Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Istanbul and Konya with Rachel- Summer Installment #1

I kicked off my summer with my friend, Rachel, from Montana arriving in Istanbul the day after our last day of school. I hopped an overnight train to Istanbul and headed straight to the airport, where I recognized approximately 34 Rachel-look-alikes before realizing that something was up....Rachel was not coming out of passport control. Turns out her flight arrived 7 hours late, without luggage. We opted to stay an extra day in Istanbul (to wait for the luggage to arrive), which was good because we could see a few more things in the Sultanahmet at a slower pace, but not good because we had to skip Cappadoccia in revising the rest of our time in Turkey.

On our first day in Istanbul, we stayed in the Sultanahmet to see the Blue Mosque and Topakli’s Palace... Wow! The harem situation was out of control! Check out these pics:

We met my former couchsurfer, Cully, for lunch and then went back to her couchsurfer friend, Eda’s house for Turkish coffee. Cully and Eda, who had researched coffeegrind fortunetelling on google, gave a thorough reading of our futures.

Then, we took ferries all over the Bosphorous, sorting out the train ticket situation.

Finally, out to dinner in a cute Taksim alleyway restaurant with some teacher-friends on their way out of Turkey for a new international teaching job elsewhere.

The next morning, we checked out the Roman cistern underneath the Sultanahmet.

That's two football fields in size, and supplied water for the whole city in 500AD.

We wandered around the shops, with a short visit in a kilim shop, listening to the carpetman’s spiel on his carpets. His cat, Sultana, had one green and one blue eye. And of course, we kept track of the best pick-up lines: “My uncle will marry!” “Not as beautiful as you, but, yes, it is beautiful.”

I felt exhausted during this leg of the trip, still decompressing from school (I don't think I have yet slowed down to decompress from school and it's August).

We then took the train back to Ankara, slept a night, and left the next morning for our southern Turkey roadtrip.

First stop, Konya. The Whirling Dervishes Museum. The first place I’ve been to where the tourists are Turks. It's a bit of a Muslim mecca. The room where the sema used to take place (the whirling dance which brings on an altered state of consciousnessness in which Allah spreads his love and joy through the dancers to the earth where it then spreads to humanity) now holds the tombs of Rumi (the Mevlani- main teacher/founder) and his entourage. The wall and ceiling paintings were brightly colored gorgeous designs, and the selcuk turquoise marked the minaret rising above the Sufi school. There was definitely a strong energy to this room. Turks stopped before Rumi’s tomb and closed their eyes to mutter prayers. Rachel asked a round man a question in English and the next thing we knew, we had acquired one of those self-made tourguides our guidebook warned against. Our first instance of getting ripped off.

That night, we stayed in a pension across from the mosque that was hot, loud, and smelly. We ate at a garden terrace restaurant looking down on Rumi’s monastery’s rose garden, which had been a rose garden for hundreds of years.

We walked around the open-aired market, an example of un-touristic life in a conservative town. Next pickup line: "Your Turkish is very good. You have a perfect Anatolian accent. Come to my office so I can show you my watercolors."

Rachel and I got more attention during our travels in towns like Konya than I have experienced my whole year in Turkey. This was the first time I was traveling without a male. And two women driving a car got some attention, too. (You should see the way that girl parallel parks! It's enough to make anyone stare in awe.)
All the stares can get pretty uncomfortable; you start to wonder if we are being disrespectful by not wearing headscarfs.... but definitely very aware at all times that you are a woman. We had this conversation many times on our trip- I’ve come to feel as though we are so different-looking that they are curious. And, culturally, staring is not as rude as it is in the U.S.

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