Istanbul – A Supermassive Game of Frogger

Alright, alright, alright. I have to update you very very quickly on turkey.

(I only say  quickly because I’m finally moving all of my euro photos to a hard drive and have to get this shit posted before then.)

David and I arrived in Turkey on a night train from Sofia, Bulgaria. On that night train, weirdly enough, was one of the aussie guys I partied with in Galway almost 6 weeks ago. Crazy how people turn up in the weirdest of places. Even weirder? He was in our hostel. More weird? He was in the bed next to me.

During this horrible turkish train experience, I was interrogated by turkish police regarding the reasoning behind my visit, where david was simply asked to confirm my store and was sent on his way. Don’t you just love how well NZ passports breeze through passport control?? Yeah, neither do I…Lucky bastards.

My first impression of istanbul was very very different from my expectation. A history of so much importance and stature, Istanbul was a city with its roots in the most ancient of civilizations. Or at least, that’s what I thought going in. I really truly expected istanbul to be in the same category as rome, or athens, with massive monuments on every street corner. A beauty of being in a place so ancient but still modern, ya know?

But istanbul just felt dirty.

And maybe because of the sheer size. It’s a city of 15 million people and it sure as hell feels like it. You are constantly bobbing, weaving, serpentining, shuffling, ducking, hurrying, zig-zagging, popping into alleys, speed walking through the night, keeping your head down, trying not to get run over by anyone and everyone. I was constantly and consistently bumped into on the street. I’m pretty sure I shoved shoulders with every single human being in that city.. that’s how goddamn often it was. Half the time I was just using David as a body shield and tucking in behind him.

Granted, not all of the city feels that way. But a lot of it did. Grand Bazaar, spice markets, hagia sophia/blue mosque, any street that was remotely smaller, and every single little alley between the shops. I almost got run over (like by a car) at least 4 times.

We stayed in Istanbul for about a week before hopping a flight to greece. It was really quite an experience. Instead of a historical hub though, it was more of a cultural one. It was really the first time I had experienced Islam. The days would start with a much too early call to prayer that rang through the streets like lightning through the loudspeakers. This would que my very delayed arousal, followed by a hostel breakfast (consisting of tomatoes, cucumber and boiled eggs), and then a very eager ellen would hit the town yet again. You never quite forgot the dominating religion though.  A chain reaction of almost sorrowful singing would echo through the streets of istanbul periodically. I even went to visit the blue mosque while I was there.

And here is where I started to feel uncomfortable in this city. Up until now, I knew there wasn’t the same level of equality between men and women in this country, but it really didn’t feel that bad. Like yeah, I wasn’t the first person talked to between David and I, but I was fine with that. Yeah, I was bumped into more often than David, but I figure I’m pretty short anyway and so what, it happens.

But then I visited the mosque. I read all the little tidbits about the religion and the history and the customs and was surprised. It really is a beautiful religion. Truly. And the blue mosque was more beautiful than any of the churches I’d been to in Europe. I was really really blown away.

But I also had to cover up. I was given a long unflattering skirt to wear over my jeans and a massive blue scarf to cover my hair. Every woman was required to cover their body/hair upon entry into the mosque. Once inside, the main prayer area was swarmed with men, while the women were directed to the corners and sides to wait/pray on their own.

Which was odd for me to see. And to experience. I have never felt so much shame for my gender, so quickly as when I put that head scarf on.

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