What to See in Istanbul: Hagia Sophia and the Grand Bazaar

 Acclimating Abroad

After almost four weeks in Turkey, I finally feel like I have gotten my bearings abroad.

Our recruitment company has moved us into a duplex in the neighborhood of Üsküdar, on the Asian side of Istanbul.IMG_7833IMG_7808 IMG_7829Sunset walk in Üsküdar, along the Bosphorus Strait.
IMG_7819Our duplex apartment in Çamlıca.20150906_19243820150828_210306View from my private balcony. 😀20150903_061715Now my roommates and I have a pretty stellar views from anywhere in our apartment, but our favorite spot is on the rooftop. We’ve officially become like the cast of 3rd Rock from the Sun. 😛
Obviously, I was designated the character Dick, for my charm and logistics capabilities. 🙂
97cd73fdaafb6a7e4a160c62d8e1f36fÇamlıca Hill, across the street from our place.20150901_17574520150901_175138Other than acclimating to the 8-hour time difference, there have been quite a few challenges to overcome while acclimating to Turkish culture and customs.

For starters, the language barrier.

I don’t speak Turkish, which has been challenging living in a small conservative community, with few foreigners.

I spent almost two hours at Turkcell, a Turkish mobile phone provider, trying to get my SIM card and data plan installed, using Google translate to ask the teller questions about the service.

The man was even nice enough to run next store to pick us both up a Sprite to drink. So thoughtful. 🙂

CaptureTurkish hospitality here is above and beyond anything I have ever experienced before. I have received countless teas when shopping, and even complimentary distilled water, which is sold here in Turkey in these adorable little pudding cups. 🙂IMG_7846The hospitality seems almost unnecessary at times. For example, since moving into town, we have become regulars at a local kebap shop.IMG_7841The owner marinates and grills meats to order, using a variety of fresh herbs and spices.IMG_7842Here is an Adana Durum that I ordered. It is a spicy minced lamb meat, served with a seasoned couscous, grilled vegetables and pita.IMG_7843While at the shop, we asked the owner about a laundromat in the area.

We have a washer in our duplex, but we all had gotten lazy living abroad, since laundry service was so affordable in Mexico, and my roommates came from teaching a year in Korea, where they encountered the same scenario.

Well, instead of telling us where to take our dirty laundry, the shop owner had us hop on his moped to help us drop it off. Haha. He didn’t want us to have to walk all that way.IMG_7845The hospitality here is much appreciated, and appears truly genuine, but sometimes does get a little awkward. Hah. :/

For example, while shopping in my neighborhood, I tend to make several stops.

This small town has specialty shops for most items, which is slightly old fashioned, but does increase the quality of service. There are meat shops and bakeries, electric stores and produce marts. Sorry, no Super Target here!IMG_7849IMG_7837 Well, while shopping for bed sheets last week, I walked into a small linen shop to browse the patterns and prices. I had been walking quite a bit in the heat, and felt a little sweaty. After stepping inside, a tiny old shop keeper sprung up from his stool to see if I needed help. He was old and thin, with wide brim glasses, leather skin, and large grin that showed a few of his missing front teeth.

The shop owner immediately offered me a chair and a glass of water. Very sweet, but unnecessary. From there, he made a hand motion as if to see if I wanted something to eat. I shook my head to signal that I was OK.

Things got slightly awkward, as I was walking around, looking at different hand sewn fabrics, when he actually took one of the sheets he was selling to wipe the sweat off my neck. Ahh! If only you could have seen my face!thSo uncomfortable! He seemed to do it out of the goodness of his heart, but he completely invaded my personal space. I immediately thanked him, smiled, and headed for the exit door.

While going out with roommates, I noticed a few cultural differences as well. We spent the night out in Taksim, a hip area of Istanbul, full of bars and nightclubs. 20150906_010435Not quite sure about the street decorations though. Taksim is like the tacky next-door neighbor that is too lazy to take down their Christmas decorations. Snowflakes in September? Sure, why not! 😀 Hah.20150905_223611The clubs we went to mostly offered the first drink free for ladies, and all bars had complimentary snacks, like fresh fruit and veggies.20150905_232034The biggest challenge in bars here, and the only downside of the nightlife scene, is that most Turks, and Europeans in general, smoke cigarettes, which left my clothes smelling like a filthy ash tray the next morning. Disgusting!
Now I have never been interested in smoking; however, I do have one major vice: coffee!
Upon moving to Turkey, that has been the biggest struggle of all. :/
I can’t find regular brewed coffee anywhere! In the mornings, most cafes sell tea and sometimes Turkish coffee, which is served in a small tea cup. Delicious, but not very caffeinated, and definitely not an on-the-go beverage.
Turkish coffee and honey pastry at my local café.
IMG_7840They really don’t even sell coffee in the stores.
Pathetic coffee aisle, full of tea. 20150907_175520The struggle is so real. 😦20150907_175527I did find one beacon of hope this week, when I learned there was a Starbucks only a few blocks from our school. 😀
I left early from home on Friday morning with nothing but a grande latte on my mind. 😀
Unfortunately, when I arrived, I realized the Starbucks was part of a gated business facility, and you needed an access card to enter. 😥20150904_070126 (1)I guess I must have looked extremely discouraged at that point, because after lingering for a minute, to let the sad news sink in, the guard decided to use his badge for me to pass. I walked through the metal detector, and then he escorted me to the Starbucks. 😀20150904_070144 (1)Woo hoo! I will most likely never go there again, but it did temporarily put my addiction at bay. 🙂
20150904_070224Anyway, these are my first-world problems. It could always be worse. 🙂

On top of settling into my apartment and small-town community, I have been able to settle into my new school as well.

Bahçeşehir Koleji

The campus where I will be teaching is large and modern, serving children from Kindergarten to Grade 8.

20150907_07110520150907_071323IMG_7687Our spacious teacher’s room for relaxing and planning, which makes the day much more comfortable. 🙂 20150907_071544This campus has excellent facilities and fresh lunches, plus an adorable guard dog. 🙂 IMG_7682My favorite lunch dish so far has been roasted eggplant in a creamy yogurt sauce.20150825_123350Now there are currently three other native English teachers in my department. One from Egypt, one from the United States, and one from New Zealand. The rest of the English teachers are Turkish.

Within the Bahçeşehir system, the English teaching is divided into integrative skills(IS) and communicative skills (CS).

The Turkish staff will teach English IS and the native English teachers will be responsible for CS, involving mainly speaking and pronunciation. The curriculum is pre-planned by the school, and the lessons are standard for all Bahçeşehir campuses across Turkey.
The kids utilize iPads in the classroom for interactive games and quizzes, while us teachers use smart boards for teaching. The smart board is an overhead projection hooked up to my computer.20150903_142327I can type information, display Power Points and movies, and provide interactive games where the kids can come up to the projection and tap the board to complete the activity. Screenshot-of-Play-it-ESLMy laptop is even Turkish, so forgive me if I type any strange letters or symbols, since the keys are all in different spots. 😛IMG_7850 Although the lessons are planned, my coordinator has given me the opportunity to add any additional projects as I see fit. 😀 I took her up on the offer right off the bat by helping with some decorative posters for the hallway. 😀20150903_14215820150903_142147At this point in the year, I have been mainly teaching summer school for grades 5-7, helping children new to Bahçeşehir catch up to this level of English speaking. After a two week session, we will break for the national holiday, Kurban Bayramı, then classes commence at the end of September.

I plan to travel outside of Istanbul during that break, but thus far I have just been enjoying the umpteen attractions that are offered within the city itself. One year teaching here will simply not be enough time to see all that the city can offer! 😀

Sightseeing: Bazaar District

The Grand Bazaar DSC_1609The Grand Bazaar has been around since the 15th century. It was commissioned by Mehmet the Conqueror, and at one period, accommodated over 3,000 travelling merchants and their animals. DSC_1606Handmade bazaar vendor backpacks. DSC_1615Some vendors sell jewerly and carpets, while others sell cheap souvenirs and knick-knacks.DSC_1636DSC_1682 Prime vendor locations within the bazaar rent for around $80,000 per year. DSC_1605The Grand Bazaar streets used to be divided by profession, but now these 60 streets and 5,000 shops are colorfully scattered throughout the market. The memory of this division; however, does live through the street names, such as Kuyumcular Caddesi, or Street of the Jewellers.DSC_1641The most unique attraction is undoubtedly the Hans, or hidden alleyways tucked inside the Grand Bazaar. DSC_1634DSC_1628DSC_1612DSC_1614DSC_1623Some hans appear dilapidated, while others are a tranquil retreat from the bazaar chaos, offering quaint little cafes and smoke shops lined along adorable cobblestone streets.DSC_1639

Nuruosmaniye Mosque

Adjacent to the Grand Bazaar is the Nuruosmaniye Mosque.DSC_1648DSC_1656No kissing allowed. DSC_1657The mosque was built in Ottoman baroque style.

DSC_1666DSC_1667Nuruosmaniye means “The light of Osman”, named after Sultan Osman, but also named for the multitude of windows built within the mosque, letting in lots of natural light. Simply gorgeous! 😀DSC_1669DSC_1679DSC_1678
Valens Aqueduct

This aqueduct was built in the 4th century, and was the major water provider for the Roman Empire of Constantinople.

Sightseeing: Sultanahmet District

Aya Sophia (Hagia Sophia)DSC_1700Aya Sophia, also named Hagia Sophia in Greek and the Church of the Divine Wisdom in English, has been a site of religious importance for decades.
DSC_17250Its history dates back to the 6th century, where it was the site of the Byzantine Acropolis and two Orthodox churches. Excavated religious stonework can be seen scattered across the museum grounds.DSC_1836DSC_1831 DSC_1846Christian influence can been seen through the gold mosaics, most notably the 9th century mosaic of the Virgin and Christ Child.
DSC_1732 DSC_1798Additions of low hanging chandeliers and Arabic calligraphy are Islamic influences from the Ottoman Empire, after they had invaded and conquered Constantinople.
DSC_1806 DSC_17280ff DSC_1740During the conquests, mosaics were covered in plaster, but luckily some pieces were excavated and restored.
DSC_17780In the 20th century, Ataturk and the Republic of Turkey converted the site into a museum.
Museum tickets cost around $10.IMG_7883For over ten years, they have been attempting restoration of the exterior façade and upper galleries, but it does not look anywhere near completion.
DSC_17250On top of the gold mosaics, I personally enjoyed the variety of marbling throughout the building, and cozy dimly lit alcoves revealing spectacular stonework and turquoise tiling.
DSC_17100 DSC_1764DSC_17740 DSC_1743What a friendly little feline. 🙂
DSC_1746From the second floor gallery window, I began to hear the Call to Prayer, which felt like the epitome of this religious sightseeing experience.

It was an excellent view from which to enjoy this melodic chant. 🙂DSC_1797In Islam, the Call to Worship is announced five times each day by the Muezzin, who is chosen for his talent and ability is reciting the call.

Call to Prayer heard from atop the Hagia Sophia.

Literal translation:

Allah is the greatest, Allah is the greatest.
I bear witness that there is no God but Allah.
I bear witness that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah.
Hasten to worship.
Hasten to success.
Prayer is better than sleep.
Allah is greatest.
There is no god but Allah.

Rooftop Café in Beyoglu
To cap off another busy weekend, I met with a fellow teacher from Canada at rooftop café called Konak Patisserie & Café.
It was unsuspecting, tucked away along a small narrow street corner.
DSC_1847Antique parlor. untitledThe rooftop terrace sits ajacent to Galata tower, and overlooking the Bosphorus.DSC_18670Pricey drinks, but you really just pay for the view. 😀 Spectacular! DSC_18650Until next time. Enjoy the rest of your week! 😀

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