Underwhelmed and Overwhelmed

Let’s start with the Underwhelmed part. My new friend and I awoke early to go to Topkapi Palace which was the home of the Sultan and his family for almost 300 years. We arrived prior to its opening and still had to stand in line, but it was a short line compared to the rest of the tour of the Palace! Fortunately, we toured the Harem first then the rest of the Palace. By the time we exited the Harem, the lines to see the other major exhibits were HUGE, like, so big they weren’t worth waiting in. Plus, there are almost no signs to tell you where you are, so it’s very difficult to find where you want to go. Additionally, if you didn’t hire a tour guide, there is no information other than an expensive book guide to give you further history (and that’s what I want since I’m a nerd). It was gorgeous, the tiles  were simply stunning, there was so much diversity in the styles of them, but we didn’t see that much of the Palace because it was just so hard to maneuver.  I want to offer to volunteer as their curator to fix all of their sign and information problems.  Here’s an example of what I’m talking about:

Most useful sign ever…said no one ever! But at least there was some beauty as well:
Iznik Tiles!
Also incredibly annoying are all of the merchant men leering and you and calling you “Sweetheart” to get you into their restaurants and shops. I hate ignoring them, it feels rude, but it’s just kind of gross.
Now for the AMAZING parts of the day:
1.  Turkish Breakfast is about the best thing ever, and our hostel puts on an excellent spread.  They eat breads, cheeses, fruit (fresh), tomatoes, granola, yogurt, etc.  It’s the perfect way to start the day.
2. I walked over to the Caferage Medresesi, which is an arts center where you can take lessons in Turkish crafts. Initially I had gone to get a schedule for their Ebru class (see prior post: Classes). I ended up getting a private lesson right there and spent an hour making art! It was SO much fun to see it work and explore different techniques. I will pick up my dried art tomorrow and will take pictures for you then.  Seriously, I was giddy afterwards.  The whole process involves painting on a canvas of water with an oil based paint, then transferring the paint to paper. I think when I return home I will look into getting the supplies to do it at home because it was such fun.
3. My friend Kelly who is from Portland lives here in Istanbul where she teaches English. I brought 2 of my new hostel friends (I’ve now made 4 because I am so popular), and we met Kelly who took us to the area of the Galata Tower for a Turkish dinner (I had lamb kepab….Yum!). We sat and visited for quite a while before going to get some of the best Baklava ever. There are riots in Taksim Square which isn’t far from where we were, so Kelly headed home and the three of us tourists came back to the Old City.
4. On the way back from there, we stopped at the New Mosque, which is 350 years old. We got there just before the Call to Prayer, so just spent a couple of minutes there. It was lovely:
5. While at Topkapi Palace, we sat for a while at a cafe and talked to a tour guide who was on his break, he gave us excellent tips and didn’t try to sell us anything! 

The best part: It’s almost midnight and I could probably keep going even though I woke up at 7:30. If you know me at all, you know I tire very easily, so this is an excellent sign than I am having fun!
Not sure what’s in store for tomorrow yet, it will depend on the riots I think, but don’t worry, I will stay far away from them!


Pinch Me

Seriously, somebody pinch me because I’m dreaming. That or I’m such in a jet lag induced haze after 20 hours with no sleep. The later is probably the most true.  I am currently sitting in the rooftop cafe o my hostel, letting the breeze from the Sea of Marmara wash over me and take away the sticky feeling from the humidity.  From the rooftop where I sit, I can see the Bosphorus and across it, Asian Istanbul.  I’m suddenly very aware of how large the Bosphorus is and wonder how on earth the old caique (boats) ever made it across in even semi-bad weather (they did not run during real storms from what I understand). The Willamette River holds nothing on the Bosphorus. If I were to move to another spot on the rooftop here, I would be able to see the highest dome and minarets of The Hagia Sophia Mosque. Earlier when walking around with my new friend (more on that later), I heard the Call to Prayer and suddenly felt like a “decadent Westerner” (If you watch “Little Mosque on the Prairie,” then you will understand the humor here). It wasn’t nearly as loud as I thought it would be. I was hoping it would knock me off my feet, that way I would be certain to hear it from my hostel and it would wake me early enough for embracing whatever the day held.

Back to the new friend. I was initially told that I would have my 4-bed dorm to myself tonight, so I was  a bit surprised after my shower to find another girl had moved in.  I am not certain yet if the Proprietor is entirely trustworthy, but it’s hardly a major transgression. In fact, it’s kind of great, the girl turns out to be another lone traveller (from Australia). She had already walked around the city a bit, so I followed her up to the area of the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia where we found dinner and dessert and just visited. We parted after that so I could take a short nap (still not certain if that was a good idea, I feel more groggy now). It was nice to just have another person to sit down with for a while anyways, we’ll see how much we do together. Once again I’m feeling non-commital.  
Tomorrow, I think I will start my day at Topkapi Palace followed by the Archaeology Museum. I’d like to stop by the Caferaga Medresesi (an art school nearby) to check on their schedule for Turkish marbling (Ebru) classes.  I’m also meeting a friend for dinner, she teaches English here.
Here’s to a slow, but excellent start to an amazing adventure!

See Asia there across the river?!


As I continue to research and read about Turkey and Istanbul, I’m constantly being drawn to more resources. The newest is a magazine called Cornucopia which is dedicated specifically to anything Turkish.  They only release three issues per year, so I am not going to subscribe considering I’m hoping to go to Istanbul in just a couple of months. But you can order old issues, which I thought might be fun. So I was just browsing through them when I found one titled, “The Connosseur’s Guide to Istanbul.”  It  was printed in 2004, so a bit outdated, but I thought I’d order it just to check it out.  However, imagine my surprise to find out that this one particular edition costs….wait for it…$796!!!!!!  HOLY CRAP!

So basically, I can read this edition or I can actually GO to Istanbul. Think I’ll stick with the trip.


Ancient History

Ancient History. I’m a sucker for the really old stuff.  Of particular interest to me with this trip is the history of the Hittites, whose empire was strong between the 18th-12th century BCE.  The Hittes are mentioned in the Bible, supposedly Abraham purchased a cave from them, though it’s possible that the writers of the Biblical story of Abraham borrowed the name “Hittite” from their current history as it’s debatable that there were Hittites in Canaan during the time of Abraham. Regardless, it is true that the Hittites and the Egyptians had a lot of dealings with one another back in the day and there’s a ton of history that comes from their conflicts/relations.  For example, the very first known Peace Treaty in the history of the world was written between the Egypitans and the Hittites.  Luckily for me, it’s in Istanbul at the Archaeology Museum, so I’ll get to see it there!

I’m pretty excited about the museum in Istanbul, but it looks like there is a museum that has an even larger collection of Hittite artifacts in Ankara, Turkey’s capital.   I’m thinking about the possibility of stopping at the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations on my way to Cappadoccia.  Maybe just one or two days in Ankara? Certainly it sounds like it would be a good introduction before going to Cappadoccia, which was a major settlement of the Hittites.

A random piece of history for you:  The Hittites were well known for being charioteers. In fact, they were very likely the first to utilize charriots during war!  They utilized their mechanical skills to improve the charriot and made it possible to carry 3 people as opposed to only 2.

Oh the Things I’ll do!

There are 3 million things to do in Istanbul. I’m going to start a running list of the things that sound interesting to me.  This way I can sift through them later and pick the ones that are MUST do and things that are MAYBE do.

  • Topkapi Palace- location of the head of the Ottoman Empire for over 300 years.  Supposedly should take at least .5-1 day for this.
  • Church of the St. Saviour in Chora (Chora Church)- a Byzantine Christian church with mosaics and frescoes that were amazingly preserved despite the Ottoman take-over
  • Ferry across the Bosphorus – Don’t take a cruise, they are more expensive and not any better than the commuter ferries
  • Chill out under the Galata Bridge – watch the boats, go to tea houses and restaurants
  • Hagia Sophia
  • Walk the Theodosius Walls 
  • Dolmabahse Palace
  • Hamam – find one the locals go to, they are cheaper and more authentic. Drink lots of water!
  • See the Whirling Dervishes – This site looks interesting.  Do some more research though.
  • Visit Princes Island
  • Archaeology Museum
  • The Blue Mosque
  • The Grand Bazaar
  • The Egyptian Spice Bazaar
  • Mosque of Suleyman the Magnificent – 16th century
  • Istiklal Street- pedestrian only street full of shopping and restaurants
  • Underground Cistern
  • Hagia Irene
  • Galata Tower

Istanbul Lodging

There are at least 34 Hostels in Istanbul.  I’ve narrowed it down to 4 possibilities for myself.

In an attempt to narrow the selection down, I started by cutting them down based on location.  I really want to stay in the Old Town area because that’s where most of the history that I am interested in is.  This eliminated 17 possibilities.

The next thing I did was narrow down based on how much information was available online. Did the hostel have a website? Was the website at all helpful or did it just refer me to hostel.com or some other booking site?  What amenities are offered?  I was surprised at how much this narrowed the selection down.  I was then at 6 selection!   I cut two out based on price (they were much more expensive than the other 4, but didn’t necessarily look any better.  So here’s what I am left with:

Nobel Hostel – 4 bed dorm
Orient Hostel – 4 bed dorm
Cordial House Hostel – 8 bed dorm (females only) – Unsure of free breakfast?
Sultan Hostel – mixed dorm (didn’t specify bed #)

I’m leaning towards the Nobel Hostel or The Orient Hostel.

Your thoughts?


Tonight at yoga, the teacher came over to help me with a stretch that just wasn’t happening.  After she helped me at least get slightly comfortable in the pose, I wanted to cry because I felt really stuck, not flexible, unmoved.  It made me want to go away to a beautiful island and spend a month learning yoga and focusing every day on deep stretching and finding peace with my body.  It dawned on me that many people who go on yoga retreats go not just for the physical peace they find, but for the spiritual peace. I found myself suddenly wanting that.  It made me wonder what I could do to make my trip to Turkey a more spiritually based journey.

As I will be going to a place ripe with the history of Islam, it seems fitting for me to learn more about the Muslim faith.  I don’t know that much about the Spiritual practice of Muslims.  What are their prayers? I know they pray ritually 5 time a day, but what are they saying and thinking?  What about spiritual meals or community gatherings?  What is it like to attend a Mosque?

I think it would be best for me to explore some of these questions here in Portland, but I wonder if I shouldn’t bring it with me to Istanbul?  Should I wake up every morning at sunrise for the first prayer of the day?  What other ways can I learn more about the spiritual practices of Muslim while I’m in Turkey?  It’s in writing this that I realize I know so very little about one of the great faiths of our world.

"Women and Islam" lecture

Tonight I had the privilege of attending a lecture at the Rosegarden Turkish American Cultural Center here in Portland. I signed up for their mailing list a while ago to follow any Turkish language classes and read about this lecture in one of the emails they sent out.  It was given by Dr. Sophia Pandya from California State University, Long Beach, and I really enjoyed it.

First, I should tell you how nervous I was when I arrived.  The building is pretty much unmarked, the only reason I knew I was in the right place was because I saw women with the hijab entering.  I wondered if I was inappropriately dressed (tank top and capris) but decided to venture in and find out.  When I came in the door, there were only men, so I tol done who approached me that I was there for the lecture and he walked me to a room where the women were waiting.  So in I walk, only about 1/3 of the women wore hijab but I was definitely showing more skin than anybody else.  I asked if I should cover up and they said absolutely not, from then on they did nothing but smile at me, introduce themselves, and inquire as to who I was.  They were simply lovely.  One young woman I met, named Selen, was especially helpful. She has been here in the US for about 2 years having come from Istanbul. Her husband got a job here so she’s working on a Master’s degree at PSU in Engineering.  She graciously answered my questions, made sure I understood where to go and when (not that it was complicated, I just didn’t want to offend anybody so was slightly more careful than normal).

The lecture itself was an excellent introduction for me. Even though I have a B.A. and a Master’s degree in Religion, both degrees focused on Christianity. I know so little about the history of Islam as well as the culture.  Dr. Pandya started by showing us clips of American movies and shows depicting Arabs.  It was horrifying.  American’s have done such a great job of depicting Arabic Men as evil and dangerous and Arabic Women as timid and beaten.  We have depicted Arab nations as being backwards and uneducated.  It made me think about what a responsibility Hollywood has to be more cautious about its’ depictions of other cultures. Hollywood has the power to do a lot of harm to people.

In discussing the patriarchy of Islam, Dr. Pandya started by reminding us that the Prophet Mohammed was actually quite progressive. He made it so that women could inherit property, he consulted women on matters of faith, and he in general made life a bit easier for women.  The patriarchal part of Islam came later when the center of the Islamic Empire was moved from Damascus to Persia.  There, Islam encountered Zoroastrianism, which as it turns out was very patriarchal.  Unfortunately, Islam picked up may of its’ ideas from Zoroastrianism that often hurt women.  It was interesting to understand that history. I did some research on Zoroastrianism in Graduate school, but really only focused on early Zoroastrianism, nothing past Jesus.  I do believe that Zoroastrianism played a huge part in the apocalyptic world of Judaism and Christianity, but I had never thought about some of the other roles it had played. I need to do more research on it I guess.

I really loved the stories of women here in American who are helping to change how Americans view Islam as well as the face of Islam as a whole.  There is a movement called the Hizmet (which means service) also known as the Gulen Movement that is focused on inter-faith dialogue, education, and helping people who are in need.  I gather that the Rosengarden Center here in Portland is part of the Hizmet movement.  They put on meals during Ramadan for non-Muslims to introduce us to their practices and to share their beliefs in general.

I’ve emailed Dr. Pandya to see if I can get a copy of her presentation because there were some other points that I want to share (but silly me didn’t bring a notebook to take notes).  Overall, I’m so glad I went!  I will definitely be going back to the Rosegarden for more activities!

Hot Air Balloon!

I’ve always wanted to ride in a hot air balloon, and what better time than in an exotic place?  Cappadocia seems to be the perfect spot:

If I go with this company, I get breakfast and champagne.  Fortunately, probably for safety, the champagne happens after you land.  

Ancient or Old?

Being a Biblical Historian who focused on studying the development of the Torah, I am undeniably interested in things that are ancient.  If something isn’t AT LEAST 2000 years old, my curiosity is generally not piqued (and that’s being generous, I generally prefer at least 3000 years old).  The first time then I stepped into a Neolithic structure (about 5,000 years old), my heart was a flutter…

With this in mind, I’ve been just slightly disappointed to read that most history books date Istanbul to about 700 BCE (yes, I know this is old, but not old enough to make my hear flutter the way something 5,000 years old did).  The story is that it was settled by Gerek cononists. The leader, Byzas, was told by the Oracle of Apollo at Delphi that he should settle across from the ‘land of the blind ones.”  When sailing into what is now Istanbul, Byzas determined it to be what the Oracle meant because previous settlers must have been blind to have overlooked such a wonderful location.

But you see, I don’t buy it.  I know that most historical places are built upon older historical places.  (For a fun Historical-fiction on this idea, read “The Source” by James Michener).  So I did a bit more digging and found this little gem:

Istanbul’s Ancient Past Unearthed!  They claim to have found a burial sign from the 1600 BCE’s.  Now THAT’s what I’m talking about!  The article is very interesting. It points out that the Bosphorous Strait wouldn’t have been formed yet, which means the landscape and such would’ve been much different from today.  I’m going to have to do more research, but it would be interesting to know what happened between the time of those first settlers and when teh Greeks came.

I am delighted.