Before I start writing, I should say that this blog and entire blog site is blocked in Turkey by the government (type "Bu siteye erişim mahkeme kararıyla engellenmiştir" into translate to find out exactly what appeared on my screen). It is thanks to a proxy work around that I can write now (the same one that tricks my IP address into being in Baltimore, thanks Hopkins, so I can watch Netflix and Hulu too!).
Ok so I am currently in Istanbul, Turkey on the European side. It is awesome and very different from what I expected. We are staying in old town but still have to take the tram to get everywhere which is fine since its like a dollar each way which is so cheap!! We got here Thursday afternoon and will be here until Monday afternoon. Now while I would love to come on my own, this is actually part of an optional class trip since we are studying middle eastern politics and Turkey is a unique situation given it is only one of two "democracies" in the region (besides that whole pesky free speech element as described above) with the other democracy being Israel. Turkey is a secular islamic country which makes it easier for westerners to comprehend and explore in my opinion. Most people in the city do not wear head scarves and even dress very western so we fit right in (other than that whole not speaking a word of Turkish and trust me, I've tried).
The first day we got here, we settled in and then went around exploring. This trip is very different from the traveling seminar at the start since the schedule is really loose and flexible. The professors are also a lot more relaxed and making jokes. I think this is due to a couple of things. Firstly, we are all fairly comfortable with them by now since it has been 2 or 3 months. Also, this is an optional trip that we chose to come on so while there are some academic elements, there are also a lot of fun things to do. We took the tram down to the Spice market and walked along the river. While we did have a small little academic introduction to the city, we also stopped and did one of professor Rasckas favorite things, bought fish sandwiches off of the boats. When I say fish sandwiches, I really mean that they caught the fish in the Bosphorus in the morning, cut it in half and grill it on a boat and put it in between two sides of a baguette with onions and lettuce and then sold it. This means it still had some skin, bones, scales, etc. You are supposed to add lemon sauce and salt of course too once you buy it. This thing was only 4 lire (like 2 euros or so or 2.50 dollars). Once you get over the small bones and scales, it was really good!! I know it is unlike me to eat something like this but I really am becoming more adventurous in my eating!!! Every single person in our group (17 student and 2 professors) bought one of the sandwiches which was really cool because usually one person is too scared. We all loved it! I also of course bought some chestnuts which were good but since the Turkish seem obsessed with making their stands look pretty, they were a little cold from sitting out. I swear that they are all OCD or something because every food stand has some weird organization system. Anywho, we went back towards the spice market and the professors gave us an imprompto 20 minute break to explore the start of the spice market so we could get a taste before returning later. It was funny to explore the market with the professors and each buy different things to share like baklava, turkish delight, various nuts, etc. After that we went into a mosque right there next to the market and just looked around. I must say, when I chose to study abroad in France for the semester, I did imagine myself visiting more mosques than churches! So far, I think I have been to at least 3 or 4 active mosques. That night we just kind of walked around and ate dinner and called it an early night since we had been traveling since 4 am our time thanks to the bus to Frankfurt for our flight. A couple friends and I did buy this creme puff cake covered in this fudge stuff with hazelnuts and finished the night out eating that while watching Sleepless in Seattle at the hotel.
Day two was a lot of fun too but exhausting. We started out at the Blue Mosque which is only called the blue mosque in english and something completely different in Turkish. I have kind of gotten used to this whole removing my shoes and covering my head business, its kinda nice and reminds you that you are in a special place. On our way to the next location, we stopped randomly for Apple Tea (yummy!) and hung out for a while. After that we walked over to the funicular and took it up to Gallatia (I think thats how you spell it) and walked down the very European Street where we grabbed lunch and continued on to Taksim Square where we took another funicular down and walked to the Syracuse Istanbul center at a local university. There we had two lectures about Turkish politics which were actually pretty interesting. After that we just kind of walked around for the rest of the evening.
Today we started out at Hagia Sofia which is gorgeous. You can really seem the transformation from Orthodox Church to Mosque to Museum. the pictures don't even do it justice!! After that we went to the Topkapi Palace which is very different from European Palaces. Ottoman architecture, artwork and court are fascinating!! We also visited the Harem :). After that we went and had lunch (chickpeas, beef and potatoes and baklava, yummy!!!). We continued onto the bazaars which were a lot of fun!! I bought a bunch of stuff (food and non-food).
Now I am excited for the next two days which are filled with walking, tea and exploring of the Asian side of the city. I will update more later!!!