The cultural tour of Istanbul started out with a stop at the Blue Mosque. The streets around the Blue Mosque are crazy, so our bus driver is forced to a parallel park a 60 passenger van. It was pretty damn impressive. Istanbul has started out hot. Walking up to the Blue Mosque is pretty breathtaking. We get to the front, and find out that those of us in shorts must put on skirts that cover our legs. I am not gonna lie, it looks pretty good on me; pictures to follow. Inside the Mosque, Husam walks us around while giving us stories and history on each spot. The architech/engineer that designed it sounds pretty amazing. Since everybody has to face Mecca while praying, the head prayer leader will have his back to the rest of the mosque. However, this engineer did three things to nullify that problem. 1) He designed an underground tunnel like system where the sound would go down under ground and come back up behind the people praying. 2) He designed the corners of the building in such a way to funnel all of the sound into the main prayer area 3) In the very top dome, he installed empty jars with a drum-like cover inside the walls that amplified the sound and shot it down into the middle area. All around impressive for the 1200s. Apparently, he was the first person to use this method that is still used in opera houses.
After leaving the Blue Mosque, we go over to an old underground Cistern. This is a huge underground waterway where fresh water is collected and then dispersed all over the city. It is pretty darn cool. Next, we head over to the Grand Bazaar. This is Istanbul's largest marketplace. It is similar to Egypt's markets except for a couple key things a) we dont have 5 armed guards with us b) people are about 90% less aggressive on getting you to come look at their stuff c) everybody is turkish and not egyptian d) i have yet to be called Obama. One thing that is similar is that if you ask somebody if they have something, they will say no problem just to get you in the store even though they have nothing remotely close to what you asked for. We asked a guy if he had t-shirts, he said no problem, and then led us to his carpet store. I immediately gravitate to a store that has a pretty sweet Turkish track suit. The guy calls me into the back to look at sizes....it is similar to Egypt in the way that once you are in the back, you are purchasing the item, it is now just a matter of price. He offers it to me for 50 lira. He has to mix and match sizes of pants and the top and I finally get it for 28 lira, which I honestly think is well worth it (picture to come). This will be worn many times at Roberson Dr. I told Joe that on days when he wakes up and I am in the Turkish track suit, it means good times ahead.
Joe and I have been counting the minutes until we can get a Turkish Doner Kabob, so we find a cart that has them. Joe told me to be prepared for something life altering, but there was no way to prepare for this. They put french fries in the kabob with thinly sliced meat and then press it in a quesadilla like thingy (not feeling like a wordsmith today). I have to sit down...it is amazing. I make a statement that I am pretty sure I will go through Istanbul using no utensils as this is all I need; results to follow. We then sit down at an outside cafe and order biras (beer). The phrase Bira, Bira goes a long way in this country. The man says he "no problem" so we sit down. About 5 minutes later, we are craving visual evidence that this man actually has beer and isn't just gonna sell us something else. Sure enough, out he comes with 6 Efes Pilser. This stuff is delicious, and it will not be the last one we have on the trip. We ask him how much, but it is after we have already drank half the pint, so of course we are at his mercy. He ways 6 lira, and we negotiate 2 for 10. EVERYTHING is a negotiation....menus with prices are rare. I run to the restroom real quick before we head to the hotel only to find that I don't have a lira to pay to use it...wonderful. Oh well, to the Richmond.
The bus drops us off about 200 yards from the hotel, because it can't go up the alleys to get there. The hotel itself is unimpressive compared to the Sofitel, but we knew that would be the case. And, its location can't be beat. We are right in the middle of town. We get settled and then 8 of us (including our professor host) head to an Irish pub that we saw coming in. I of course pushed this as I favor Irish pubs and plan to see some of them in Boston. The pub is great, but there are a couple things that are odd: a) they dont have guinness b) they dont have jameson c) they are playing ronan keating as we walk in. The music was not in any way normal for an Irish pub, but the place is really cool looking, and we are having a great time. After a drink at the pub, we go trolling for dinner. There is an alleyway that has a ridiculous amount of restaurants, so we dip down there. We find a pretty nice, upscale turkish place to hop into. After some appetizers, Jim, Micaela, and myself decide we have to try Rake while we are in Turkey. Rake (ra-kay) is a licorice flavored liquor that apparently everybody in Turkey drinks.....when in Turkey....So we give it a shot. They bring us the equivalent of about 3 shots, but whatever, that is fine. Jim takes his all at once and makes a face normally saved for hernia exams and old school keystone commercials. I am now a bit worried. After drinking mine, I have decided that I am glad I tried it, but I don't plan on making it a common occurrence. Dinner was pretty good, and we were sitting on the top of the building, so the view was amazing. It is getting late, so we decide to call it a night and head back to the Richmond.
It is about 11:30 when we get back to the Richmond for the night. I change into my track suit pants and my new Rake t-shirt and sit down to send out emails. After a couple skypes and a couple emails, I get restless and decide to hit the streets for some roasted corn. While walking around with my corn, I see people dancing in the alley to a live band, so I decide to check it out. I sit at a table and order an Efes while I watch the party. I stick out like a sore thumb as a tourist in this outfit, but whatever. After a couple minutes, a young guy grabs me and tosses me into the middle of the dance party. I of course throw my moves around as if I am a natural born Turk. He then then invites me to sit with them and have a drink. They are undergrad students at a university nearby. They spreak pretty decent English. They decide to leave to go to a club, and I stick behind and end up finding a group of about 7 guys to hangout with. They are all alot of fun, and they teach me some key Turkish words and phrases. We do rounds of Rake (I know I wasnt gonna do it again, but these guys are so much fun). After a couple rounds of Rake and some Turkish drinking songs (and some more dancing), they decide to go to a place to drink and watch the sunrise. As tempting as this is, it is 4:30, and I have to be up and dressed by 8, so I split from them. I get their contact information, as I know I will want to hangout with them Wednesday night when we have a free evening. Facebook friended them, and we are in business. What an amazing first night. I am so glad that I wandered around the streets, as I just don't feel like there is any better way to get the feel of the people than to just get out and hangout with them. Everybody asks me if I am from Ireland...I wish I knew enough Irish (or any) to say yes, but Obama it is. Anyways, an amazing first night in Istanbul!!! Pictures to come
Drew In Istanbul