Semana Blanca, or White week, is a week holiday that only Malaga gets in February. I will have to be honest and say that this is one of the top reasons I chose to be placed in Malaga…that and la playa.
For the week, Clarisse and I set off for ISTANBUL! I was so excited to relive the chase scenes of Taken 2 as well as explore the rich history of the city! First I had to get myself to Madrid…which leads me to the unexpected adventure I survived just to get on the plane to Turkey. My coworkers at school told me about a website (carpling.com) where people sell their extra tickets for the train for reasonable prices. Lucky me, I snagged a ticket with a group of 10 Spanish tíos (bros from another mother) who assumed I spoke no Spanish. HA joke’s on them hombres. Anywho I get to Madrid and of course there is a strike with the metro line that goes to the airport. At this point I was panicking because I had 45 minutes to get to the airport and get through security before boarding started. Honestamente, it’s Spain, so 45 minutes would really be an hour and a half…and I literally ran to the gate to find that I was the last person getting on the plane. WOOF!
Let’s recap: train>metro>airplane>bus>taxi>walking with a stranger to the apartment we were staying at. To say I was exhuasted was an understatement. However, we were both in Istanbul and ready for our first KEBAB. The best part of our kebab: IT WAS DELIVERED TO THE APARTMENT AND WE GOT TO ENJOY THEM IN OUR BEDS. After a great nights sleep we head off to explore the city.
Before I jump into the sights and smells of the city, I should explain that there are two parts to the city of Istanbul: the old city and the new city. Our first part of our stay was in the new part of the city, so we start our adventure there!
First thing that had to be checked off the list was getting our traditional Turkish breakfast. OH MAN WAS IT AMAZING
Once we had literally stuffed our faces we headed over to the Modern Art museum that is known for its views of the Bosphorus. The museum was, of course, very modern, but also very informative about the history of art in Istanbul. My favorite piece of work was in one that had books hanging from the ceiling. After our dose of culture, we ate lunch at the restaurant there (mostly because we wanted to casually say we had lunch on the Bosphorus). Then we walked to the old city to view some traditional Turkish dancing, Whirling Dervishes.
All I knew about Whirling Dervishes before Istanbul is that they spin in circles and don’t vomit afterwards. The real name of this ceremony is Mevlevi Sema ceremony which was founded in 1273 by a guy named Rumi. The story goes like this: Rumi was walking through the market one day and he heard rythmic drumming of some gold beaters (people who mold gold). It’s believed he overheard this phrase “There is no god but Allah (The God)” from one of the beaters. He became so happy that he raised his arms and started spinning on the spot. Now I don’t know about you all, but I have had this moment many a times while listening to my ipod…but there hasn’t been a dance dedicated to me yet.
The ceremony includes a small band and the dancers. One small fact: the dance is performed using the left foot to help the dervish spin. Even the outfits the dervishes wear have importance. The white gown signifies death, the black over coat signifies the grave, and the tall brown hat signifies the tombstone. There are four traditional and unique dances:
Naat and Taksim – Naat is the beginning of the ceremony where a solo singer offers praise for the Islamic prophet Muhammad. The first part is finished with taksim (improvisation in free rhythm) of the ney reed flute which symbolizes our separation from God.
Devr-i Veled – During the following Devr-i Veled, the dervishes bow to each other and make a stately procession in single file around the hall. The bow is said to represent the acknowledgement of the Divine breath which has been breathed into all of us. After all the dervishes have done this they kneel and remove their black cloaks.
The Four Salams – The Four Salams are the central part of Sama. The samazens or whirling dervishes are representative of the moon and they spin on the outside of the Sheikh who is representative of the sun. They, as previously mentioned, spin on their left foot and additionally, they have their right palm facing upwards towards Heaven and their left hand pointing at the ground. The four salams themselves are representative of the spiritual journey that every believer goes through. The first one is representative of recognition of God, the second one is recognition of the existence in his unity, the third one represents the ecstasy one experiences with total surrender and the fourth one, where the Sheikh joins in the dance, is symbolic of peace of the heart due to Divine unity. After the four salams, this part of the ceremony is concluded with another solo Taksim.
Concluding Prayer – The fourth part of the ceremony is a recitation from the Qu’ran and a prayer by the Sheikh and then the Sama is complete.
In 1925, when Ataturk’s Republic was created in Istanbul, the Mevlevi Order was outlawed. It wasn’t until 1954 that the dervishes were given partial rights to perform as a tourist attraction.
I should dedicate a part of this blog to the amazing amount of food I ate while there. You already saw the picture of a typical breakfast in Turkey…but it gets better:
Yes, that is a real Caribou Coffee IN ISTANBUL. And get this, there isn’t just one Caribou, there are like 11 in the whole country! SAY WHAT? Honestly what could top getting Caribou? A day full of Caribou and a morning at a Hamam, or a traditional turkish bath. Now this wasn’t your normal day at the spa. First it’s based on traditional turkish methods that date back to 1584. It was originally built by the Sultan’s wife to bring renevue to the royalties charity fund. Now this specific Hamam is segregated by gender (THANK GOD), but there were still some pretty awkward moments. First, when you arrive you change into a pair of underwear (it is completely normal to be topless) and are given probably the smallest towel ever created. Honestly, it’s like the Hunger Games of figuring out what part of your body is more important to cover. Once you have changed, you head to the hot room where a Turkish grandma or auntie leads you to the hot marble stone in the middle of the room to lay on. Now remember these turkish family members speak little to no English, and as for researching this process online was unsuccessful. So Clarisse and I made a plan to just look at everyone in the eyes, and to stay together. Well that last all of 5 minutes when my Grandma came and began splashing warm water on me (which is the turkish equivalent to LET’S GET READY TO RUMBLE!). Then she starts scrubbing my body down, and I mean really, really scrubbing it down, she didn’t miss a single part. Then using grunts and arm signals she led me to another area where I had this best shampooing of my life. Then I was pointed in the general direction of the hot pools, where you can stay all day if you want. I would highly recommend this experience to anyone. Yes, it is completely uncomfortable letting it all out for everyone to see, but it was soooo relaxing. Me being the history nerd I am could not stop thinking about how many powerful and famous people were probably going through the same embarrassing moments I was.
Once we had relaxed and filled up on kebab, we headed towards the Grand Bazaar. Not going to lie the Grand Bazaar was a little overwhelming. The store owners there are all competing to sell you the same items, but at the best price they can get. Its considered an insult if you don’t attempt to barter with the price. I was able to get a real leather wallet for about 30 USD because I was blond and spoke beautiful English and Spanish (who knew?). Now for some history: The construction of the bazaar started waaaay back in the 1450’s after the Ottoman conquest. It wasn’t until the 17th century that it became the central trading center of the Mediterranean, thanks to the Ottomans control 3 continents. As time continued the bazaar became more well known for it’s textile and jewelry trade. The other famous bazaar in Istanbul is the spice market that focuses on spices, dried fruits, and nuts.
Next stop was the Blue Mosque. This mosque is the only active mosque for daily prayers. All of the mosques in Istanbul still play the prayers, but the Blue Mosque is the only one people can enter to pray.
The Blue Mosque is actually named the Sultan Ahmed Mosque, but it nick named the Blue mosque because of it’s blue tiles on the interior. It was built during the year of 1609-1616, after the unfavorable result of the war with Persia. Sultan Ahmet the First decided to build a big mosque in Istanbul to calm God. The mosque is open all day so that worshipers have a private place to pray.
If you would like to learn more about the Islamic religion, this website does a great job explaining: http://www.whyislam.org/islam/what-is-submission/
Across from the Blue Mosque is the Aya Sofia (Hagia Sophia), a former Greek basilica and later a mosque, and now is a museum. From the date of its construction in 537 until 1453, it served as an Eastern Orthodox cathedral and seat of the Patriarchate of Constantinople, except between 1204 and 1261, when it was converted to a Roman Catholic cathedral under the Latin Empire. The building was a mosque from May 29, 1453 until 1931. It was then secularized and opened as a museum on February 1, 1935. It was the largest cathedral in the world until Sevilla’s Cathedral was finished in 1520. Along with it’s deep history, the Aya Sofia is known for its mosaics that are throughout the building.
One of my favorite spots we visited was the Basilica Cistern which is UNDERGROUND. It was built in the 6th century and is about the size of a football field. Fun fact: about 7,000 slaves built the Cistern. Now what was this Cistern used for? To filter water from the Roman Aqua ducts.
Along the way to all these great sites I also made sure to stuff my face with as much Baclava as I could. Istanbul was full of surprises and really was an adventure. It is definitely a city I would love to explore more of in the future!