Mosques, Bazaars, and Magic Lamps

Istanbul, Day 2

The second I walk outside, I’m counting my lucky stars that I’m in nice warm Istanbul where a jacket is optional when it’s monsooning in Florence and I was wishing I had my thicker winter coat. However, the sun doesn’t last for long and soon it’s rainy and chilly anyways, but whatevs. We go to breakfast at some kind of little place nearby, where we get a pretty nice mix of stuff as well as the traditional Turkish tea, a happy change in the mornings when I’m used to cappuccinos that fulfill my calorie intake for the day (not that this matters).

We then take the subway- myself, our tour guide, a Catholic fashion student from New York, the Venetian aspiring lawyer, and a quiet Psychology major from Colorado, and we head off to the center of Istanbul, where the mosques, the Grand Bazaar, and other main sights basically are. There, we meet our tour guide for the day, a Turkish girl named Elif who is currently hanging out with her boss, a mom from Colorado who got bored one day, sold all her stuff, moved to Greece, and is now chilling out in Turkey for a while.

Elif first takes us to the Blue Mosque, which is supposed to be open but is closed. She takes us two other times later, where it is also closed. Apparently signs and opening times are of no hindrance, understandable because this is a place of worship firstly, not a tourist picture point.

Blue Mosque

So instead, we go over to Hagia Sophia, which from the outside, isn’t  very much. When Elif tells us it costs 25 Turkish lira to get inside (about 14 dollars), I’m trying to deem how socially inappropriate it would be to tell her that she can find me on the bench outside when she’s done, chillin by the fountain and eating pretzels.

Hagia Sophia

But instead I take out my wallet (okay, fine, dinky change purse thing) and we go inside the kind of dilapidated building. Which is no longer a dilapidated building on the inside. Damn.

Instead, it is a cluster of textures and colors, golds and browns and oranges, all intertwining with one another and becoming such an opulent masterpiece that it’s hard to believe someone made this and didn’t just throw some colors on a canvas and call it a day. We spy the Sultan’s Tower, which is where the Sultan himself worshipped from afar, and then we make a wish on this wheel thingy as we spin our hands in it. I’m not telling you what I wished for, so don’t even ask.

Inside Hagia Sophia

Even though as we’re leaving it’s raining harder and harder, nobody minds, especially when we get our beloved Starbucks (thank the Lord for caffeine) and then finally get inside the Blue Mosque, deemed because of its blue topped towers. Entering the mosque, since I’m wearing leggings, I have to put on this skirt they give me and wrap my head in a scarf as well as put plastic on my shoes. People have been confusing me for a Turk all day, but now I really look legit. Unlike the Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque is less touristed out and more a legit place of worship, surrounded by seemingly floating candles and people kneeling on the red carpeted floor.

Blue Mosque

After the mosque and a traditional Turkish lunch of meatballs, which are more like meat sticks really, we go to the Grand Bazaar- probably the most anticipated destination thus far of girls. I was expected an atmosphere similar to Canal Street in New York or the San Lorenzo Market in Florence, lots of stands with hassling men, but instead, the Bazaar looks a lot more like the Ponte Vecchio on steroids with all the jewelry and ceramic elephants and magic lamps under covered streets, making it look more like a cheap mall. Unfortunately, we weren’t the only ones to stampede the Bazaar, and the lack of negotiating and abundance of overpriced junk and confused tourists reflects this.

Grand Bazaar

We also stop by the Topkapi Palace, a pile of different museums that hosts a lot of the sultan’s jewels and other sultany stuff (this isn’t a word but that’s okay). Perhaps the coolest thing we see is the special exhibit of a couple of the stone soldiers found of the Terracotta Army, which I oh-so-subtly took pictures of (and then got yelled at).

Terracotta Army

Plus, we stopped by the Hippodrum, the old square center of Istanbul where there a few relics to remind those who pass by of the breathtaking history of the city, including the Egyptian Obelisk of Theodosius and the Serpent Column, a gift to Turkey that used to be way taller and have three heads on its snakes but now has none…? Whatevs, it’s cool Istanbul.

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