© 2011 Daniel 066

Istanbul, sonra görüşürüz

Dear friends…

Barely had winter reared its ugly head when Spring trumpeted its arrival with freshly-tilled soil and sunny afternoons. My peacoat went into storage and out have come the shorts and sunglasses. It won’t be long before I forget again what it’s like to shiver.

By some miracle, I also turned 24 this month. I’ve resolved this year to at very least not set my clothes on fire again. I’d also like to not electrocute myself, again. Having functioning, non-bleeding organs would be tremendous, too.

Being alive and well means being able to travel, and being able to travel has most recently meant traveling to Istanbul.

Istanbul is almost 2700 years old and had once been the capital of the Roman Empire, the Byzantine Empire, the Latin Empire, and the Ottoman Empire. It’s the only metropolis in the world situated on two continents and is second only to Shanghai in terms of population within the city proper.

My single favorite historical site in Istanbul was the Aya Sofya. It stands alongside works like the Great Wall, the Colosseum, and the Taj Mahal as one of the greatest wonders produced between the ancient world and our modern world. For almost a thousand years, it was the single largest enclosed space in the world. The engineering prowess involved in transmitting such a massive structure’s lateral forces downwards wasn’t matched until the advent of gothic architecture and flying buttresses: nearly 800 years later.

Within spitting distance of the Aya Sofya is the Sultan Ahmet Mosque. It’s an active mosque and is notable for its immense size, interior handmade tiles, and six minarets.

The blue tiles lining the dome are what give the mosque its nickname, the “Blue Mosque”. The wires in the picture hold up dozens of large chandeliers for lighting. The lights also make photography here quite difficult.

Also near the Aya Sofya is the Basilica Cistern. Underneath Istanbul lie hundreds of cisterns from the Byzantine era that used to store the city’s water supply. The Basilica Cistern is the largest of these and can store up to 100,000 tons of water. It’s a massive underground structure supported by hundreds of columns, which you can navigate by carefully walking along the slippery platforms.

It’s incredible how historically compact parts of Istanbul can be. Across the street from the Aya Sofya is the Golden Milestone, from where all distances from Byzantium were once measured. Further down is the Grand Bazaar, a covered market with over 4,000 shops. Next to the Grand Bazaar is the Egyptian Spice Market, a similarly massive sprawl of eager venders shouting “boyurun!” to attract passersby.

Just looking down at the city from the Galata tower was breaktaking. Down there lies kilometer upon kilometer of ancient architectural wonder standing back-to-back with modern development, with countless market stalls, Turkish bath houses, and cafes interspersed throughout.

I’m also a huge fan of Turkish food and one of my favorite easy meals from my visit was the Islak burger. It’s a moist burger stuffed with spiced meat, a sort of White Castle slider on steroids and divine inspiration. I ate six of these on my trip. When I’m on vacation, diet’s off, folks.

My favorite food to keep an eye out for while walking around was spiced mussels stuffed with rice and topped with lemon juice. Because of the high level of mercury and other pollutants in the area’s water which inevitably concentrate in mollusks, selling these is technically illegal. Still, they were cheap and delicious. I probably ate enough to become sterile.

I finished up my Istanbul trip with a last-minute cruise on the Bosphorus. It was only about $10 for a 2-hour cruise in a fairly nice boat with lots of seating and viewing area. When I have a chance for another vacation, I’ll have to take the longer cruise that docks on the Asian side of the city for time to wander around.

Thankfully, coming back to Bulgaria this time has been much smoother than coming back from Thailand. There wasn’t a severe culture shock and I came back to a good bit of things to do. Apart from stepping up classes at the school and getting English lessons started for the adult learners, I got to play with the kindergarteners today with Easter egg activities.

The kids are really cute. The girl in the red shirt is rubbing eggs on her cheeks and I don’t know why. It’s just cute.

The kindergarteners also don’t seem to be camera-shy at all. I thought I’d just take a few pictures here and there for the kindergarten director, but the kids were constantly asking me to take pictures of themselves and their friends.

There was also some photobombing.

Overall, it was a lot of fun watching the kids get creative. The kids at the K-12 school decorated Easter eggs as well, and a bunch of them gave me some as gifts after class was over. I think I’m supposed to eat them, but I feel bad just thinking about cracking them open. I wish there were a stream nearby so I could put all of the eggs on a raft and set them free.

I can’t wait for next month. Some of the older students have expressed an interested in chess, and the weather will be warm enough for Ultimate Frisbee. It’s taken a while, but I’m glad I stuck things out and now have a chance to get stuff done.



  1. hc
    Posted April 28, 2011 at 7:57 am | #

    A nice mix of history, geography and social studies!
    We just received your Christmas card! Very nice surprise! Did you
    just mail it or is that how long it takes to get mail from Bulgaria?

  2. Daniel
    Posted April 28, 2011 at 12:13 pm | #

    I mailed the card around February, so I guess it takes about two-and-a-half months for mail to travel from here…

  3. Dave
    Posted April 28, 2011 at 1:10 pm | #

    Loved the pics man! Especially the inside of the Aya Sofya

  4. Posted April 28, 2011 at 2:08 pm | #

    My goodness! Your pictures make me want to visit Turkey now!

    Are you always traveling alone on these excursions?
    You seem to know where to go and what delicious foods to eat!

  5. Stacy
    Posted May 16, 2011 at 3:23 am | #

    I LOVE TURKEY! I’m so glad you were able to visit it :) Did you try iskender? It’s loads and loads of meat on a plate and then at some places, the chef comes out with a hot pot of melted butter and ladles a ladle-full of butter all over it :)

    P.S. I really, really like your diction in your blog posts, I don’t know if I’ve ever told you that.

  6. Daniel
    Posted May 28, 2011 at 2:06 am | #

    Eric- I wasn’t traveling alone this time, although I normally do. I usually brush up on an area’s history and must-eats before visiting.

    Stacy- I did have an iskender kebap, though I prefer the doner kebap because of the “secret sauce” each vendor has. Not that I’ll ever complain if I have a plate of meat set in front of me, though.

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