Day 1 – Istanbul

The Basilica CisternIt’s been brought to my attention that some of you are having trouble viewing pics.  😮 Pictures are located on the right of the screen below the Twitter feed.  You’ll see two thumb nails and it should link you to the album.  Sorry for the delay folks, technical difficulties continue 😦  I hope to be back up to speed by tomorrow…. Here’s the post for today: 

Waking up for our 8AM tour was a breeze.  The excitement of checking out historic places on the first day bright and early gave me an extra dose of adrenaline.  The day started off perfect with a Turkish breakfast which is a buffet of pastries and mediterranean foods (olives galore, yogurt, cheeses, etc.) combined with  West Virginian foods like scrambled eggs and cereal.  I had to restrain from myself from the pastries as I instantly felt that I’d have diabetes by the end of the trip if I continued at the pastry rate I was going.

The view from the breakfast terrace was breath taking and an amazing start to the day.  The Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia seemed within an arms reach and the seemingly vast water drifted in the background, reminding me how close we are to the sea.  After dodging sea gulls that swooped in to steal breakfast from time to time, we started our day with a visit to the Hippodrome.

The first stop was the German fountain.  Made in Germany, it was a gift to the Sultan of Istanbul in 1898.  The inside roof is decorated with gold mosaics and looks as if it was actually made in Turkey.  I guess the German Emperor knew how to make a personalized gift.

We then checked out the Theodosius Obelisk which may have been the inspiration for the Washington monument in DC.  The tower monolith is the oldest thing in Istanbul and was created in 1490 BC by the Egyptians.  Part of it is missing, but the tall structure at it’s original height may not have fit in pictures.  You lose some, but I’m still winning the photo opps.

We checked out a few more monuments at the historic race track and then headed over to the Blue Mosque followed by the Hagia Sophia.  Unfortunately, some important Ambassador was in town and they closed off the Hagia Sophia for him to see in private.  The nerve!  Who does he think he is?  Important?  :-p

Our tour guide Denise made some quick thinking changes to our itinerary while we continued to the Basilica Cistern. The Cistern was built during the Justinian period between 527-565 to provide water to the palaces.  I marveled at the Cistern and it took my breath away as I entered and saw the rows of colums under soft lights.  Luckily the Medusa heads at the very back of the cistern didn’t take my breath away.  :-p  She’s actually not that bad looking.  She just suffers from upside down face.

Afterwards, we went to the Chora (Kariye) Church Museum which was gorgeous and created sometime between the 11th and 14th century!  The church had been rebuilt after a fire and even renovated into a Mosque.  (Note:  Renovating into a mosque means no sweet baby Jesus, no long haired bearded Jesus or virgin mother, angels, apostles, saints or even sinners depicted.  The images were covered up and discovered centuries later.)  In short, the day was filled with a lot of really cool old stuff that made me lose my breath.

We had a slight break where the girls and I talked to local shop owners behind the church and I even took a photo of a Turkish business woman smoking a cigarette (and not on break).  Smoking seems to be a heavy part of the culture here.   But what’s really good to know is that women can run a business on their own…

It’s no wonder the wedding industry is booming here.   Wedding’s are big business in Turkey and they have a shopping district for weddings alone.  Picture 10 consecutive blocks of wedding shops on both sides of the street, and even down the perpendicular adjacent streets.  That’s a lot of lace, silk, and tafetta!  The dresses are not simplistic styles, but fantastic and princess like.  For engagement parties, women wear wedding styled dresses in colors, but save the white for the actual wedding. The dresses are so glamorous, it makes me wonder what the bridesmaids wear. I guess it doesn’t matter, with a dress like the bride will be wearing, no one will even see the maids.

Wedding Shops

The final stop for the day was the Arasta Bazaar.  Unfortunately, jet lag hit in a big way and I didn’t get to shop around.  I went back to the hotel and took the longest power nap known to man.  The only thing that awakened me was the smell of food that blew in the balcony window.

After 4 hours, Kipenzi, Brenda, Yaneva, and I went to grab dinner.  Still groggy, we walked up and down the street like zombies in search of food to order that didn’t require much thought.  Per usual, we were petitioned by vendors to eat at their place.  Our new friend and restaurant owner from yesterday was at his second (really first restaurant).  He immediately recognized us and begged us to come in for dinner.  His place had the most affordable prices and the food was good, so we settled down for a good meal.

We interviewed him about his business and found that he and his family runs 5 restaurants in Istanbul, two of which are right across the street from each other.  They both feature the cook in the front of the restaurant with a glass window and a very charismatic staff.  I think we may have found a new favorite place. 🙂

After our dinner, we enjoyed our first Turkish coffees and dessert.  I’m not a coffee drinker, I actually don’t enjoy it very much, but my LOVE Turkish coffee is equivalent to my love for chocolate cake.  That’s a lot of love, just ask my thighs!

We then headed to a local pub for a couple drinks where they played hip hop and pop music from the US.  We couldn’t believe we were listening to Dr. Dre, Rihanna, Katy Perry, Bruno Mars, etc.  We only heard one song that was by a Turkish singer and Brenda thought it sounded a lot like Latin music.  As we sat conservatively longing  for a dance night, we were too nervous to make a scene and start our own.  Then, the Brits at a table nearby made a dance floor and we joined in.  It wasn’t too long before a Turkish guy began showing us his Michael Jackson foot work.

We called it a night just as Brenda ran from a one step dance partner and headed back to the hotel.

Tomorrow is going to be a big day, we’re going to see the Hagia Sophia and the Turkish and Islamic Art Museum. 🙂

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