Today was brilliant.
I am seriously loving this country.
The day began with me waking up sporadically (sigh to the time difference) but conveniently waking up ten minutes before the official wake up call (which was 6:30) so I could shower before my grandma, giving me a bit more time to get myself together. I’ve set an alarm for 6am to ensure we have a bit more time in the morning. Our bags must be out at 7, and we head out at 8.
Anyways, today was, like I said, brilliant. We began our tour with a boat cruise on the Bosphorus, going from just before the first bridge, to just under the second. And what did we see? Dolphins! It was so cool! Our guide, Dahun, assured us he had organized their appearance beside the boat just for us. A few other things we saw was the military high school, as well as a few battlements built to protect the ports and waterway, and some palaces. It was, needless to say, beautiful.
After the cruise, we boarded the bus for a short ride to the car ferry, and took it across the Bay of Iznik, and thus beginning my first official visit to Asia. In Izmit, we stopped at a medium sized shopping mall for lunch (had a delicious pastry type thing with cheese pastry and spinach inside, as well as roast pepper, tomato salad – tomatoes here taste like tomatoes – and a delicious desert made of milk and lemon. Sort of a rice pudding but creamier). After the stop, we visited remains of the church Haghia Sophia – which is now a mixture of museum and mosque. It is a quite interesting building, very recently reopened, and the history of the building is rather interesting as well. It is the church associated with – ie. next to – where one of the two most important councils in Christianity took place, and where they officially declared Jesus as the Son if God (rather than a messenger).
After Izmit, We continued to Bursa and the Grand Mosque, which is very beautiful (and indeed very grand). The artwork inside is spectacular, and the Arabic script is lovely. Fun fact: the Grand Mosque has ten domes; not for any architectural reason, but because the general/sultan that built it promised Allah he would build ten mosques if he was able to defeat his enemies. He did, and so rather than building ten separate mosques, he built one with ten domes.
I’ve always found the call of the Imam haunting, and last year I took a Qur’an Studies course and finally learned what the prayers mean. Now that I know the significance, every time I hear the call to prayer – as I can now, for evening prayer – it is thrilling. It is as if I can feel the faith.
I should note that, strictly speaking, I am not religious, but I love religion. Islam fascinates me, and faith even more so.
After the Grand Mosque, we visited the silk market, which was lots of fun. I was a little annoyed because my grandmother – who speaks fluent Turkish – loitered and talked to one shop keeper for quite some time, while I wanted to wander around. The silk market isn’t especially large, but it is very old, and the shops’ wares very beautiful. I bought two scarves for myself, and a few for some friends. They were brilliantly inexpensive. My grandmother, I suppose as a housewarming gift, bought me a silk screen of The Kiss by Gustav Klimt, which I certainly could not afford on my budget. I am grateful, it is beautiful. I’m definitely getting it framed when I get home.
After this, we headed to the Green Mosque, but by the time we arrived, the call to prayer was about to begin, and so we visited the Green Mosoleum (sp?) across the street while we waited the sultan and his children were buried there, and it was interesting to see the way the tombs were laid out. His and his sons in the front, his daughters behind. The carvings and tiles there were, again, very lovely. There was also lots of stained glass up at the top, and a brilliantly carved front door which was more like a piece of art than a door.
We returned to the Green Mosque just as the call to prayer was commencing, and so we sat (or, in my case, wandered) outside the mosque until prayer was done. We could hear prayer from outside. The view from the gardens was lovely, and the garden itself, too, was so peaceful. I tied my headscarf (as I do whenever entering the grounds of a mosque) and, as I know how to tie it properly, a few of the ladies asked that I showed them. Or guide was a little impressed, I think that either I knew how, or that I had taken the time to learn how. Either way, he complimented me, which was nice. He is Muslim, and so I am looking foreword to his talk on Islam in a few days’ time. He has assured me that he will save that talk for when I am sitting closer by.
The Green Mosque is smallish, but again, very ornate. It was one of the first built with a separate space for the Sultan and his wives, as prior, the Sultan had prayed with the rest – as in Islam, all are equal – but then someone attempted to assassinate him during prayers, and so a balcony was built for he and his wives. Here is anther fun fact: the men and women are not separated during prayers because one is lesser than the other. They are separated because, in the words of our guide, men are weak, and if they had a woman, say, bending over (even in prayer) in front of them, they would never be able to focus on prayer. And so, they are not separated – rather, so long as the men cannot see the women – be they above them, behind them, or beside them, there is no problem. I the Ottoman tradition, women were given a gallery above the men, partially because of the need to get them out of the view of the men, and partially because “God exists at the feet of the mother” or, more plainly, one should value one’s mother. Also interesting, he acknowledged the strength of the mother in the Turkish household.
After the Green Mosque, we moved to our hotel. It is quite sweet, not very large, but nice. There is a very old Turkish bath here, but it is expensive, and some hotels we are visiting are free, so I decided to wait until the next one. The building is to my right as I write, however, and it is – I’m beginning to feel repetitive – beautiful.
All in all, although this is only our second day, I am very much enjoying this trip, and am very excited for tomorrow. We move to Ankara tomorrow, and will see the tomb of King Midas.
I am very excited.
On a more personal note, I am again feeling very at home here. Perhaps it is because my mum was here when I was still inside her, perhaps it is because I am surrounded by a culture I love and people that look like me. Either way, I am very much enjoying it. The travel group is predominately white, and mostly older – the youngest after me I think is our guide, who is 36 or so – and they all harp about the heat and the time and etcetera, but I am loving it. I’m turning so brown! My body is just soaking it up, as if it knew what it needed and just missed it!
I should head to bed, but I am seriously way too excited just being here. I think it has only just set in that I am here, and I cannot wait for tomorrow. You would think that would be incentive to sleep, but all it is is making it more difficult thinking of all the places yet to see.
Today was brilliant.