March 31, 2013

Istanbul Not Constantinople

This morning, after a Turkish breakfast, we got in our private car and made our way to a spice market where we met up with our guide. And by spice market, I really mean open market of goodness. There were nuts - pistachios, walnuts, and anything else you could think of.

Olives everywhere. Dozens of different kinds. And, of course, grape leaves.

Turkish delight candy, which he happily sampled throughout the market.

There were good luck charms,

And great conversations to watch.

There was dried eggplant and paprika and things I didn't even know what they were.

Funny little pointed shoes I really wanted, but know I would never ever wear.

And, of course, there were spices. Oh, the smells and the colors. It was absolutely mesmerizing.

From there, we headed to the ferry to take a cruise, criss-crossing the Bosphorous. I'm not sure how, but our guide took us to the front of the line with a flash of a badge, and we never had to wait.

For the next 80 minutes, we went back and forth from Europe to Asia, which meant we were in two continents at one time several times. Score! (It doesn't matter that we weren't sure exactly when it was happening, just that it was!)

We sat on the top of the ferry (think overcrowded ferry sinking story in the news, and we were on one that had the potential!), and had a great view of everything.

From there, our private car picked us up and took us to lunch. Then we moved on to another part of town to see the original Hippodrome where the chariots raced. This particular obelisk was a gift from Egypt.

I enjoyed seeing street food cart sellers everywhere. Turkish food is such an amalgamation of the world's foods, and I'm constantly being surprised by what there is available to eat. This guy, for example, is selling bagels.

Whereas this man is selling roasted corn and chestnuts. I love street food almost as much as bazaars, and there is no end to it here, so I am incredibly happy all the time.

From the Hippodrome, we moved on to Topkapi Palace. But before going in, our private Indiana Jones archaeologist guide took us down a side alley, again flashed a badge, moved some barricades and took us to see this. It is the excavation site of a temple built for Poseidon that was recently discovered underneath the Topkapi Palace. (Which was already 800ish years old!)

We then eventually made it to Topkapi Palace, which was the Sultan's palace. And wow, was it incredible. The most amazing thing is that because the Byzantines were not Christian nor Jewish, people of those religions gave the Sultans their religious relics for safekeeping.

We saw Moses' staff. And King David's sword. And supposedly Muhammed's footprint and tooth, although that hasn't been authenticated for age like the other two. We were in awe. (And C-man argued it couldn't have been Moses' staff, because he saw a movie, and that staff was curved.)

As if that weren't enough, we moved on to the Hagia Sophia. (Past all lines, of course, with yet another fancy flash of Indy's badge.) I felt a serious flashback to my college Western Civ class where 500 of us sat in the university auditorium bored out of our minds. Except this wasn't at all boring. And I actually learned something. A lot. And I was happy about it. We learned of Christianity and Islam and Orthodoxy and the Crusades. Things I knew on the surface from college, but never to this depth. And it never meant much before standing in this place. I mean honestly, this version of the church was rebuilt 1200 years ago.

It's under major renovations for updates on the inside, but the mosaics and tiles were still incredible. And seeing where the Catholics tried to cover up the Orthodox crosses, and where the Muslims plastered over the icons was amazing. There is even one area where there is Viking graffiti on the bannister. Take that in for a moment - This place was built long enough ago that Vikings visited it and put there mark on it.

Before we left, we made a wish in the wishing column. You put your thumb into the column, make a wish, twist it around, and if it comes up wet, your wish will be granted. C-man said his was damp. Mine was totally dry. (Let's hope he made a good one.)

And still not done, we moved across the street to the blue mosque. The famous mosque with 6 minarets in an attempt to compete with the size and importance of the Hagia Sofia.

It was my very first experience in a mosque. I'd expected to have to cover my head, and many tourists did, but my Turkish guide insisted I leave it uncovered in his secular country. (They did make me cover my arms, because I had short sleeves.) It really was beautiful inside, with thousands of amazing tiles. I was really intrigued by the prayer rituals, and the people wandering around as if it were a social hour. We were not allowed to pass a certain banister because it is is for Muslims only, and most importantly, for men only. Women must pray separately, behind screens, so as to not distract the men. And honestly, when I saw them hidden behind those screens was when I began to feel really uncomfortable.

This is not my religion. And so my intent here is not to put down another's belief system that I only barely understand. But I am at such a crossroads in not understanding what I am seeing around me and justifying it as what I have learned is a calm and beautiful devotion to God. As I walk around, I see women in various degrees of garments intending to cover themselves from view of others, or diverting their eyes (by in large mostly other tourists, not the Turkish women), I am saddened. C-man, of course, has been asking many questions about why they have to do that. We have tried really hard to explain to him the beliefs of others without telling him it is wrong or weird. But this morning, at breakfast, when he said incredulously, "But women are equal to men, Mom, so why would they think that?" I actually teared up a little.

Again - It is not my religion, and I am trying my very best to learn more. I think maybe it's because the more I learn about any religion, I'm less inclined to like any of them once they move so far from the word of God to controlling what you can and cannot do through "interpretations". And so when I see people trying to control lives of others in the name of God, I really, really struggle with it. Which is why I try to look at this ablution cleaning ritual as a beautiful one, learn about the facets of Islam, and try not to judge the other pieces the very best I can.

On a lighter note, we often watch the Amazing Race. And one time, they had to serve Turkish ice cream in the specific Turkish way. So when C-man saw the Turkish ice cream stand, he jumped at the chance to try it out. We were ready to get back in the long line to wait our turn when our guide waved us up front, and once again performed some miracle of line jumping to get C-man his ice cream.

Vanilla, chocolate, and sour cherry on a cone. It was amazingly good. And C-man was very happy for it.

It is spring in Turkey. The flowers are up and the weather is fantastic. We are learning so much, and our guide and driver were great today. I can only assume this will continue as we move on to the countryside tomorrow.

March 30, 2013

We'll always have Paris

This morning, we got up at 5 a.m., put our things together, and got on the shuttle to the airport. C-man happily had his last Vitamin CC (chocolate croissant), and snarkled down most of Beerman's raspberry beinet. (It's a good thing he's been running spastically walking from site to site and up hundreds of stairs everywhere we go, or he'd be 300 pounds.

We hung out in the airport for a bit. C-man used the time to catch up on his journal about his trip.

Just in case you didn't see that journal, let me show you his version of the... um... Eiffel Tower!

Our flights went off without a hitch, complete with an overpriced beer and a burger in Zurich. We had to get a tourist visa, which meant we stood in line and paid a guy $20 per person to put a self-sticking stamp in our passports while he was watching an old army movie. (I swear to you, he never even took his eyes off the TV. It was like we were in a bad movie.) But we got through, got our bags, and made it to the hotel easily. And then tonight, we met our tour guide and learned we will be the only people on the tour.

So we have a Turkish archaeologist for a tour guide. Our own private Indiana Jones, apparently. And we have our own private Mercedes driver to take us from place to place all week long. I have much higher hopes for this tour thing than I did earlier!

After that, we went to a local restaurant where we ate kebabs, laughed, watched some guys smoking their hookahs, and listened to the muezzin call people to the final prayer of the night. I've never heard that in real life, and it was chillingly beautiful. I couldn't be more thrilled to be here, and really hope the rest of the week works out as high as my hopes have suddenly risen!

March 29, 2013

No Matisse for you!

Today, we got on the tour bus that rides around the city in 4 different loops to see some of the city that would be too far to walk to get to see.

We saw some things we'd already seen.

And some new stuff too.

And while I wanted to take us to Moulin Rouge, all C-man wanted to do was go to Musee D'Orsay to see the French impressionists, and some paintings by Matisse.

It was pretty amazing, though. We all agreed seeing water lilies and poppies and a little starry night was way more impressive than even the Louvre. I think the Louvre is just too intimidating. Anyhow, we even broke the rules and even took a couple of pictures. (The scandal!) Until we got yelled at. But whatever.

But there were no Matisse paintings here either. None in France at all, for that matter. The museum has loaned them to a museum in Brasilia. C-man was not pleased - at all. But, as with all things in Paris, they seem to be fixed with some delicious food. Beerman's lunch, for example...

And C-man's croque monsieur...

And Beerman's snails, for those of you into that type of thing. (I didn't photograph the Nutella crepe or creme caramel or creme brulee because we were too busy gorging ourselves to be bothered with something as petty as a photo.)

We even joked about C-man having a big beer (He didn't actually drink this!) because last night I ordered him an apple drink that ended up being cider. As in the fermented kind. He refused to drink that, too. (We laughed, because we're certain this will come up later in life that his mom bought him his first drink and he turned it down.)

But it was the end of a lovely day. So we took C-man's favorite mode of transportation home (the Metro) and got ready to head out in the morning.

I think the stereotype of the rude Parisian is highly undeserved. We've found nothing but pleasantness and helpfulness absolutely everywhere we have gone. People have spoken English to us even when we hadn't asked for it. The metro works well, although are not really up to Japanese standards. (But really, whose are?) The downsides have been that the lines everywhere are atrocious, (We've jokingly mocked the City of Lights moniker and renamed it the City of Lines. 30 minutes to use a bathroom, 45 minutes to get in somewhere, 1 hour somewhere else.) most bathrooms are disgustingly dirty in spite of having to pay for some of them and having attendants in others, the weather has pretty much sucked, and there are some pushy pickpockets near the big attractions with no police to be found.

But overall, we've had a really lovely time here. C-man has caught the travel bug - He's been discussing where our next trip will be while we're on this one. And we've learned quite a bit. I'd say this leg has been a pretty nice success.

Next stop, Istanbul not Constantinople.

March 28, 2013


After a very much needed rest (2 of the 3 of us fell asleep by 8 p.m.), we got up and had a delicious breakfast at a local cafe. My God, the cafe creme and croissants are to die for. And I don't use that colloquialism often. I really could die right in the middle of a bite and go to my maker a happy, happy woman.

So fueled up and happy, we made our way to Ponte de Arts, the infamous bridge in Paris where lovers and friends place their lock on the bridge and throw the key into the Seine. And me being me, I could not pass up the opportunity to join in.

From there, we headed to the Louvre. Beerman and I had not intended on going, but C-man insisted because he loves art so much. He specifically wanted to see the Fauvists. (Apparently that money on Catholic education is paying off in some areas!) And so, we made our way there.

After a long wait outside in the cold, and after mugging for some funny shots around the pyramid, we made our way in.

The museum was enormous, of course, and after seeing the Mona Lisa (I'd been led to believe she was really small, which is not entirely true. She isn't wall-sized, but still a decent sized canvas, and I enjoyed seeing it immensely), we only went on to explore the second floor with all the Wild Beast French guys we came for, and the 16th century Dutch masters I love. Who knew something could make an 8 year old boy so happy? And who knew that not having anything by Matisse (Really Louvre? No Matisse?) would make an 8 year old boy almost crumble? Unbelievable.

But we're learning that seeing him crumble means he is tired and/or hungry. So we refueled with some lunch at the Louvre cafe and headed onward to see Notre Dame.

C-man lit his candle.

And I was pleased that there were no creepy relics anywhere obvious.

Having pretty much used up the whole day, we headed back outside to wander a bit in the direction of our hotel.

And, of course, decided we needed refuel again along the way. (C-man's crepe had Nutella, mine had Nutella and bananas, and Beerman had one with ham and cheese). So, so, so good, I cannot begin to explain it.

It was cold, a little drizzly, there was no Matisse (or Vermeers, by the way!), and a city filled with pickpockets almost everywhere (Beerman had to physically shove a guy off who was putting his hand into his pocket). But it was a really, really lovely and memorable day.