Sunday, December 27, 2009

Update over Christmas Break

Okay, so I know I haven't been the worlds best blogger. I will really try to update more regularly to keep all of you up to date on my life/experiences/views of my life.

Anyways, it is now Christmas break and I am home in beautiful Jupiter, FL for about 5 more weeks for the Holidays. The Christmas Eve service at my church was spectacular, as always and year after year makes me feel genuinely blessed.

I'll be visiting Gainesville to see all my friends before I leave again for Israel on January 30th. Keep you updated as things develop.

Happy Holidays.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Turkey Part 2

It was a Halloween party waiting to happen. Anyways we walked around, saw all the fish swimming around the barely full water levels around the cisterns, water dripped on our heads- we finally made it to the back of the cistern and saw the Medusa’s heads- one on its side, one upside down. Scientists claim it was supposed to be like this- placed intentionally there in these positions.
Afterwards, we decided to go to the spice bazaar and indulge in a mini-Thanksgiving feast. As we walked through the spice market, we were overwhelmed with the fragrant tea’s and spices like cinnamon, cumin and black pepper mixed with the scent of the famous aphrodisiac from Istanbul, supposedly once used by the king. Fruit stands, juice sellers, sandwich makers (who walk around with a holding table, fresh bread, cheese and hard boiled eggs), cheese sellers, all letting you taste all the amazing highlights of their booth, and on a larger note, of Turkish cuisine. We sampled fruits and fresh cheese while walking by the lines literally filing out the door of the butchers shops; all the people waiting in line for their lamb. (it was the afternoon before the morning of the sacrifice for Eid Al Adha). There was lots of pushing and prodding through this district…Oh and their were Turks being interviewed about Swine Flu, wearing swine flu masks of course. {There are people all of Turkey, everywhere really, still wearing Swine flu masks. I find it quite humorous.} After we cruised out of the edge of the market where we met this guy working at a café. He recommended this Donor Kebab place so we went to find it- got donors and this yoghurt drink which was kind of chunky and gross. We returned to the café with the guy we met and ordered fresh juice. That was my thanksgiving dinner lol. Slightly sub-standard considered American expectations, but th rest of the amazing day more than made up for it. Besides, our wallets would’ve been hurting had we splurged. We ended up strolling through the side alleys of the market and saw gun shops, which effectively freaked me out, stores selling weird Christmas things, key stores, fountain stores, etc. It was basically like an outdoors, balady Home Depot. We continued along the main road to the Galata bridge, which we crossed but not without taking in an excellent amount of people watching. Vendors everywhere, fisherman stringing their poles, couples walking hand in hand, people bustling home from work and elderly men shuffling across, seemingly just trying to make it to the other side. We walked through the side streets of Galata, we really like doing that by the way, and took photos, observed daily life and admired the absolutely beautiful architecture. We made it up the massive hill to Galata Tower. I thought we were going to have to walk upstairs in this old school castle/tower thingy but much to our surprise it was seriously posh. A jewelry shop at the bottom, men who are paid only to push the elevator buttons, elevators with information videos in them and a gorgeous restaurant and night club when you reach the top, with of course, the viewing area outside. We stayed outside for probably an 1 ½ watching the sun slowly set over Istanbul. From the tower we could see all of Istanbul, both the European and Asian continents- if I didn’t already say it, Istanbul is the only city in the world to straddle two continents. All the minarets, palaces, the Bosphorous…we were blessed with this breathtaking view of the city, of two continents, on Thanksgiving. We waited until the sun set, talking to random people from all over the world, snapping photos and making jokes. We walked around Galata for a bit, indulged in some local sweets like this donut thing quadruple fried and dipped in honey and sugar. We came back over the bridge and saw the restaurants on the bottom of the bridge- super touristy but the fish looked so yummy! We grabbed the tram back because we had to get back to the hostel to catch our bus to Cappadocia. Got packed up and went to the bus station. Normally all bus stations are gross, but I officially hate Turkish bathrooms. It was one of the few things in this beautiful country. It is literally a hole in the floor with a bucket of water to wash away the urine. So basically you are just standing in urine water. So gross.
We boarded the twelve hour bus to Cappadoccia/Kapadokya in Turkish. It was long, difficult and seriously uncomfortable, but well worth it. The bus companies here serve snacks, coffee, tea and water thoughout the entire trip. They actually have an employee on the bus specifically to serve people food. We stopped at all these little towns throughout the trip, randomly picking up people and dropping them off. Oh and on the way to Urgup we had to transfer buses. Men and women who aren’t married aren’t allowed to sit together on Turkish buses. So Maggie and I sat together and Wills sat with this random guy. We finally arrived and it was absolutey freezing. Our hotel, the Dedeli Konak picked us up where we ewer given out toasty little cave room. Literally our hotel was carved out of the cave, very cool. I passed out for an hour before the tour started ad devoured the Turkish breakfast before we had to pile in the van. Turkish breakfasts consist of lots of mezze with toast and Turkish tea and coffee.
Our tour started at 9:30am ad boy was it packed with tons of stuff to do. We started off at a panorama view of this beautiful valley called the Deverent Valley and fantasized the entire time about climbing all these volcanically shaped rocks, called different names all over the region depending on the shape they take. I kept asking the guide when do we have free time to climb?!? He got a bit annoyed. We got back in the van and went down to the lower level or the valley known as Monks Valley where there were all these cool rock formations, shaped by lava 8-10 million years ago. Wills and I decided we had to climb one, so he scooted up this huge rock like a dang monkey. And, of course, I think if he can do it, so can I so I follow him up. It was a beautiful view and tons of fun until I decided to get down because all of the rocks were extremely dusty and crumbly, hence no footholds. There was a group of Eastern Orthodox Christian Armenians who started to pray for me, and my safe descent, treacherous as it was. I slid down halfway, the easy way. Then my new Eastern Orthodox friend decided to step in and help me so I wouldn’t seriously injure myself; which was good because I totally would’ve eaten it. I completely fell into him and made it down with minor scratches and bruises. Everyone started clapping and of course, I was mortified.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Thanksgiving in Turkey Part 1

So after our two hour delay because of the fog hovering over Istanbul. We landed and had our hostel pick us up from the airport. The city is a thousand times cleaner than Cairo, and the aura completely different. Much more relaxed, quiet, even peaceful. This is the low point for the tourist season- but even disregarding the lack of honking, the pateience and genuine hosptiality was so refreshing! The minute we got to our hosetl, we were welcomed by name. We decided to take it easy the first day, since it was already late afternoon, so we walked around Sultanhamet. We ate donor kebabs after strolling through the Bazaar- the oldest Bazaar in the world! There are so many street vendors, selling fresh chestnuts, helping us ring in the Christmas season, and fresh corn coming out of steaming vats of water. Prices aren't bad at all, but I have been spoiled with the cheapness of Cairo and am now officially a price snob. (2 dollars for a soda:?!? In Cairo I pay 40 cents! haha- see what I mean?) We talked to lots of people, all of whom were extremely helpful, and such a huge contrast to the lack of social awareness so prevalent in Cairo. Here, smiling at people is not an invitation for a butt grab, nor is making eye contact a sign of flirtation. Don't get me wrong, I love the vibe of Cairo, the constant bustling, honking, calls to prayer, and the unique interactions I get to experience on a daily basis, but having a break is nice too.

After our stroll through quiet neighborhoods and side street markets we sat at this nice restaurant, smoked a sheesha and had this great apple tea for two hours. We sat with some of the waiters who told us where to go, their favorite places, really cool guys. We went to bed pretty early that night to get in a full day of sightseeing.

Today was Thanksgiving. I was so tickled at the prospect of spending Turkey day in Istanbul, Turkey- once in a lifetime, definitely! Well our makeshift Thanksgiving was quite spectacular. We decided to treat ourselves to the ever over-priced Starbucks, something nonexistent in Cairo. I had a peppermint soy hot chocolate with a shot of espresso- pure heaven. We wanted to see the major sights that day but not without a bite to eat. We strolled along the streets of Istanbul, slowly waking up with our coffee. I found this great pastry shop, wo we indulged in these flaky freshly baked pastries lightly filled with cheese or potatoes and meat with fresh onions. As we devoured our tasty breakfast treats we walked to the Sultanhamet center: the plaza where the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sophia are located. Basically all the tourist sites are generally located in this area, which by the way is quite aesthetically pleasing. Green, crisp lawns centered between the two monuments, a huge fountain and undeniably inspiring architecture.

We first visited the tomb of the guy who built the Blue Mosque. It was very interesting. We obviously removed our shoes to enter the tomb, and entered this building like a chapel- there were all these tombs in huge coffins each covered with one big draped sheet. I remember thinking about the decorations in the building- my Mom would’ve loved it! Gorgeous tiling in different shades of blues and tans, just like our house. We went to the Blue Mosque next and were cordially directed to the visitors entrance, because only Muslims are allowed in the main entrance. The Mosque itself was beautiful with high domed ceilings, stain glass windows and lush green carpets. Men and women were separated for prayers. It was beautiful, but for some spiritual reason I wasn’t, you know, moved. I appreciated the significance, historically and religiously- but I just wasn’t spiritually moved. Anyways, we were fortunate enough to get some amazing photos, we actually took so many pictures this trip, at times it was a bit embarrassing. We met an American family outside of the Mosque and wished them a Happy Thanksgiving ☺ It was pretty darn cute. So we were out in the courtyard next to the Mosque and the Hagia Sophia, a vast expanse of greenery and gorgeous Panorama views, and the vultures came. “Are you Australian?”, “do you want to buy a hat” “do you need a map?” Actually, it felt a bit like home, Cairo home, that is.

We entered the courtyard of the Hagia Sophia, an entrance fee of 20 Turkish Lira, but worth every lira. Even with the dome being under construction, little could take away from the brilliance in every corner of this magnificent building. The archways, doors, tiered levels, paintings, mosaics, and even circular nickel shaped tributes to Allah could bring an person to gape at the majesty before them. Once a church, converted to a Mosque, its splendor is truly the epitome of Turkey/Istanbul- the city where the east meets the west. The fusion is evident throughout the city, both culturally and religiously. We took so many pictures; I even got on Wills’ shoulders to get a great shot of the Blue Mosque from this view. (Wills has officially become a huge photo whore. We turned him to the dark side- now obsessed with angles, and doors, and great lighting, it made the trip so much more fun!) There was this little fresco mosaic in the preserved upper level of the church. My first thought was that my Dad would’ve LOVED this. Because the Muslims painted over the Christian paintings, many remained preserved under the paint for hundreds of years. It was Christ along with other saints- but in these Mosaic’s there were the tiniest pieces of painted stone, brilliant golds and blues. The history in this region boggles my mind. So many important peoples, cultures and discoveries were all made here, in this region: Ephesus, Noah’s Ark, and all 7 churches of Revelation, to name a few. Long story short, the Hagia Sophia was amazing, beautiful and well worth its title as a Wonder of the World. Oh and at the end, there’s this place where you put your finger in where a saint supposedly cured an illness- you twist your thumb all the way around and if you feel water, you are supposed to be cured. I couldn’t twist my finger that far. ☹ WE left and walked to this little café right beside it, drank the famous apple tea and discussed our plans for the rest of the day. We took photos, again, shocking, I know. I did a backbend on this wall and all these guys started taking photos. It was awkward. We decided to do the Cisterns next, so we walked over, followed the signs and somehow stupidly missed the entrance and got lost- ended up running into this cool Asian couple who were interested in going to Cairo, so naturally we got all excited and gave them advice on where to go. They pointed us in the direction of the Cisterns and we descended into this dimly lit cavernous area.

More to come...

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