Wednesday, October 27, 2010
Day Two: Attack of the Shower Serpent
Awoke about 8 am (thanks, A****). Turns out that A is the jet-lag prevention miracle. The flight from JFK is about ten hours. Our flight left about 5 pm. I got on the plane, had dinner, piddled around with the personal tv for a while, took an A and slept for almost 6 hours. I woke up two hours outside of Turkey and the airline was serving breakfast about a half hour later. I was able to go through that first day since I got a decent amount of sleep on the plane. I took another one the first night in Turkey and then I was fully on Turkish time (8 hours ahead of Texas).
So now it's the morning of Day 2. As I've said, our hotel was very serviceable - very clean, recently updated, nice linens, but small, as are most European hotels. The bathroom was also very European - tiled walls to the ceiling with a very, very small corner shower. Seriously small. As in to shave my legs (story of razor for another day), I had to do a really amazing yoga pose. But that is not the story.
I get into the shower and close the half-round doors. Think about this like going into a very small phone booth. I took the hand-held shower off it's high perch and turned on the water. Holy Sh*T (Sorry, Jack). That hose jumped out of my hand and began doing the twisty-twirly thing and soaked, and I do mean SOAKED the accoustical tile ceiling in the bathroom before I could get the stupid thing shut off. I finally get a death grip on the shower and try it again. Oh, okay.
So I'm love, love loving this water pressure. I think I actually blew off a freckle or two. I'm showering and rinsing and I look down and notice that I'm ankle deep in water! And it's flowing out of the shower and on to the floor! Oh, hell's bells. There is a drain in the corner of the shower and it has a PLUG in it. Who the hell puts a drain plug into the bottom of a shower? So now, I've got water pouring all over the floor. I manage to sloosh around the floor and pull the plug, but I've turned the floor into a wading pool. Luckily for me, there is a drain in the actual floor of the bathroom. But the funniest thing of all was when I came out of the bathroom and told Pebbles. We looked back at the bathroom door and there was still water dripping off the top of the door jamb! I anxiously awaited the hotel to give me a bill for that little fiasco. Luckily, everything dried out. And from the looks of the pictures, I can see that it's not the first time that the ceiling had been wet!
Our hotel serves a Turkish breakfast as part of the deal. I wasn't expecting much, but it turned out to be wonderful. All kinds of breads (they had me at bread!), fabulous yogurt - think the best Greek yogurt you've ever had and then times it by about three, some fruit, raisins, etc. Plus coffee, tea and some really nasty orange drink (think Tang for all you oldsters). But the traditional breakfast really is tomatoes, cucumbers, olives on bread for breakfast. Totally, totally yummy.
Disclaimer: I'm trying to get this all down while I can still remember and it's still fresh(ish). I have some of the names of places misspelled, I know. I'll come back and correct when I have time. I'm battling against time and a feeble memory.
Turkey is about 99% Muslim and one of the tenets of that faith is cleanliness and good grooming. Most every one we saw was very well groomed, pressed, starched, and shined. And that included even the most average restaurant - including the breakfast room at our hotel. Sharply dressed waiters, beautifully laid table and attentive service, which at a buffet, turned out to be a different experience. Plates were whisked away the second one was finished with them. It took a while to get used to that.
So we are off on first adventure. It's Sunday morning and we make the trek up the hill and over to the Sultanhumet area, with the Blue Mosque as our first stop. On our way we walk through this big park which during the Roman rule, contained the Hippodrome - complete with some of the original Egyptian obelisks. And the Istanbul Marathon was being held! Amazing. There were crowds of people to watch the runners finish - we were there when the half was coming down the ancient hippodrome track and finishing, all the while the big tv screens were showing the progress of the lead marathon runners. Pretty amazing and fun thing to just stumble into the middle of. I thought about all my running friends back here. I ended up meeting some people at our hotel who came in from the north of England to run the race. They pick an out-of-country marathon each year, go run the race and then visit the country for a week or so.
On the to Blue Mosque. It's so named for the beautiful, primarily blue tiles that are used to decorate it's interior. The Islamic faith doesn't allow for portraiture of any kind in their places of worship, so decoration was done with tiles, rather than the traditional iconotry that most of us are familiar with. The interior of the mosque was breathtaking. It's difficult to show the scale in photos. Turkey, while being overwhelmingly Muslim, is lenient in that they allow non-Muslims to visit their mosques, but request that the women cover their heads and shoulders, if bare. It's written in all the guide books and even written on placards outside the entrances to the mosques. I was stunned at the number of women who failed to show this courtesy. Anyway, Pebbles and I removed our shoes, covered our heads with the scarves we brought for just this purpose and went in. Gorgeous and vast. This particular mosque is the only one (if I remember correctly) outside of Meccca to have six minirets. The lights are very interesting - while they are electric now, I can't even imagine how beautiful it must have been when they were candles. Unfortunately, my little camera doesn't take the best pictures. Pebbles' takes much better photos, but it will be a cold day in hell before I get a copy of her vacation pictures! ha! So, we'll just have to make due with the fuzzy, dark shots I took. Just trust me when I tell you it's an amazing sight to see. I must confess to one disrespectful thing that I did out of ignorance. It is also requested (in a guidebook that I later read) not to include any active worshippers in photographs inside the mosques. I accidently got a picture with some men in prayer at the front of the mosque. There is a cordoned off area behind which visitors are asked to stay. Those coming to the mosque to pray obviously go to the front of the mosque, facing Mecca, for their prayers.
Next stop was just across the way - the Hagia Sophia. This was originally a church built by the Roman Justinian around 540 AD. It stood as the largest such place in the world until Saint Peter's in Rome was built some eleven hundred years later. At some point during another takeover in Constantinople/Istanbul's amazing history, it became a mosque and the traditional iconography was plastered and painted over. Now it functions as a museum. It, too, is amazing - especially considering how old it is. It is in the process of being restored, as are a lot of things in Istanbul. When one considers the vast amount of world history that took place at this very strategic point, there's a lot of stuff to be seen.
All of this brings up what became very obvious to me during this trip - my ignorance. I have a graduate degree, an MBA, and yet after coming to this place, with it's long, long history, I didn't have enough of a grasp on world history/civilizations to have a framework upon which to hang the facts. I might as well have gone to trade school. While I had a pop-up map of the city to use to get around, what I really needed was a pop-up map of the world during each of the main eras of domination - Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Ottoman - and what they ruled and when. I SHOULD have read fewer guidebooks and more history books. I'm trying to remedy that now. Without the historical framework to use to categorize information, the sites and facts just become a jumble.
Still uploading/tagging photos here