Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Day 33- Istanbul, Turkey

Early this morning we arrived in Istanbul, Turkey. Turkey is home to 73 million people, 99% of which are Suni Muslim. 13 million people live in Istanbul so the population is more than 3 times the size of Houston. Turkey is slightly larger than Texas and fairly similar in geography. There are 20 million Kurds in Turkey, making them the largest minority population. None of us could figure out where Kurds come from so if anyone knows please leave a comment below.


There are 20 thousand Jews who were expelled from Spain. They speak Ladino which is a form os Spanish. Four thousand people are Greek Orthodox and the patriarch of the church is in Istanbul. There are various rules for becoming the patriarch which are making it difficult to find a new one. I would describe them but they’re complicated and boring. Turkey has some crazy rules in their “secular democracy” which include it being illegal to criticize Ataturk or watch Youtube.


I signed up for the city orientation through SAS so we boarded the buses early this morning to visit all the popular sights. We first visited a local mosque where we learned proper mosque etiquette. It was an interesting experience because it was all quiet but people were just hanging out, chatting in the corner and children were running around chasing each other. We ate our boxed lunches in the park next to the mosque. As a side note, the ship packs weird lunches: a salami or bologna sandwich, 2 chicken legs, a hardboiled egg, a dessert bar, a piece of fruit, a juice box or Capri sun, and oreos. After lunch, our group made our way to Hagia Sofia, another mosque. It is one of the largest in Istanbul at a ridiculous 194 feet tall. It has 2 minarets where the call to worship is sung from. The Hagia Sofia’s two make the six of the Blue Mosque next door stand out on the skyline. After visiting these two amazing places of worship, we crossed the street to the Hippodrome, home to several ancient Egyptian monuments including an Egyptian obelisk. If I remember correctly, Constantine put this area together as a race track back in the day. Next we saw the Basilica Cistern which is an underground water storage area. It was created in ancient times and existed under the city of Istanbul for many years before being discovered. It is dark and damp, the ceiling held up by many columns. There is some water still there so there is a raised walkway. There are koi fish in the water along with several lira coins. There are two huge stones holding up some columns that have the face of Medusa on them. These add greatly to the eeriness of the cistern with the dripping water and dim lighting.


After dinner on the ship I headed to the bridge with Jon, Athena, Amanda, Whitney, and Jenna. The under part of the bridge is filled with ships, bars, and restaurants. We found a place with bean bags outside and lounged there with our sheesha. There are Christmas lights hanging from the bridge along with thousands of fishing lines from the men above who are fishing for anchovies to grill and serve on the street. Istanbul has such a different atmosphere that we are all enjoying so far. There are a hundred things I want to do and see here so we called it a night pretty early to get ready for our big day tomorrow.


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I saw Medusa and I survived.


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I missed seeing Anne Hathaway at the Blue Mosque.


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