the Archaeological Museum

We flew into the Asian half of Istanbul and drove across the Bosporus Strait to the other side. Here you can see the Strait (looking north) and both the Asian side on the right and the European side on the left.

On our first day we visited the Hagia Sophia. It was once a Greek Orthodox church, was later converted into a Islamic mosque, and is now considered a museum.

"Hagia Sophia" literally means "Holy Wisdom". I think it's one of the loveliest buildings I've seen.

Hagia Sophia is nearly entirely gilded, and the muted light and velvety dark corners give the massive space an ethereal and majestically holy mood.

Next came the Archaeological Museum. What an overload! It was like being in the Louvre Museum for only one day, but we only got an afternoon here.
My artist/nerd self felt guilty walking past all the wonderful stuff in order to see more stuff.

I am totally in love with Islamic art, architecture, and design. All the intricate geometric designs look like fractal patterns from nature. Paired with the gorgeous Arabic script calligraphy, it makes some of the loveliest spaces and rooms.

The museum had a plethora of sculpted sarcophagi-- some quite small and simple, some huge and extravagant, as shown below. (Or at least, I think that's a sarcophagus...)

I am a big fan of tree leaves, and these were fond reminders of home for me. Couldn't pass up a chance to get a picture at the museum with them.

Walked past the "Blue Mosque" on our way back-- it's so gorgeous!

I would like to interject here and praise our tour guide throughout all our adventures. My class' guide was Necip (he told us to pronounce it like "Egypt" with an N in front). He was the best guide anyone could ask for! The history he taught us was well prepared every day,  and he was funny, witty, and exceedingly patient with us for the two weeks we gallivanted across Turkey.

This is him in the blue shirt and sunglasses. (Apologies, it's the best one I could find.)

Topkapi, Basilica Cistern, & the Bosphorus Strait

The next day we visited Topkapi Palace. Oh. My. Luxury. I've seen Versailles in France, and I'm telling you that besides its extensive grounds, I think it's got nothing on Topkapi's treasures.

There were several religious relics kept here, like Moses' staff and Mohammed's beard, etc. Also of note: emeralds the size of small eggs; a huge diamond; endless jewelry; carved, gilded, and inlaid swords, bows, helmets, and other war stuff; and clocks and pocket watches similarly crafted. And obviously the gorgeous architecture of this place!

It was really so lovely on the palace grounds.

And now for one of my very favorite places in Turkey: the Basilica Cistern. What this has going for it is an AWESOME atmosphere, to the max. It was utterly magical.

Being a cistern, it still has water at the bottom, so you walk around on long boardwalks. In particularly lit-up sections, you can look over the edge and see fish swimming in and out of the pool of light in the shallow water.

If you walk the long pathways to the far back, you get to see some unique columns borrowed from nearby ruin sites to finish building the cistern...

...As well as some neat blocks used to hold up other pillars.
See the snakes around the her head? And how Jonathan and I are turning to stone under her gaze?

That evening, we had a double-decker boat ride along the Bosphorus Strait. It was equal parts beautiful, fun, and freezing cold.

Gallipoli & Troy

Gallipoli is where the British landed to try and take control of Istanbul/Constantinople from the Ottoman empire in 1915 during World War I. Read more history here.
Probably just because I had heard of this place and knew how many lives were lost for stupid reasons, (watch Mel Gibson and Mark Lee in Gallipoli to get an idea) it was rather somber for me. The messages on the graves of these young men were so potent and sad.

ANZAC is an acronym for "Australian and New Zealand Army Corps".

And now for Troy.

Overall, I wasn't extraordinarily impressed with Troy. 
Maybe I had simply seen too many ruins that looked the same.

Also, I have a problem with their lame selection of souvenirs-- they're either super cheap and crappy or insanely expensive pieces of jewelry. Too bad, they could make bank with medium quality items...

Of course the enormous wooden horse is the first thing we gravitate to even if we may or may not have been told not to take pictures with it yet...

Bro. Belnap admiring the mud brick of Troy. He's crazy for that stuff.

That wooden horse has the ability to make anyone as goofy and giddy as a fourth grader on a field trip to the zoo.

This gorgeous place is where we stayed after that eventful day.

Assos, Pergamon, & the Nicest Hotel

If I had to pick a favorite day in Turkey, it might have to be this one just because of how relaxed and pleasant it felt.

The beautiful bus ride to Assos...

Assos is what you imagine if you are told about a small and remote old town built into the steep sides of a low mountain. I thought I could live there.

Little old women set up shacks on the edge of the cobbled pathway to sell clothes, socks, and other knick knacks.

Across the Aegean Sea, you can see the edge of Lesbos, a Greek island.

This is the temple to Athena built on the very tip-top of the hill. And the hideous sweatshirt I was cheated into buying.

Pergamon (also called/spelled Pergamum) was yet another tel-- but on a much bigger hill than we were used to, so we rode cable cars up to the top.

Drum roll please:
We stayed in a really nice hotel for a few days at that point. It's the Hotel Surmeli Efes, and though the swimming pool and ocean were freezing, it was so much fun to have some free time to swim.

It had some valuable advice to give as well...

Unfortunately/Fortunately, the Turkey trip was so jam packed with goodness, I'm going to have to make a part 2.
To come soon, I hope! Until then, cheerio!