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.