I'm sorry for the absurd length of this post, there's just so much I could say about Istanbul, it was hard to decide what to include. But for those of you who know me well also know I can't promise any posts much shorter than this. But if you'd like to read shorter and more humorous commentary and see some sweet pictures, check out Nate Allred's blog.
My first impression hit me as soon as we walked through the airport doors: the stench of smoke and sweat. That smell pretty much stuck with us for the next two days; it stuck to your clothes, your hair, the inside of your nose. The city itself was clean for the most part, but the people, not so much. They were very interesting though. Of course, most of the time the ones we interacted with were street vendors and hagglers. But the children who got so much joy out of greeting us in English and the people at church were very kind. The most exotic Turks were probably the shirtless old men who lounge on the rocks by the water, tanning and smoking and cooking. Robbie called them walruses. We even got a more European flavor with one in a rainbow speedo.
We stayed in a very pink hostel called the Piya Hostel. The owner and his wife were probably the cutest people in the world, and so hospitable. Every morning when we ate breakfast like an hour later than everyone else they were happy to oblige and even when my mom blew the power in our rooms with her power strip, they weren't mad at all.
Our hostel was only a five minute walk from the Sultanahmet, which is the square that separates two of Istanbul's most famous landmarks, the Aya Sofia and the Blue Mosque. The Aya Sofia, which we didn't go inside, is a Christian church that was built in the 14th century. The Blue Mosque was built less than a hundred years later when the Muslims took over to rival the Aya Sofia. We did go inside that one, and it was absolutely stunning!
The Aya Sofia
Inside the Blue Mosque. The tile was spectacular, as were the stained glass and the gold calligraphy.
In order to go into the Blue Mosque the women had to have sleeves to your wrists and skirts to your ankles. Luckily they had some makeshift clothes to help us out.
Like I mentioned, we got to go to church on Sunday, which was quite an adventure. The tram didn't go as far as we had to, so we ended up walking a couple miles to Taksim Square and then wandering for a while trying to find it. After getting abstract directions from many a Turkish man in broken English, we did eventually make it to the church, which is located on the 7th story and entitled "LDS Charities." Definitely not a proselyting country.
We got there just in time for the middle of Sunday School, or should I say Sunday Schools because there were three: in Turkish, English and Tagalog. Apparently the Filipino maids of the humanitarian missionaries keep converting. It was a good meeting. It's always nice to be reminded that the church is true everywhere.
The tram on the way back from church was also an adventure. I guess it was rush hour or something, because at every stop we thought we'd already packed the car to its limit and then more people would get in. It really wasn't pleasant. Right before our stop Kristyn leaned over to me and said, "Get a good whiff, this is a cultural experience." The Grand Bazaar we went to on Monday morning was also a smelly cultural experience. My favorite vendors was the one who told me he loved me and the one who kept reading my Speedy Spaniard shirt and telling me I would be "Living the Dream with us!"