I never planned on visiting Istanbul when I studied abroad in Madrid. It was not at the top of my list of cities to visit like Rome and Paris was. I did not know much about Istanbul compared to other cities. I knew its old name was Constantinople from a sixth grade song my class would sing. And that it was considered to be the bridge between the east and the west. So I did not know what to expect when my friends and I woke up and found ourselves in Istanbul.
For our study abroad program in Madrid, the cost of staying with our host families during Spring Break was not included. My friends and I decided that we wanted to see as much as possible and that a cruise would be a great deal. And for seven nights at 750$ each for a balcony room and three meals a day, it was a great deal.
After some disappointment, not being able to dock in Greece because of bad weather, are next big destination was Istanbul. We knew we wanted to see the Hagia Sofia. Well there was actually some friendly disagreement over which Mosque was more famous the Hagia Sofia or the Blue Mosque. Just to amplify our ignorance on the city we didn’t (or at least I didn’t) know that there were two famous Mosques. Either way it didn’t matter as we ended up visiting both as they are a short distance away from each other, with a courtyard in the middle. It must be beautiful in the summer when the trees have leaves. Just another reason for me to return.
The Hagia Sofia was built first as a Christian church and then turned into a Mosque once Islamists took control of the city. The Hagia Sofia was truly amazing to see, especially considering it was constructed in 537. After the Blue Mosque was constructed the Hagia Sofia became a museum. The inside is a marvel in itself that is only rivaled by the beauty of its outside. But looking up at the dome on the inside and taking in all the grandeur was a great experience.
Both places took an hour or so to wait in line to see. Since the Blue Mosque is still an active Mosque everyone was required to take off their shoes. Also it was interesting to see the separate places for women and men to prey. Nevertheless the inside was intricate with its magnificent pillars and stained glass windows.
Later on we ventured to the Bazaar. There I haggled with a vendor over two scarfs for my younger sister. I got to decrease the price by two Turkish Liras, which wasn’t a big deal in itself, I was just glad I was even able to hold my own. We then got some Kebabs and even dried a local drink called Icim, I decided to try it because I have never seen it and was told it was like yogurt . It wasn’t. But it was fun to video tape a friend tasting it for the first time when the bitterness touched their lips and they started to pout. Once that was over and we walked around the bazaar, we did not know what else to do. Still having three hours until we had to be on the cruise, we got in a taxi. We did not know where to go. We decided to go to Asia, which was right over a bridge that connected the two parts of the city.
Although we never expected to take a taxi and drive around the city, it was a great way to see a city I knew little about. I heard the Islamic prayer calls, that boom from loudspeakers five times a day; we drove near rich houses and through what the driver called the Red district. We saw a cop chase and a dog fight. Our driver spoke broken English, but he did make up for it in his adventures driving. We went up and down hills, swerved around corners and raced to see the cop chase. I was not a car ride my mom would approve of, but it was what I remembered most. Driving around the city for an hour and a half for thirty dollars was a great way to see the city and talk with a local at the same time.
That was my favorite day of the cruise trip. I did not have many expectations that day, but instead went with it. I love unknown and uncomfortable situations. Because it makes everything else that much more comfortable.