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10 November 2014 @ 11:48 pm
Changes and travels  

So, way back in March, about the time of my last real entry, I was on the cusp of selling my house an fleeing the country. I'd been dating whymc for about five months and we had decided that things were going so well, we were going to try the cohabitating thing again by just jumping in and buying a house together. (For those of you who do not live locally or who have known me for less than eight years, whymc and I dated for about eight years, then had been broken up but still friends for seven years, so while this was a little quick, it was not precisely rash. In general, I would not sell my house and move for a boyfriend of five months, but for someone I'd known for over fifteen and where the relationship was going so well? In for a penny, in for a pound!) So, on March 21st, I sold my house to my #1 apprentice and then we hopped into my car to drive up to a Laureling ceremony in an honest-to-goodness Viking longhouse. The fellow getting Laureled is a good friend of mine and had built on his property a longhouse that was as period-correct as modern building code would allow. The whole ceremony was done by firelight and it was really one of the more magical moments of my life. However, with a flight to catch early the next morning, we drove back to Madison late that night. Happily, I was able to transition from homeowner to tenant and did not have to worry about moving all my crap until May, so I just crashed out to catch a little sleep before my early bus ride.

I took the early morning bus down to O'Hare, where I met up with whymc and we got on a flight to Frankfurt. Unfortunately, he doesn't sleep well on planes, so by the time we got to Germany, he was a little overtired. We had a good breakfast and then got on the flight to Turkey. for this flight, we were separated and I just did my best to sleep through the flight. He was not so lucky, however - he was seated next to two very ill Germans and got no rest, but did manage to pick up a bug. Poor muffin would be fighting dizziness and malaise for the rest of the trip. :( The arduous trip through customs and immigration made me sixteen kinds of stabby, but we finally made it out of the holding area and were collected by our taxi driver.

It's been some months and I was bad about keeping notes, but our rough itinerary was:

Saturday, March 22 - departure from O'Hare

Sunday, March 23 - arrival, check in to hotel, wander around town and through the Hippodrome, dinner, and staring at the Hagia Sophia, which was visible from our hotel room only about a block away. I think we may have also gone to the Grand Bazaar, which was disappointingly modern.

Monday, March 24 - the real sight-seeing starts! We started with Topkapi Palace, then Aya Irene (which was an unexpected delight since it was just newly opened to regular visitors). I probably would have pressed on longer in the afternoon and seen another few things, but I'm more of a high-power museum/point of interest goer than whymc, so there was some down time and strolling through the park before heading back out again. We were lucky enough to meet up with a friend's sister, Maureen, who was willing to act as a gone-native guide. She showed us around to some of her favorite places in town and we had dinner together before stopping for some amazing baklava.

Tuesday, March 25 - Eeek! Hagia Sophia! I was so nerded out, I can't even tell you! The mosaics were stunning and the whole building was just awe-inspiring, even with half of the nave behind scaffolding. I've seen pictures all my life and while they capture some of the beauty of the place, there never is anything quite like standing in such a historic place. I had made the Mister get up extrasooperearly so we could be there before the crowds and, thanks to our pre-paid sightseeing card, we were one of the first dozen or so couples into the nave, so we had that huge space essentially to ourselves for a short period of time. Of course, I spent some time ogling the runic inscriptions and looking for others, like you do. :)

The afternoon was spent in the archaeology museum, which was interesting but had large parts of the collection closed for renovation, which was clearly sorely needed. (For instance, one caption referred to the Gold of Troy as "still missing" when I have personally seen it in Moscow when I was there in 2003!) Still, seeing parts of Troy excavations, ancient cuneiform writings, interesting stonecarving that seemed to have elements in common with Pictish stones, the chain that used to close the harbor, and the Ishtar Gate were all highlights and entirely worth seeing.

Then we made a short visit to the Basilica Cistern - a huge underground cavern meant for storing water for the city, but full of beautiful and fascinating columns. The place was cool and dark and clearly curated to feel "creepy" to tourists and it at least partially succeeded. whymc and I, of course, loved it. While most of the columns are pretty simple with the standard decoration at the top and bottom and a plain shaft in between, there were at least a few columns that really stood out. Probably the most famous ones were the Medusa columns - there are giant Medusa's heads at the bottom of each of the columns. It's sort of interesting to wonder what the purpose would be, since the bases would have generally been covered with water and one head is placed upside down while the neighboring one is on its side. Very strange. Even weirder and more wonderful was the "tentacle" column. I kid you not, it looked like a column of Cthulhu! We had considered this just a short whistle-stop activity that would be fun to do since it was raining, but it was actually pretty awesome and made even more atmospheric by all the water trickling in from above.

Wednesday, March 26 - Wednesday started off with another pleasant surprise - we went to the Great Palace Mosaic Museum expecting it to be a nice but minor museum, but it turned out to be an amazing experience. Most of the mosaic is still in situ, but there are other pieces mounted on the walls and there were rooms and rooms and rooms of mosaics, all very high quality and all quite close, so you could carefully inspect the details. I had a few friends request photos, so I went all paparazzi on the mosaics and bought several books so I could make sure to get as much info for them as possible. Highly, highly recommended, if you ever find yourself in Istanbul.

Then, I believe we visited the Blue Mosque and the Little Aya Sofia - or at least we did at some point during the trip, but there are no photos since they are working mosques.

I believe this late afternoon was my visit to the hammam, since I don't have any pictures from this evening. whymc stayed in and had a nap to attempt to recover. Dinner turned out to be a pleasant surprise - we got pulled in my a tout to a restaurant that had an amazing view of the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sophia from their roof. I sort of wanted to eat up there, but it was extremely cold and windy, so we opted to come in and eat in the less beautiful but much more comfortable dining room. We had an epic dinner - mine was delicious but whymc's was just straight up impressive! They apparently had taken every kind of meat they had in the kitchen and piled it on a platter. It was rich, excessive, delicious!

Thursday, March 27 - Chora is a bit outside the usual tourist range, and we needed to take a taxi to get there, but it is a very well preserved church and so entirely worth the time and expense. Again, there were rooms and rooms of truly stunning mosaics. While the mosaics at the Great Palace Museum were quite colorful, here at Chora, there were a great deal of metalics, so the interior literally glittered. The mosaics were not too far removed in quality from the Hagia sophia and much easier to access. There even were some decent frescos in once area of the church, but it was a small whitewashed room that seemed particularly special to me, though I could not tell you exactly why. Perhaps it was just a palate cleanser after all the bling, but there was a peace in that little room that was very appealing.

One of the highlights of this particular side trip was a trip to Asitane, a restaurant specializing in historically accurate Ottoman cuisine. It was pricey, particularly by Turkish standards, but worth every penny! We had a liver kofte (recipe from 1695) for an appetizer, I had a baked quince and lamb dish from 1539 for my entree and we had a saffron custard for dessert.

I'm afraid my need to stare at and then carefully document all of the mosaics and food wore on poor whymc, who seemed to be feeling worse, not better... I did not improve that situation by unfortunately mis-reading the map and taking us on a bonus one mile walk along the city wall in search of the Palace of the Porphyrogenitus. When we finally found it, it was closed to be renovated to a conference facility, so we only had a limited view of the exterior.

We did brave the walls to see the view of the city, though. I am Not A Fan of non-enclosed stairways. Really, even steep stairways without good handrails and ladders weird me out too, and the access to the wall was an open, steep stone staircase covered in broken glass, so crawling or scooting up and down was not even an option. (What? I have no pride...) In the end, I just had to put on my big girl panties and suck it up to walk both up and down. The view was worth it, though, and it was nice to look across the city and really appreciate how huge it is. going down was even more of a challenge that going up, but I made it by keeping my face next to the wall and my hand on whymc's shoulder. A poor little Russian lass did not fare so well, however - she got stuck halfway up and halfway down and would not budge for either her boyfriend who was near her cajoling her to finish the climb or her teacher  who was yelling from the street that she should copy my chicken-shit manouver to get down again. Poor thing, we didn't want to add to the spectacle, so we wandered on, but I hope she got out with limited psychological damage. :P

Our evening meal was significantly less glamorous than the lunch - we opted for a quick visit to McDonalds, because it is always fun to do some cultural anthropology and see what weird things they have on the menu. I had a "McTurco" which was a pretty sad gyro-type thing and I don't remember what whymc had, but it was also underwhelming, but easy.

Friday, March 28 - whymc needed to get some work done and still was not feeling quite well, so I was left mostly to my own devices. I went across the river to enjoy the view from the Galata Tower and then visited the Sufi museum. When I got back, we went for dinner at our favorite restaurant - it seemed sort of lame to keep going to the same place, but it was very good, very cheap, the owner was extremely nice, and it was just around the corner from our hotel. Besides, after eating a few places, we determined that pretty much every Turkish restaurant sold the same about 15 things, so since there really was no difference in menu content, we might as well go where we knew we would get quality.

Saturday, March 29 - I believe we spent the morning wandering the bazaar for a quiet end to the trip. In the early afternoon, we went for coffee and baklava again at the restaurant with the beautiful view - in part to get pictures of the great view in the daytime and in part to try the desserts that we had just been too full to even think about on the previous visit. Later in the evening, we met up with Maureen again and wandered through the Spice Bazaar. We went to a booth that she recommended and picked up Turkish delight, spices, apricots, and tea. Just as we were leaving, I noticed a sign advertising a very hot pepper sauce and I asked if I could try it. The shop girl tried to dissuade me, the shop dudes gathered around to watch, and I happily dipped the proffered toothpick into the virulently orange oil, tasted it, and proclaimed it lovely, to the astonishment of the shopkeepers. Of course, I bought a bottle. :) Since the bazaar was closing, we then went over to Galata for dinner at a little place she liked. We stayed out relatively late and caught a taxi home, heavily laden with tasty souviniers.

Sunday, March 30 - I got up early and headed back to the Hagia Sophia while whymc relaxed in the room. We had a Bosphorus cruise booked for the afternoon as a quiet last-day activity, but I wanted to stare at the Hagia Sophia one more time. Again, I got there when they opened but, having already used that punch on my card, had to stand in line and so missed the lovely emptiness we had enjoyed the first visit. Still, I got a few more photos and generally enjoyed the visit.

The cruise was a nice, if touristy thing. It was really, Really, REALLY cold above deck on the boat, but I tried to suck it up and enjoy it, since this was the thing whymc had really wanated to do. However, he didn't make it the whole trip either before he was cold enough to think sitting insinde was a good idea. When the boat stopped for a short time ina fishing village, we hastily bought some wool shawls and the return trip was both sunnier and more sheepie-cozy.

When we returned to town, I went out to blow the last of our local currency on some gifts and baklava. Just by chance, I ran across a copy of the painting of a Turkish girl that whymc had repeatedly admired in several restaurants. It clearly was a popular image, but not one I had seen up until then. I of course bought her and then presented her to whymc with the joke that I had brought home another woman for him. :)

We had dinner out at a restaurant that had been recommended by some friends of ours that we had not yet had time to track down and then spent some time packing for our very early morning flight back to the US via Germany.

Monday, March 31 - We had a little bit of trepidation since this was the day of the election and there was some wquestion about how peaceful the streets might be, but since we were leaving so early, we made good time to the airport and had no difficulty on the flight back home.

All the best photos are on my photo stream at: https://www.flickr.com/photos/27133102@N04/with/15142723394
Current Mood: happyhappy
stitchwhich on November 17th, 2014 09:14 pm (UTC)
Hey, who got Laurelled? Sam? Of "we have two longhouses, a pond, a longship and more on my farm" Sam?
eithni: Yummy!eithni on November 24th, 2014 05:50 am (UTC)
Not sure I know that Sam. This was Guttorm from Northshield.