in a lot of ways, i think that traveling is really more about the things that you *do* than about the things that you *see*. of course, sightseeing is important. there are many incredible things out there to check out, but i think that in some ways the activities that you try give you much better memories. yesterday after sightseeing, and for most of today, we had a lot of memorable experiences:
as i’ve mentioned, this month is ramadan here. although turks dont seem to be narly as hardcore about it as moroccans, still a lot of people here are fasting during the day. at night though, they are having this huge festival here in the old part of town (along the hippodrome). there are all sorts of different street venodrs selluing different kinds of food, and surprisingly, all sorts of typical carnival attractions like bumper cars, cotton candy, and different carnival games. at one point, i saw this huge crowd gathering and i heard some turkish singing, so i walked up to see what everyone was gawking at. i expected some turkish singers, or maybe some traditional dancing… but shockingly enough, it was actually someone riding one of those mechanical bulls that try to fling you off!! so random!!
we spent several hours just wandering around and sampling the different goods. we tried this ground meat burrito-looking type things, a sausage-like sandwhich, these squishy donutlike pastries, and this absolutely enormous baked potatoe. when we got the potatoe, they asked us if we wanted everything on it, and we said yes. here’s what they put on: butter, cheese, olives, hot dog slices, peas, couscous, potatoe salad, pickles, beets, carrots, corn, ketchup, and mayo. random eh?? surprisingly, despite all the really weird random ingredients, the potatoe tasted hella good! also, i dont know if i’ve mentioned this before, but so far in every single country that we’ve been to on our trip, there have been people selling roasted chestnuts on the street. i keep wondering what they taste like, but haven’t ended up buying any until finally last night i tried them. they were actually really good!
chestnuts roasting.. not on an open fire
today we got up and there were a bunch of activities we wanted to do, but we decided to check out just one sight first… and we ended up being sooo glad that we did. they have this underground area here called the basilica cistern. the guide book didnt seem to say much about it, but online i kept reading that people were super psyched on it, so we decided to check it out. you walk down some stairs and descend into this darkened area, filled a few feet deep w/ water and there are hundreds of columns spread out through the water. it’s kind of hard to explain, but it was really really cool down there… you felt like all of a sudden you weren’t ni the city anymore, but had been transported somewhere unearthly. currently, they have this art project going on down there, so there are tons of ballons hanging in between the columns at different heights. hrm, well, seeing as i cant really describe it that well, i guess a picture is worth a thousand words.
one of the things that turkey is famous for is its turkish baths (hammam). caryn and i had both really wanted to try one out since we’re here, but have been a bit apprehensive about it. would it be weird?? what is the protocol there? what exactly do you do when you’re there? well, we decided to go for it. we wanted to try this experience together (heh, safety in numbers!) but most traditional turkish hammams have separate areas for males and females. we briefly considered just going to a touristy place that is co-ed, but then decided to go traditional.
so, all in all the experience, although ab it confusing, was actually pretty cool. so, you first change and go down to the steam room wearing nothing but a towel. it’s hella hot in there, but gets even hotter when you go to the next room. there’s a huge circular slab of marble in the middle of the room, and you’re told to lay down on it for a while. well, a while turned out to be like half an hour!! so, i’m just chilling there, laying on my back staring at the ceiling and it’s helllza hot. after a bit i started wondering if the people had forgotten about me, but it was actually really really relaxing to just chill there. so after that, this burly turkish dude, also wearing nothing but a towel, comes in. yikes!! so, first he pours water all over me that is practically scalding hot. then the dud like scrubs you down w/ this super scratchy sponge and gives you a massage. it was definitely pretty weird, but what the hell, gotta try everything once, eh? after that he sits you up and pours more water on you to rinse you off, and that’s about it. you then go into a separate room, and sit under some new towels for a bit, before going back to your locker room to dry off and change. i gotta say though, after i was done, i really did feel super relaxed!!
after the hammam, we took a ferry across the bospherous strait. this strait runs right through istanbul, and separates europe from asia. the ferry is super cheap (60 cents) and the guidebook called this “the poor man’s sunset cruise”.. and we really did get to see a spectacular sunset. it was cool to be able to just chill and watch scenery go by on the boat for just a buck twenty roundtrip!!
we had heard that you can get some bomb fish sandwhiches next to the ferry dropoff. after seraching around a bit, we found some stands, where they grilled you a whole fish filet wihout bones (well, mostly without bones!) and throw it in a baguette w/ salad and onions. the cost? a buck thirty! we hung out next to the water and enjoyed the sandwhich.
another thing that is popular here is smoking flavored tobacco out of a hookah… except here they call the hookah a negillah. we found a cafe that had them, and tried an orange one along w/ some apple tea. it was pretty fun, but honestly, i dont think it was either as strong nor as flavorful as the ones i’ve tried in SF at kanzaman. heh, also, we were the only ones in the cafe that were smoking one, and it bubbled hella loudly, so we definitely attracted some looks from the people around. i felt a bit sheepish, but whatever!
so, it was a really fun day. we didnt see nearly as much stuff as we did yesterday, but i think i had a better time today regardless.
oh yeah, one more random thing. does anyone remember spirograph?? that kids toy where you have colored pens and these little disks that end up drwaing trippy patterns when you keep writing in them in a circle?? well, there are guys here that just sit on the street and draw using these spirographs and sell them!! i cant believe people would actually spend money on a spirograph picture!!
oh, and one last random thing… yet another shoeshine guy came up to me begging to shne my shoes… but i was wearing my *sandals*. why the hell wopuld anybody want their sandals shined!!??