Sunday, July 10, 2011

Wow, what a day continued...

Observing Muslim culture inside
Blue Mosque
In an effort not to bore anyone to death, I split the posts because there is just so much to write! So where was I? Oh yes, I was about to start wandering a strange city by myself with a map that I don't understand. Excellent. I stepped out of the hotel, and as luck may have it there were crowds of people heading in one direction, so I decided to follow them. Again, luck was on my side because I stumbled upon a very large mosque. It was an overwhelming sight both the building and all of the people from cruises milling around with tour guides. I probably looked pretty confused because a nice young man walked up to me and offered to show me the entrance and wait outside for me when I was done visiting the mosque. That was very nice of him to walk me through the process of taking off my shoes and making sure that I was wearing shoulder to ankle scarves. As soon as I walked in, I realized that I was in the Blue Mosque. The ceilings are beautifully painted mainly in blue, and the whole building is just awe inspiring.

Outside of Blue Mosque
So I left the mosque and my new friend was waiting to show me his family's shop. I figured that it was the least I could do. This very friendly gentleman took me to a carpet shop and up the the third floor where I go to see all sorts of very expensive Turkish carpets laid out in front of me. I told them that I didn't want to buy anything, but I took their information just to be nice. While I was there though I got to hear all sorts of interesting history about the different tribes that make the carpets and how they are all different. I was very eager to get out of there though, so I thanked them and went on my way. Back through the mosque I met two more very nice gentlemen who wanted to take me to their families' carpet shops. I learned my lesson :)

Blue Mosque through the fountain
Agia Sofia
 (once a church now a mosque)
 I decided I needed to rest a little and enjoy my surroundings, so I found a bench in between Agia Sofia and the Blue Mosque just as a prayer started. The songs filtered through the speakers, and it was very calming to sit in front of the fountain and jot down some notes so I wouldn't forget everything that had happened so far. There is such a good energy here; the people seem happy, and everyone has been so friendly. I'm surrounded by people selling watermelon and grilled corn on the cob, and it is just fun to watch families enjoying the beautiful weather.  I roamed around for a while longer taking in the sights.

I also found the red bus that will take me on a tour of the whole city for a very reasonable price and a travel agency that turned out took up a large portion of the day. I hadn't heard back from the tour agency that I had contacted while I was in Sofia, so I decided to get some information about a couple day trips. This is where I met Murat, my travel consultant. Here I booked a tour for tomorrow to Princes' Island and Tuesday for a tour of the Bhosphorus. I was feeling very proud of myself for getting so much accomplished in just a couple hours. I had to go back to the hotel to get some money to pay for the tours, and then I was out again to find a restaurant and pay for my tours. I went back to the travel agency to quickly pay my balance, but it turned into a cultural lesson. I had my first Turkish coffee, and learned how to tell a fortune by flipping the cup upside down and stacking coins on top (for a fortune related to money, but you can also stack rings for marriage, or keys for a home) and waiting for the sludge on the bottom to slide into a pattern. I said some Turkish saying and flipped over the cup to find, according to Murat, the skyline of Istanbul. That could mean a couple things I suppose. I hope it means that I will return to Istanbul some day. Then we sat for a while looking at a book with beautiful photos of Istanbul. I got a mini history lesson, and I met a dad from South Africa who will be on my tour on Tuesday. It was great to just hang out and chat for a while.

Dinner, Yum!
Gift from Ihsan
Now on to dinner...In the spirit of the day I found a very touristy restaurant on the way back from the travel agency. My first Turkish food experience was a good one though. I got some sort of beef kabob by the recommendation of my waiter Ihsan who has become my new best friend. The restaurant is in a great spot outside for people watching, and Ihsan periodically comes over to chat with me.  Soon, I was brought some flower petals for my table and a gift of cappuccino. I may not sleep tonight because of all of this caffeine in my system, but it sure is funny. The music is great too, and it reminds me of being on the Greek Islands. There is also a man with two white rabbits sitting on top of a cage. According to Ihsan, they tell can tell your futures too just like a cup of coffe and some kinds of birds. He has also informed me that this is all fake, but fun. I am learning so much, and I have only been here a few short hours. I sat at the restaurant until everyone had left and I was alone with the waiters and the owner. I couldn't be happier! This is probably the best birthday present I could give to myself.  I can't wait to see what tomorrow will bring!