We got here about 6:30 p.m. Istanbul time on Wednesday after an annoying two-hour delay in London. The past couple days we've just spent walking around the city and taking in our new surroundings. It's definitely not flat like Louisiana, so these long walks of up- and downhills have my embarrassingly outof shape leg muscles in shock. I'm very much looking forward to getting to the point where I've adapted enough to not sweat and be sore after a few hours of walking.
With the exception of stumbling into the Spice Bazaar without knowing at the time that it was, in fact, the Spice Bazaar, the only touristy thing we've done so far is visited the Topkapi Palace. The palace, which housed four centuries of Ottoman sultans, was one of the attractions I was most looking forward to visiting before coming here. But unfortunately, it was a rather disappointing experience. It's not that the palace isn't gorgeous and historical — it was the massive crowds of rude tourists and endless lines that marred our time there.
You had to wait in a long line to purchase your ticket, then another to enter, and then lines once again to go inside the various rooms of the palace. Then, once inside, you couldn't casually roam and browse as you would any other museum exhibit. You had to explore the palace in yet another slow-moving line. And even though you spent all of this time waiting with everyone, people would still force their way past, around and in front of you, as if they had a great.
However, the palace was still pretty amazing. The harem was gorgeous (despite all the dirty deeds that happened there), and there were tons of awesome old relics, like the sultans' swords and robes. some others that seemed a bit questionable... David's sword? Okay. That's really Moses' staff? If you say so. Nevertheless, I absolutely cannot wait to return in the off-season to avoid the hordes of obnoxious tourists.
I could go on forever, but instead I'll just bullet a list of general observations I've found in our time here so far.
- Istanbul feels very European. The shops, bars and cafes remind me of parts of Spain and France.
- There are tons of stray cats that make horrible sounds at night. There aren't nearly as many dogs, but the pets here appear to all be either cocker spaniels or pit bulls. Weird.
- The food is super cheap. We spend about $7 US on lunch or a cheap dinner. However, as we expected, alcohol is pricey here. A cocktail costs about 10 USD, wine 7-9 USD and beer 5 USD and up. I guess that's not terribly expensive, but it certainly seems that way in comparison to everything else here.
- Depending on where you're going, taxis are relatively inexpensive too. The drivers are absolutely crazy though. Clay finds it a lot more entertaining than I do.
- I've seen local women wearing tank tops, sleeveless dresses and a few midriff-baring crop tops, but no shorts that fall above the knee. The tourists wear pretty much anything.
- It seems like the majority of women do not wear head scarves, though many do. We've also seen many women in the all-black niqab that covers everything but their eyes. I can't help but feel like something seems a little off when seeing these women walking with their husbands, who are comfortably dressed in modern clothes. I really want to spend some time learning more about women and Islam.
Check out a few photos from Topkapi Palace. I'll post more soon.