I made it safe and sound to Istanbul and have had more experiences in one 24 hour period than I can remember. I'm pretty excited. I slept most of the flight but did watch a Turkish movie subtitled in English about a search for a sultan's chest that supposedly had a map of oil fields in Turkey but when they found the chest, they didn't have to code to open the secret chest so they broke it open which, in turn, broke some vials of vinegar which erased the maps. I learned from the guy next to me that gas costs $12.00 per gallon so maybe the movie had a hidden message about some hidden oil fields..
After a great flight sitting next to a nice guy who taught me to pronounce the Turkish vowels and special consonants and how to conjugate one of the 42 verb tenses, I feel like I can at least pick out an occasional verb in a sentence. That can be very helpful. The drive into Istanbul had me dumbstruck. I was impressed by the modern roads, the modern architecture, the amount of construction, and the overall cleanliness of the city. I'm not sure what I had expected but it seems nicer than I'd anticipated. I'm staying in a boutique hotel in the Sultanahmet District near the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sofia. After checking in, the bell hop walked me to Turk Cell to help me buy a sim card for my cell phone. Thank goodness he came along. I didn't understand a word either he or the sales person was saying, nor do I really have any idea was the cost is per minute, but at least I have a phone number for emergencies...at least while I'm in Istanbul. I'll need a new number for Malatya.
Later I walked around one of the pedestrian districts near my hotel to soak in the sights, sounds, crowds and noise. The sun was beginning to set and restaurants were filling up so I settled upon an open air cafe where I could eat my first meal and partake in my favorite pastime, people watching. The meal started with this delicious puffed up bread called pide which I dipped in olive oil. The main course was lamb kebabs with a yogurt dipping sauce, rice, tomatoes, cucumber, and french fries. It was so fun sittiing out watching people that I had to extend my stay at the restaurant with my first Turkish coffee, good but not sleep inducing. Tourists ran the gamut from scantily clad American backpackers to Saudi Arabian style black abayas and everything in between. One of the biggest differences during meal time was is the number of people who smoked a cigarette after their meal. It reminds me of Paris 20 years ago. Every table is even set with an ash tray.
After dinner, I walked towards the noise and crowds of people gathered at Sultanahmet Square in front of the Blue Mosque. Because it's Ramadan and the muezzin had just ended the day's fast, the square was filled with food vendors and local artisans similar to our county fairs. The square was packed with families enjoying picnics, grilled corn-on-the-cob, kabobs, ice cream, and this kind of ribbon candy that these guys made right in front of you. There were many different stages set up with music on traditional Turkish instruments... not sure of their names yet...By this time I was starting to feel jet lagged and a little lost. Thankfully, it only took me 45 minutes to find my hotel. Hopefully, tomorrow, I'll get my bearings a little better.
Every few minutes I have to pinch myself because I can't believe I'm actually here. But, the muezzin is calling prayers through the loud speakers so it definitely is real. I hope I can sleep...