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Welcome My name is Tess. I'm a 9-5 New Yorker and traveler. My hobbies include destroying suitcases, photo-bombing tourists in Times Square, and taking long romantic ADHD walks around the globe. Welcome!

Jul 27, 2012

Turkish Delight - Dear Eurasia

The Sultanahment AKA "The Blue Mosque"

First let me say "Sorry" kids for the 5 week hiatus - i mean it is summer time. That time of the year when I question whether anyone is reading this ish anyway?  But mainly I've been thinking "has it been long enough for me to contemplate fleeing the country again?" I mean I haven't seen the Pyramids of Giza or any of those other seven wonders.....  Anyway while I'm here robbing  Peter to pay Paul for the next round trip ticket - you can just look at the damn pics!

Me not in front of  The Sultanahmet

Sure... I know some of you are saying WTF Turkey?!
Rest assured I have heard it all before. and I have also been clearly informed that " You go to places where black people don't go?"  While others simply ask, "do you just spin a globe and go wherever your finger lands?"  

Right. While that may have worked for Eddie Murphy in Coming to America,  I on the other hand, like many of you,  have a handful of vacation days and are grossly underpaid!
Still these narrow minded people statements do not keep me from boarding planes to far flung places to discover more about life outside of the bubble USA.

A view of New City Istanbul, from the Istanbul Sapphire Tower.
 Think Empire state Building conservatory deck.

 Besides it's kind of sexy to say on a date "Oh you mean this scar" Well I got that while exploring a beach in Sierra Leone." Or in social circles "The last church service I attended was at the Vatican in Rome."   Honestly, folks can't figure out if you're an airline stewardess, an NGO worker or just delusional on bath salts. And that kind of confusion is always intriguing.

I'm not just passionate about enhancing my cultural experiences by actually going out fearlessly into the world. I'm thinking beyond that. So that when the sh*t hits the fan (for the umpteenth time) in corporate America and jobs start disappearing again to India offshore. I can easily pull a Dave Chappelle and flee to some country who's name only comes up in the BBC news. There I will successfully hustle mangoes & beaded jewelry on street corners until Obama fixes sh*t America. 

And now, with that said, here are a few of the top reasons why I dig Istanbul, Turkey and would return.... 

Dear Istanbul....You're kinda like an old man on Viagra

Walking in the Kumkapi section up the street from my Hotel
  the Best Western Amber 

Istanbul is the cultural heart of Turkey as well as it's largest city. It may also surprise some to know that it was deemed a historical European city by the United Nations and was named the 10th top tourist destination in 2010. Which is why i was totally surprised at the number of clubs tucked away throughout the city and it's young hip crowd. They even have an entire area devoted to debauchery - Taksim square... *sigh*

Residents will tell you that the city’s population swells somewhere between 8 to 12 million people. Yes this place is packed tighter than the Puerto Rican day parade. But it doesn’t feel hostile. On the contrary, the city and its people are friendly, liberal and inquisitive …but we’ll get to that later.

Dear Istanbul....You're more secular & liberal than I gave you credit for

Taksim Square on a Saturday night. Kinda of looks like Times Square but the further in you go
it begins to resemble the the East Village  

Good news you can totally wear your pum pum shorts in Istanbul. This is a semi-conservative Muslim country. So don't worry about being stoned to death or clapped with a Koran. They know you internationals are lose liberal with your appearances. And more importantly, Turkey like many other developing nations, likes those green backs so bring your money and your batti-riders but I would advise you to keep it classy or they might think you're a lost prostitute. 

In the heart of the Sultanahmet sight-seeing area,  there is a park frequented by the locals and  although this is a Muslim country I can tell you that when the mosques sounded the call to prayer, I didn't see too many people stop drop and roll onto prayer mats....I'm just saying

Overlooking the main floor of the Hagia Sophia

Dear Istanbul....I found Turkish Baby Jesus!

Yes he was etched on a wall with some Islamic graffiti and Byzantine emperor dudes?
Like the Hagia Sophia, a number of Istanbul's mosques were former churches but of course when power was seized from one empire to the next, they just kind of "added-on" instead of completely destroying everything.

 The result? Jesus etched into a wall with Byzantine emperors above an Islamic pulpit (Mimbar) underneath pimped out Ottoman Empire chandeliers and huge Islamic relics hoisted on high. Kinda like my childhood home where my mother furnished the house with whatever free sh*t she could find. Nonetheless, she like the Hagia Sofia, kept it eclectic & classy . 

Hanging at Hagia Sophia (Aya Sofaya) with Turkish baby Jesus 
Pssst! Doesn't Turkish baby Jesus look like Rudy Giuliani?
Yes I know I'm going to hell in a hand basket - but guess who's coming with me?

Dear Istanbul......I also found Medusa

The head of Medusa surrounded by water in the Cistern

Yes her head was planted in the Basilica Cistern in the Sultanamet trying to scare people. I wouldn't look at her though because on a scale of 1-10  I'm already a "3" so I can't afford to take any chances.

Dear Istanbul....So much eye candy so little time.

Okay they are not really all that cute but trust me...click those friggin links below
and the truth shall set you free.

 Ladies if you find yourself surrounded by a few hundred of these and those  in Istanbul then don't be surprised.  Yes it's totally possible to find love/lust in Istanbul at least every 15 to 20 minutes. Turks and Kurds are fugging gorgeous. And they will the pursue the object of their affection.

Fond of olive skin, dark hair, bedroom eyes, & thick accents rolled up into relaxed-fit jeans and tees? Than this be the place. Therefore I reassured them that in the States, I am  about a 3 in the looks department ( I did this for you)  So ladies put your freak-um dress on and get ready for the influx of Turkish men at JFK. - You're welcome.

For the more conservative crowd,  dust off your passport and hop on the first thing smoking out of the States.  Because the USA is probably the hopeless place Rhianna was referring to where she found love. Yup I said it.

Dear Istanbul.....Turkish People Love Watermelon?

That's right in addition to Harem pants, finding a street vendor selling this juicy treat on the street is as common as finding coconuts on the streets of Kingston Jamaica.  Sooo no more clinging to old stereotypes. I've been abroad and now I know better.

.....I mean they really like their watermelon

Dear Istanbul... I have never been scrubbed like this before.

This is what I did but my version was way more sexy
sorry no pics

Traditional Turkish Baths made me realize that perhaps I have never really properly washed my a$$  before? In all my years of bathing I have never had a "pat down" quite like the one i experienced at the Ayasofya Hamimi. I paraded around this house of white marble and stone like a queen - half naked but royal.

I was drenched repeatedly by gold plated bowls dipped into overflowing fountains. Scrubbed down by hand with a mitten then doused from head to toe in three feet of bubbles (using what I swear looked like a soapy pillowcase)

I snatched this pic courtesy of the Internet and some scallywag
who didn't respect the Ayasofya's  "No pictures'" rule

Finally I was lathered and massaged down .  I swear my a$$ squeaked when I slid off that platform. Is this is how royalty got down daily during the Ottoman Empire? I can definitely see how things might get a little out of hand with co-ed bathing...I'll stop there. 
Sorry pics weren't allowed but my overtly graphic and slightly seedy ramble should let you know that Turkish baths are the sheeeeeit!

Dear Istanbul .....Please may I have some more?

Sweet treat filled with sugary goodness and pistachios 

What do the Turks eat....Well everything we eat of course with a bit of a kick.
Of course they will boast that food in Turkey is "Natural" - What? you mean as opposed to our genetically modified vegetables and 3-legged chickens in the U.S.A.? (can't knock it till you try it)

Eggplant dish with beef

Yes you will find Kebabs, But with Istanbul's proximity to the sea you will also find a plethora of Seafood dishes for dirt cheap. Veggie dishes here are great and the sticky sweet deserts are to die for. But dammit I'm American and we have this obsession with grossly large portions! Istanbul does not. I could lose 10 pounds in the first week here if I'm not careful.

Strangest thing I had was a beverage that's half plain yogurt, half water & no sugar whatsoever (and that ish is popular) Try scarfing down some kebab meat & pepper sauce then washing it down with watery yogurt... somebody pass me the purple kool-aid please

Dear Istanbul...Your street meat is a little different than I expected....

It's 3 o' clock in the morning and you've just stumbled out of one of the many clubs or bars in Taksim square and you are piss drunk  tipsy of Raki brandy. As a New yorker naturally I'm you are looking for a gyro truck with the finest of unidentifiable street meats right? Wrong! In Taksim square the street meat of choice is mussels? I truly wanted to blame the alcohol but this was no illusion.

Dear Istanbul...You love labels just as much as the next shallow developed country?


Walking the corridors of the Grand Bazaar

Ask any of the vendors in the Grand Bazaar what sells most and they will tell you designer brands whether they are genuine or quality knock-offs Europeans and Asians come from near and far to plow throughout the bazaar's more than 4000 stores!

Locals love designer jeans, shoes and handbags.  It doesn't matter if a woman is rolled up in fabric (tesettür, a headscarf and light cover-all topcoat) I guarantee she's got a Prada(ish) bag dangling from her arm. High end fashion is so popular that Turkey has branched out into the Iraqi border with their labels and fashions.
 And at the Istanbul Sapphire mall you can find all those swanky labels that my working class money can't buy. And that kind of economic elitism makes me feel right at home. 

Waiting on the Tram....now that i think of it, i didn't see any buses in Istanbul?

 I hopped on the tram and made my way across town to the famed spice market and you know what I found? - Spices hundreds of spices, teas, dried fruits, nuts and thousands of other novelty pieces like this Mosaic hanging lamp.  After a few jokes and some small talk with the shop guys, I snatched that up, in addition to some spices and an invite to a local soccer game extended by a sultry young Turk                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
Which brings me to my next point......

One of the Turkish styled hanging lamps that I picked up at the Spice Market...
Clearly there's more than just spices.

Dear Istanbul.....Shopping is a social  engagement not just a transaction.

You could be buying a bottle of water from an outdoor stand. But if you exchange more than three sentences of conversation with the owner then you will probably be invited for tea. In many shops, customers are invited to sit, smoke, drink tea and chat with no pressure to buy.

 A store owner and local Japanese tour guide explained to me why he installed cameras in his carpet store.  "Some tourists (from a country which shall not be named - see 1st sentence) come here smoke cigarettes drink alcohol and purchase expensive rugs. Then once they've returned home and receive our invoices, they lie and say they were mistreated and robbed. But the cameras tell a very different story.
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Topkapi is a palace - no joke. It spreads over a couple of acres and even includes a harem which served as a living quarters for wives and concubines....I mean what good palace doesn't have concubines?

Dear Istanbul....what language do you speak??

At a local hookah cafe near the Grand Bazaar

If you're anti-social & visting Istanbul, it is best you pretend to be a def mute.
Assuming I was African, many locals greeted me in French but they realized that I was an English-speaking American and switched languages. When I pretended to only speak Spanish they whipped out a few phrases in Espanol?  These multi-lingual attacks are mainly in order to successfully turn profit. However Kurdish and Turkish are the common languages.

Dear Istanbul.........I always feel like sombody's watching meeeeeeeeee!

Papparazzi!! The baby is covering for them!

You ever have the distinct feeling that you are being watched? First, you chalk it up to paranoia. But from the corner of your eye you see a camera flash and begin to wonder - what the french is going on here? 

 Children are always obvious, they will stare at you mouths gaped in amazement. Other people devise covert operations like these two ladies who tried for several minutes to snap a photo on the down-low. When I realized what was happening I whipped out my camera & the tables turned! Two minutes later I was bombarded and the baby was handed over to me (and she was not happy about that)
Sweet girl, she just ain't the smiling type

I can't even begin to explain how many times this happened.
but I mean dam they were cute so how could i say no

Cameras came out of everywhere.  then in the crowd I saw something.  A Middle aged black man and his wife. He smiled - we were both surprised to see each other.  And then I heard the voice of my BFF's evil husband in my head saying.."You go to places black people don't go!"
"Chocolate people don't come here very often," a local physics professor explained to me inside the Blue Mosque, "but we are fond of them." They were intrigued as was I at their curiosity so I obliged and took pics with some very friendly folks

The Hagia Sofia

Dear Istanbul.......
There was so much of you that I didn't see. For example I didn't visit the side of Turkey that extends into Asia, or spend the weekend in Capadoccia. These things coupled with what I did see ensured  me that even if I land in corners of the world that I have no frigging business being in, it is completely worth leaving my little corner of the globe.

 Turkey, you truly were delightful

Overlooking the Bosphorus

Plenty of tour buses

At the Topkapi Palace

More street meat?

The local neighborhood

Alleys in Taksim square

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Armed Guards at the Palace...
Is it me or does he look like a Jonas brother (you  know all grown up and ish)

Quiet streets in the morning

Inside the Blue Mosque - name so for the use of more than 21,000 Blue tiles on it walls

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