Turkey part 2: Istanbul

Hagia Sophia

After a day and a half we left Trabzon for Istanbul. It was an 18 hour overnight bus, but after a couple of awkward hours up front with the bus attendant staring at us, it was pretty good, because there weren’t many people, so it was possible to curl up on two seats. Turkish busses apparently all have attendants, who help the driver, bring him things, and serve customers drinks and perhaps a twinkie like cake. After arriving in Istanbul in the middle of the afternoon, we visited Taxim, the modern city center, met our hosts, and went swing dancing. A’s host is involved in a swing dancing club, and they’re quite good. It was neat, but I left early because I was tired, and don’t know how to swing dance. They were practicing more complicated moves than I cna follow. A’s host and his girlfriend were really nice and laid back — he’s a computer engineering teacher at the university, and she’s a painter — and I slept on their couch.

The next day, Thursday the 21st, we walked across the bridge from the Galata tower, by the apartment, to Sultanahamet, the old city center, where all the monuments are. One of the cool things about old cities is that, even if they are very large, the old, important parts tend to be walkable, and that’s true in Istanbul as well. After buying bagels from a street vendor, we walked to the Hagia Sophia, Underground Cistern, Blue Mosque, city park, outer courtyard of the Toppkapi (Ottoman) Palace, and Grand Bizarre, before heading back up to Taxim to meet my host, a friend of the girl we had met in Trabzon. She’s a mathematician for a financial company, quite liberal, and likes talking about politics. She showed us a park where she and her friends had knitted brightly colored tree sweaters to protest the city’s plans to destroy the park and build something instead. Then I went back with her to her apartment, talked for a few minutes, and went to bed.

My host and her friend

Friday A and I went on a two hour ferry cruise of the Bosphorus to a village where the Black Sea is visible from the hill, which is crowned by a medieval fort. It was nice but quite hot, with beautiful views and bright turquoise water. In the afternoon we took the ferry back and walked around near Sultanahamet again, looking for some churches. Unfortunately, the Bulgarian church (famous for being made entirely of metal) was scaffolded, the Greek school was locked, and the Kyria church museum was nearly closed. I went in anyway, but the guard seemed kind of annoyed that I wanted to stay a while and look at all the mosaics. The dome mosaics and resurrection fresco are very beautiful. Later I went with my host to a cafe to listen to live Turkish retro music, which was fun.

Saturday I went with A to Prince’s Island, where we walked across the island and climbed a hill to a little Greek monastery — the only church I encountered in Turkey that still has a few monks. We ate there, appreciated the fantastic views, walked around, and hung out on the beach, before taking the evening ferry back. I went out with my host again in Taxim, and at first it was nice — she met some friends for beer to talk and watch the seagulls, their wings shining with the city lights. Then we went to another club, which was way too crowded, and to another bar, where they were drinking shots and dancing. Seeing the glazed expression on my face, she gave me her keys and said I could go back alone, so I did, but failed to open the second lock, and ended up napping on the stairwell until she came back with her friends near sunrise.

My friend Stephan and his family

Sunday I met a friend from Orthodox summer camp, Stephan, who is in the Peace Corps in Azerbaijan, and was visiting Istanbul with his parents and a fellow volunteer. I met them at a Greek church near Taxim, which was, sadly, nearly empty, but well kept up and beautiful, with Divine Liturgy going on. We had tea with the priest and some Greek chanters, who were nice and welcoming. Afterwards we walked around, met Stephan’s friend for lunch, and toured the same monuments I had been to on Friday. It was lovely, and I stayed with them until dinner, when I had to catch a night bus to Cappadocia.

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