Sunday, May 5, 2013

Day 2 in Istanbul, the Blue Mosque, Aya Sofya, the Basilica Cistern, Topkapi Palace & Gypsy Street Party 5/5/2013

I stayed in bed late today, I got to the hostel's free breakfast on the rooftop terrace at around 10:45 am.  Harmony Hostel in Istanbul has a great free breakfast, fresh french toast, a delicious cherry topping and vegetables, cheese, Nescafe, tea, etc.  After breakfast I went to an English Language school two Turkish people I met had recommended to me.  I interviewed with a manager at the school about a teaching position,   the interview went well, the summer teaching session begins in late June.  The school is looking for native English teachers, they prefer TEFL or CELTA certification but seem wiling to work with me until I become certified.  I meet with the director of the school about the position tomorrow. 

Fountain Near Language School 
After my interview at the Language School, I got back on the tram and headed in the direction of my hostel, towards Istanbul's main tourist attractions.  I got off the tram at Constantine's Column, on the tram the stop is the burnt column, sounded interesting to me.  The column was not anything spectacular, there was a mosque not far from the column, I took pictures of both and kept walking.  Not far from the column I came upon a cemetery and garden.  I asked a Turkish man who was buried in the cemetery  he said men who had made a great contribution to Turkey. 

Constantine's Column

Cemetery & Garden  
I walked to Sultanahment after looking at the cemetery and gardens, my first stop was the Blue Mosque.  There was a line to enter the mosque, the wait was no too long, when we entered we were asked to take off our shoes and put them in a plastic bag, women donned a head covering provided by the mosque.  The Blue Mosque was the first mosque I had ever been inside, it was beautiful, I saw the blue tiles where the mosque go its name.  What was striking, only men were allowed onto the prayer area of the mosque, Muslim or not, all women were behind the railing separating the prayer area from the rest of the mosque.  I saw little boys and their fathers entering the prayer area, girls and women remained in the back.  

Lynnae at the Blue Mosque 

After the Blue Mosque I looked for the Basilica Cistern, I asked at the tourist information office, they gave me unclear directions.  As soon as I left the office an older Turkish man asked me where I wanted to go, I told him, he said he would show me.  He started talking about his leather and carpet business, and told me he would like to show me.  I agreed to the brief detour, met some more people, drank the best apple tea I have ever had, and saw a picture of former President Bill Clinton when he visited this shop in Istanbul.  After tea, the man showed me where the Basilica Cistern was, he said I would only need 20 minutes to see it. 

Me in Carpet Shot under Bill Clinton's Picture
Lynnae at the Basilica Cistern
The Basilica Cistern was interesting, dark, full of water, every now and then a drop of water would fall on my head from the ceiling.  There were two Medusa heads, one upside down, in the Northwest corner of the cistern, the cistern explained the story of Medusa and theorized one of the heads was deliberately placed upside down, they do not know why.  

After the Basilica Cistern I went to Aya Sofya, a church later converted to a mosque, now a museum.  The Aya Sofya is not a museum in the traditional sense, there were no exhibits, not much information on the Aya Sofya itself, but it was still interesting to see.  I walked to TopkapiPalace, people I spoke to at the hostel told me to expect a crowd and long lines, when I found neither.  After taking a few pictures of the entrance of the castle, I walked right up to the ticket office and bought my ticket, I was the only person in line.  The Palace was interesting, it included jewels, uniforms, different rooms and spectacular views of the Bosphorus straight.  

Lynnae in front of Topkapi Palace

I finished my sightseeing around 6 pm and walked back to my hostel, I needed to rest, my day was not over yet.  I made plans with some Turks I met yesterday to go to the Gypsy street party tonight.  They did not have the vocabulary to explain the significance of yesterday's celebration, yesterday was a special day for a Muslim sect in Turkey, that was the best explanation I got for the celebration. 

I met my Turkish friend in front of the Aya Sofya to go to the street celebration, he kept telling me it was a huge party.  We met up with a few more people, Turks living in Belgium, on our way to the street party.  There was a lot of dancing, Turkish music, jumping up and down, some of it reminded me of the street parties I attended when I was in the Peace Corps in St. Lucia.  There was a fight between some of the party goers and the police at one point, I was told later, the police officer fled the scene. 

The street party extended to the Bosphorus waterfront, we walked there, ate some Turkish sandwiches with what looked like sausage to me, they did not know the English name.  There was more music, people lit fires, dancing, people were also celebrating Turkey's soccer victory that evening.  One tradition was hoping over the fire and making a wish, they egged me on and I jumped over the flame, and made my wish.  

We walked around the entire waterfront area, one of the Turks I was with built a home out of some stone on the waterfront and they all laughed.  He explained, his mother always said if you build a house from the stones you will always have a roof over your head, or that was the loose translation.  We went back to a restaurant owned by their family, near my hostel.  It was past midnight by that point, I was ready to sleep.    They asked me to have tea, I declined, I went back to the hostel, and went to sleep, I had had a long day. 

Day 2 in Istanbul Photo Album

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