…because they were waiting in Istanbul.
I just got back from a brief vacation (it is "semester break" here in Austria) in Istanbul, Turkey, which was overwhelming, hectic, challenging and overall fantastic (though when I go back–and I will go back!–I hope to have a male with me, because being a foreign woman with another foreign woman in some of the really touristy spots in Istanbul is basically like saying "HEY CREEPY DUDES, BOTHER ME A LOT!"). I wish I had been able to get to know the city better (and also learn more Turkish!), and I am sure that local women, especially in the younger areas, don't have the kind of problems I did, so I am not going to complain about the harassment anymore–rather I am going to say it was actually a GOOD thing, because it kept me moving at a reasonable clip for 8 hours every day (if you stopped or looked even remotely confused or even excited about the scenery, then it was time for HELLO EXCUSE ME WHERE YOU ARE FROM YES PLEASE FREE HUGS!). Thus I have an astounding number of photos to share (they are mostly on my Facebook page, but I thought I would share a select few here for the strangers of the Interweb as well). And, also, thus I got to absolutely chow down EVEN MORE THAN I USUALLY DO every single day with absolutely no worry about calories, fat, sugar or whathaveyou because I am pretty sure I burned 2000 extra calories a day schlepping around.
Here is a brief taste. We saw most of the Major Sights, including the architecture marvel that is the Ayasofia (erstwhile church, then mosque, now museum). From the outside:
And from the inside (one of approx seventy-twelve kajillion photos I took, none of which did it justice):
The Blue Mosque, which you could see from our hotel's roof terrace/breakfast room/24 hour coffee-cookies-cake reception area (aka the best place in the universe). Our first night there, which was actually 5 a.m. (in unrelated news: never fly SkyEurope not matter how good the "deal" seems at the time), we had just drifted off to sleep when we had our first experience of the Muslim call to prayer. It is absolutely amazing souding, because it goes off all over the city almost at once (not exactly at once, probably, as Megan theorized, because the sun is in a different position at every mosque location–but I am not sure, I will actually read this Wikipedia entry on Islam when I am done putting these babies up):
To the best of my ability, no exterior shots of the mosques were made during prayer time (and obviously our interior tours were never allowed to happen during that time)–which is no small feat, considering that it's five times a day! I don't understand how Muslims get anything done (though Istanbul, despite the large numbers of bescarved and beveiled women, seemed pretty secular, in that most people I saw on the street didn't really heed the call to prayer). Here's a (hopefully tasteful) shot of the interior of the Blue Mosque and its amazing mosaic work:
Women were supposed to cover their heads inside–Megan and I did, but as you can see some women did not. I found that exceedingly disrespectful, but as Megan points out, Christians also find it disrespectful when I say Jesus H. Tap-Dancing Christ all the time. I think I am eager to be super-respectful of Muslims in Turkey because apparently pre-2008 elections, 83 percent of Turkish people had an unfavorable or very unfavorable view of Americans (this courtesy of the issue of Time Out Instanbul in our lobby).
One of the most amazing things about Istanbul was the incredible mixture of archiecture through the ages, which was nearly impossible for an amateur photog such as myself to capture with my camera machine:
This is a street scene we happened upon on one of many serendipitous wrong turns (most streets in Istanbul are not marked anyhow, though, so our general MO was to look up and identify the monument most clearly visible to us, be it mosque, other manmade marvel, or giant body of water–or, a lot of the time, merciful, merciful tram tracks).
According to Professor Wikipedia, Istanbul is the third-largest city proper in the world. This is not at all hard to believe when you are there and see it going on forever and ever in all directions. Oh, also, now I've technically been to Asia (not in the above photo, but in the below one, where I took a boat trip on the Bosphorous that dropped us off at the mouth of the Black Sea on the Anatolian side).
Other highlights included the Basilica Cistern, built by the Romans in the FIFTH MOTHERTRUCKING CENTURY AD, and now housing the world's coolest Koi pond.
It was an unforgettable trip all around, and one that I would take again in a heartbeat, though preferably with a slightly higher-end airline and a be-phallused individual as an escort.