I’m back in Erurum after a delightful weekend in Istanbul. Our trip started out in Turkish style: we got to the airport and our flight had been delayed 4 hours, meaning that we didn’t arrive in Istanbul till after 1:00am. Of course, the airport shuttles into the city (about an hour ride) stop running between 1:00 and 4:00am. I was with Leah and Janesh so we succumbed to the call of our hostel beds and jumped in a taxi. I made it to my hostel around 2:30 and immediately was pulled into a conversation with a group of Hungarians, Poles, and Kurds. We talked about the history of violence in Eastern Turkey and the current administration’s take on Kurdish-Turkish relations. The Hungarians taught me to blow smoke rings. We drank German beer.
At 6:30am, my roommate from orientation made it to Istanbul on her night bus. We decided that we would be better off just powering through our day so we headed out for a full Van Khavalta (breakfast!).
We then headed out of the city on a series of trams, metros, and buses to retrieve our race packets. We met a few fascinating characters along the way and saw a few sites. After returning from the Race Expo, I set off on my own to explore the part of the city called “the peninsula,” the Old City, or Sultanahmet. I wandered through the spice bazar where I took no pictures because if I even stopped for a second at least 4 shop owners would run up and try to physically drag me into their shops. Istanbul definitely is much more pushy with their tourists than the other areas of Turkey I’ve visited. Since its a huge industry for the city, its hard to blame them. After the spices, I walked past countless stunning mosques, found the Hippodrome, and headed towards the Blue Mosque:
Odd story here: There is a entrance for prayer and an entrance for tourists. The line for the tourists was very long but probably only too 10-15 minutes total to wait in. While I was waiting, I heard a group of young men saying to people in line “how many in your party?” When they asked me, I ignored them and hoped they’d just assume I didn’t speak English. A woman behind me responded, saying “Oh we have 6” and the young man told her that for 100TL he would take their party to the front of the line. The woman agreed and handed over the money and they started to bi-pass the line to head straight into the mosque. Another women in front of me turned around and started yelling “Shame! Shame! No respect! Go home!” Many other members of the crowd took up the chant and yelled or booed at the group skipping the queue. This same series of events happened at least 4 or 5 times while we waiting. I was frustrated the entire time because I wanted to ask the woman in front of me to stop yelling and publicly shaming people who were about to enter a house of prayer. So they skipped the line? So they paid money to enter a free holy place? This doesn’t need to dictate the mood for all the rest of us who are hoping to enter this space with a peaceful, reverent heart… Anyway, I should have probably said something to her, but I was busy trying to be calm. Ironic.
And then! And then. After the Blue Mosque, I walked to the Aya Sofya, or the Hagia Sofia as it was called before it was tranformed into a Mosque. My lord, what a place.
While the sheer scale, the art, and the layers of Islamic and Christian symbols were all captivating, I admit that I spend more time staring at the floor than at the domes or mosaics. The marble floors shone in the low light, reflecting the golden lamps and dusky shadows from many corners. They were as smooth as river rocks. The doorways were particularly striking. The marble in the corners where the giant doors were hinged was many inches thicker than in the middle. How many millions of other people of countless creeds and countries have walked there! It made me feel very old (or maybe its the fact that I turn 27 this week? Who knows).
Maybe that is enough for now. I’ve got to run off to do all the things I neglected by leaving for the weekend including go grocery shopping for the Thanksgiving dinner we are hosting this coming Saturday. Inshallah.