Archive for May, 2009

May 01 2009

Istikamet Istanbul

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Seth and I really liked Istanbul, and it is a place every one of you readers should want to go!  We decided it seemed like a Mediterranean, Southern European city, with a fascinating mix of East and West.  Instead of going from one gorgeous and enormous church to the next, it was one mosque to the next.  The city was sprawling, it was elegantly and dustily dilapidated but with plenty of newly happening things going on (like a thriving contemporary art scene!), it had more museums than one could ever go see, ruins all over the place, zillions of good restaurants,  and a history of clashing and interacting cultures and religions. The environment was co-ed, without two distinct spheres, and women seemed comfortable doing whatever they chose to do, on their own or with their families or boyfriends, headscarves or not.  We loved the food, especially the meze, which was essentially a vast assortment of antipasti at most restaurants, of which many options were vegetarian.  The çay (severely overbrewed black tea), on the other hand, was not so tasty; we would recommend trying some Turkish coffee instead.

In other words, Istanbul was an awful lot like a Muslim Rome.

We loved that we could actually go inside the mosques (unlike in Morocco), which were beautiful.  Personally, I think richly ornate mosques are prettier than the most gilded of churches. Mosque design shows a real sense for simplicity and a desirability for a whole work of art, and the finer it is, the more delicate the craftsmanship.  Fancy churches seem to tend toward the “how many expensive, shiny things and sculptures of saints can I cram into this building?”  The best part about Turkish mosques (and other fancy buildings, like the Topkapi Palace) were the handpainted Iznik tiles lining the walls, blue and white and flowery.

Blue Mosque dome

Wallflower Seth outside Blue Mosque

It was way less crazy than Morocco in terms of people really hassling us, pushing us around, and generally being mean to us.  The people there totally accepted “no thank you,” they seemed not to expect “tips” for all services, real or not, rendered, etc.  Miriam had warned us that we should be prepared for hassling, and, after Morocco, we were definitely prepared.  We kept expecting pushiness to happen, but it never did.  I don’t think we were unique in this—we didn’t see it happening to anyone else, either.  Not even in the Grand Bazaar, which, by the way, was far less exciting than the Moroccan medinas, though we did end up getting a gorgeous Iznik tile that we don’t know what to do with.  I guess it is all relative.

I also must point out that we were in Istanbul for the annual lale (tulip) festival. Tulips were everywhere, every kind of tulip in every color, lining pathways around the city, set off by other, small, bright flowers on neighboring flower beds.  Beautiful.

Jackie among the Lale Lale Festival!

“Istikamet Istanbul,” by the way, means “Direction Istanbul.”  Seth got a Mavi Jeans t-shirt with this on it…did you know that Mavi is a Turkish brand?  They produced all sorts of cool Istanbul tees to support Istanbul’s bid for the 2010 European Capital of Culture.  It is no surprise to us that Istanbul will in fact be the European Capital of Culture next year; just take a look at their contemporary art museum:

Istanbul Modern

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