Sunday, September 23, 2012

It's Turkey Time!

That's right! I am writing to you from a beautiful little hotel right on the coast of the Agean Sea in the beautiful (and surprisingly large) country of Turkey.

We have a theme song--"Istanbul Was Constantinople" by They Might Be Giants. Check it out sometime--I'd include the link if I could, but I can't access the youtube video. So you'll just have to find it yourself. We have been singing this song since our orientation meeting this last week--it's great.

Today half the center got up at five in the morning to watch the BYU Cougars play the Utah Utes. I was not one of those people--sorry cougars, I value my sleep too much. I came up at 7:30 sporting cougar blue and watched the last two quarters, just enough time to watch us lose. Sad day.

We departed the Center at 10:30 and got to Ben Gurion Airport by 11:30 or so, where we proceeded to wait in lines and scan baggage and check luggage and hand around passports for three hours. It was very long, needless to say, but I had to good fortune to be standing by Katie and Mary, which made things far more bearable. We got to our gate at 2:30 or so to wait for a 3:30 flight. We spent the time finishing our lunches and playing Bananagrams, at which I got particularly good--especially when playing it solitaire. The flight was pleasant--the seats were nice and the Turkish Air people actually fed us (chicken and potato salad and warm roll and chocolate apricot torte--yummy, especially for airplane food). We had been told beforehand to ask for Vishne to drink--a Turkish cherry juice our teacher's hailed as the nectar of the gods. We even memorized the Turkish way to ask: "Vishne, Lutfen--Teshekular!" Except that by the time they got to me there was no vishne left. Or maybe they stopped giving it to us when everybody asked for it. Darn.

Two hours later we came into Istanbul and sadly parted from the Schade class. We met our local guide--Yasemin (ya-sa-min), who showed us the walls of ancient Constantinople as we went. We retired to our hotel very tired from the long day.

The next day was day one in Istanbul. We started off at the Hippodrome--the horse racing track. It used to be a huge arena with a circular track in the middle that looped around a line of monuments and collumns in the middle called the Spina. It was built back when the city was neither Istanbul nor Constantinople but Byzantium. It was the central area for gatherings in Byzantine times and under Emperor Constantine (who made it bigger and better, as with many projects he attempted) and was rumored to hold 10,000 people. All that is left now are three monuments from the Spina--an obelisk from the Temple at Karnak in Egypt with many carvings (some of which on the base show how it was found and moved there), a bronze swirling collumn called the Serpent Collumn (allegedly made from the melted shields of defeated Persians), and the Wall Obelisk that is now just stone but was once plated with gold.

Next stop was the Sultanahmed Mosque--what you might know as the Blue Mosque. We removed our shoes, the ladies covered our hair, we put in our headsets so Yasemin could talk to us, and walked in. I was blown away. The place is massive, with something like twenty domes on the top. The walls inside are said to have been decorated with 50,000 tiles--and I believe it. Rich reds and bright blues form mosaics on every surface, and it's hard to see where the swirling designs end and the Arabic calligraphy begins. It was breathtaking. Nothing I say will do it justice--you'll just have to see the pictures.

Our next stop was the Topkapi Palace, where the Sultans lived. We walked through a gate that looked sort of like the one at Disney Land and through the inner courtyards of the complex. We saw the Imperial Council chamber--including the side room for the secretaries and the window into which the Sultan could peek from time to time and see that everything was running smoothly, just to keep the council on their toes. We saw beautifully decorated chambers filled with mosaics and carvings and even gold. During our free time we wandered through rooms that displayed the oppulent wealth of the Sultans--a gilded baby cradle, gold bindings for the Quran, ruby and emerald encrusted everything, and even the 86 carrat Spoonmakers Diamond (allegedly found uncut in a garbage heap and sold for three spoons--so there you go). We also saw some of the old Holy Relics--such as Joseph's turban, Moses' staff, David's sword, a couple of John the Baptist's bones, and some beard pieces from the Prophet Mohammad. Are they real? Anybody's guess--but in my estimation Mose's staff looked quite new.

We did lunch, where we were joyfully reunited with the prodigal Schade class (you know we are all getting close when we rejoice after being parted for one morning. I'm not sure what we're going to do at the end of the semester). We then visited the Grand Bazaar, where I really didn't buy anything (the little things I did get today I got elsewhere--more on souveniers to come) but did enjoy walking around and seeing all the bright, beautiful wares each shopkeeper had on display.

The day was capped by a boat cruise around the Marmarra Sea, all the way to the mouth of the bay to the Black Sea. It took about two hours and we enjoyed every minute--even the crazy pictures we have with the boys looking grea tand the girls with their hair blowing all over their faces. We enjoyed the cool breeze and the beatuiful sunsest and the sights along the shore and being in one company again. It was marvelous.

That's all for now! 

1 comment:

  1. Did you ever get to try Vishne? We laughed at that one. It reminded my of the Shanty in England that my mom kept saying we all had to try. Well, when we finally got one, it DID have alcohol in it! However, the head on the drink gave us fair warning before we took a sip. The boat cruise sounds like a lot of fun. We'll look forward to seeing all your pictures of Turkey.
    love, Mom