Thursday, April 26, 2012
Saturday, April 14, 2012
Hagia Sophia or Ayasofia, from the Latin Sancta Sapientia, is one of the main attractions Istanbul has to offer to the history-interested visitor. It was built as an orthodox basilica, then converted into a mosque and now hosts a museum, but I'm not going to tell you all the historical stuff right here, just go to Wikipedia if you want to know more.
The thing about all this history, though, is that there's this wonderful mixture of styles and artforms and spiritual components in the building. Firstly, of course you find the typical Islamic elements: arabic calligraphy, flower or geometric patterns, colours and a lot of different textures.
Secondly, and this is really special when you consider that the depiction of people is not allowed in Islamic art, yet there are not only angels visible on the walls of the Hagia Sophia but also important Christian figures such as Jesus or the Virgin Mary. Tons of faces!
And because it's all so old, there's been millions of visitors over the years... decades... centuries! And the very good preservation of the basilica/mosque allows us to know the following thing: carving our name into walls, stones, trees and toilet doors (among other surfaces) was not a recent invention! In the Hagia Sophia you can actually see a carving made by Vikings in the 9th century!!! Unfortunately, nothing's been deciphered but the name of the carver, which is Halvdan, because the rest is illegible. But it's really cool nonetheless:
Go there and then, maybe some 500 years from now, there will be a new plaquette on a wall in the museum saying that all the researchers can read is your name and the rest is the mystery of your life.
Friday, April 13, 2012
Right next to Sirkeci Gar, the central train station in the old town, you will find the two-storey café Hafiz Mustafa. It's not the only one of it's kind, but this is by far the one with the prettiest location.
Find the difference between the two photos!! (No idea what's going on there, it's one and the same place in both pictures...)
When you sit on the terrace-like upper floor by one of the huge windows you'll be able to look over of one of the most interesting scenarios in the world: city traffic. Watch trams, taxis, private cars and people snake around each other in front of the train station, obstructing each other's ways but never actually colliding (at least I didn't see any accidents and I hope you won't, either). And further out, beyond the overflowing streets you have a grand view of the place where the Golden Horn meets the Bosphorus. Out there instead of taxis and people it's fisherboats and ferries that maneuvre around each other like busy bees above a flowerbed.
One of the special things about this café is the way the interior is designed. Everything about it screams Orient, which is just beautiful. It's the details in the tabletops, the traditional tiles and paintings on the walls, even the drinks containers and juicers are adapted to the style of the place and melt into the experience.
Beauty lies in detail and there's a lot of detail to be found in Hafiz Mustafa.
And then of course there's the desserts and the coffee and tea themselves that add to the specialness of the place, because they're incredibly good... soooo good! No matter if you try a small assortment of Turkish Delight or typical turkish desserts or if you go for a more western approach to sweets and have milky desserts, profiteroles or cake - it doesn't matter what you choose, it's always delicious. The only bad thing about the variety of dishes is the variety itself, oh it's such a difficult choice, because "one of everything, please" is not an option unless you're into sugar comas.
And then the most special thing of all is the service: the staff are so nice in that place, it's as if they didn't even know what a bad-mood-caused-by-stress-because-of-too-many-customers was. And if you're expecially lucky, the head waiter will take a liking to you and switch you to a window table with a view as soon as a table is vacated so you can enjoy your good coffee or tea and your dessert and along with it enjoy the city.
Yes, we were so lucky.
Wednesday, April 11, 2012
This morning I got back from my announced quick trip to Istanbul and I'm still in a trance - mainly because our plane left from Sabiha airport at 6am so we had to be there at 4am so we had to take the last direct transport at 11.45pm so we arrived there at around 1am so we had to spend 5 hours waiting in the airport and it was cold and we couldn't sleep so I've basically spent a day and a half awake until I finally got to sleep for about 4 hours this afternoon. This is also the reason my writing is extra-lame today and I keep repeating "so we had to".
I was surprised by so many things in and about Istanbul, so here's my Top 5 List:
1. Turkish Coffee is gross but orange-pomegranate juice is wonderful. I've had Turkish Coffee before, in other parts of Turkey and here in Vienna and I've always liked it. It's strong and intense and as long as you rememeber that the grounds are at the bottom of your cup you're fine. If you don't and you drink it all you might get a nasty surprise, but in itself it's just great. Now, generally I'm more of a tea person unless I'm in South America or close to a Starbucks (don't hate me, I like frappuchinos), but I decided I had to try the typical stuff while there (I also had a Kebab and a thing called "The Imam fainted" (İmambayıldı - very tasty, I get why he fainted after eating it) and lamb...), because it's not the same as having it elsewhere. So I went to MADO and had gave it a try. Maybe - and that's my hope - it was the place's fault, but the coffee was the. worst. ever. like in the whole world. I get the grounds on the bottom of the cup, that's part of the charm - but the coffee tasting like someone stirred in a tablespoon of flour?! No way! On the other hand, the juices are pure heaven. Orange juice. Pomegranate juice. Orange and pomegranate juice! No matter if you have it in a restaurant or in a little corner shop or on the street, it's always so good and so sweet (naturally, no sugar added, of course) and it instantly makes you feel strong and healthy and chock full of vitamins - perfect!
2. Turkish Delight is yummy! This sweet, sticky stuff is sold all over the place, not only in Turkey. Here in Vienna you get it everywhere and it's the same in the country, it's the big specialty at village fairs and other events. And it's so horrible. It's like a gooey mass of pure sugar with a hint of nut inside. But not in Istanbul! After days of refusing I finally decided to give it a try and accepted an offer of "please have a try" in a bazaar and OH MY GOD: The flavour! The texture! The variety! I went from "Ok, just one little piece." to "Give me all of it!" in four seconds, approximately. I even bought some to bring back home - for myself only, not to be shared with anyone. The name is definitely a reflection of the truth, as long as you buy the real stuff. And when you do, get a bit of every kind: pomegranate and pistacchio, chocolate and walnut, rose or mint, orange and hazelnut, milk cream with coconut, etc. etc. etc.
3. It's incredible how many people speak fluent English and Spanish. I did not expect that, because of my experiences in Spain or France or Italy or other southern european places where people speak their own language and if you don't then frack you. But in Istanbul it's like everybody speaks English - and so well! From the arrival at the airport (tourist information lady and the guy who sold the bus tickets and the young guy who helped us buy our bustickets) to the hotel (receptionists and bellboys alike) to the streets, bazaars, shops and restaurants. And it's not only English either, the number of people who heard my friend and me speak Spanish and started talking Spanish to us was astonishing. And even more surprising was their level, as if they'd studied for years and when you ask they go "Well, I learn with my customers." I want your customers, dude!! Thumbs up for Istanbul people, they are amazing at languages and even manage to be charming in every single one of them.
4. Men - at least in the more touristy areas - are really cute (in a cute way). I've been to Egypt and Morocco before and was a bit nervous about the whole young-women-traveling-by-themselves-in-an-islamic-country-with-a-machista-society thing, not wanting to generalize of course, but you know what I mean, right? I remember back in Morocco I felt pretty and whatnot the first day with all the whistling and shouting and by the third day I was ready to punch anyone who even looked at me for more than half a second. But not Turkey. Generally, boys and men were extremely respectful. We got tea and sweets and even flowers, but we never felt like we were being looked at strangely while receiving those gifts or like anything was expected from us in return, which is great. Because even a simple question like "Where are you from?" can make you feel awkward and uncomfortable when asked the wrong way. Did not happen to us there, not even once. On young waiter seemed to have taken a liking to us and was so sweet when he came over and - genuinely shyly - asked if it was OK if he asked if maybe some other day we would maybe like to go for a drink with him or maybe to a club, maybe (yes, he said "maybe" that often, genuinely shy, I tell you). We even would have gone, or I would have, but it was our last evening. And where in other countries you'd get a dirty look or a whistle in the street, the Turkish we encountered were actually funny, we laughed so much - and not about them but with them! My favourite: We were walking down a street when suddenly a newspaper seller on the corner behind us yelled "Excuse me, lady, you dropped something" so I turned around, confused because I didn't remember dropping anything. When I had walked all the way back to the corner looking at the ground trying to find whatever it was I had dropped he suddenly went "You dropped my heart!", clutching his chest. So cute and so funny!! We laughed all the way to the next corner and there we only stopped because we had to concentrate on not getting killed crossing the road. Positivest experience possible.
5. Vendors are not annoying but inventive! You know how it is when you go through a bazaar or a fruit and vegetable market or even a mall and you feel like Frodo when he falls into that swamp full of dead people's souls and they all grab at him and try to drag him under the surface... horrible! This is another thing that won't happen to you in Istanbul, or at least it didn't happen to us. Instead of trying to bully you into buying their goods, vendors there make you laugh and make you smile and get you into a really nice conversation and then you find yourself buying all the stuff you'll never again need in your life and you'll probably have to throw away - because nobody needs five ashtrays and three crystal mozaic lamps and a whole rainbow of pashmina and silk scarfs. But you don't feel bad about it because the experience is just so nice! Of course, there's still lots of them out there who haven't quite mastered the art of hassle-free selling, but they're made up for by stall owners who get you to have a closer look - while laughing with them - at their goods with invitations like: "Come here! You must buy something, I need money!" or, and this is my personal favourite, "Buy one - get me free!" This is a WIN.
Tuesday, April 3, 2012
So, we all know it's been quite a while since my last time. Laugh as much as you like, I'm actually ok with it because I'm trying to accomplish something by not doing it. If I did it, it'd take my eyes off my main goal, which right now is graduating. And I can't let that happen - the eyes-off-goal, not the graduation.
But you know what it's like when you don't do it for too long. At least for me it's really difficult. I get all moody and edgy and like really frustrated. So I decided it's going to happen, just a quickie for in-between. Not much time for any real, proper fun, but this should be good, anyways. That's what best friends are for after all, right?
It's Tuesday today and on Friday I'm going to Istanbul for 6 days - did you think something else was going to happen? You didn't, did you?
Never been before, although I've been to Turkey. I went to the asian side last year - Anatalya and Cappadocia for about a week, there's going to be a post about that, don't worry.
I'm really curious about the place because a good friend of mine used to live there and she says the place is absolutely wonderful. And another friend is actually from there and lives there with her husband and little daughter and I haven't seen her since we met in Barcelona some 6 years ago! And there's really nice CouchSurfers over there, so I hope to meet some of those. So many people are involved in the choice of place here, my best friend saying "I really want to go!" was not the only reason at all.
And then of course there's the place itself - architecture, history, culture, food! So much to see and hear and smell and taste... and we'll take a ferry and cross over from Europe to Asia and back again like over and over and over hehehe. I think it's going to be great.
It's only a short trip, only a few days, but sometimes that's just what you need to keep going on through the drought.
I'll post about it when I'm back - I'm sure it's going to be awesome!!!
Would you like to know if it's been a long time since the last time I ... the other thing you thought about? Yes, you would? Shut up.