Friday, January 9, 2015

January 9th - Walls, Mosaics, and the First Day in Istanbul

Our first day in Turkey was an exciting combination of anxious excitement, slight disappointment, and mostly sheer awe. To this group of jet-lagged students, the bitter cold was a harsh reality, but anticipation to see and understand this Turkish city warmed us up as we embarked into the modern city full of rich history.

Our day began with breakfast on the top floor with a beautiful view of the Sea of Marmara. The hit of the meal was the assortment of jams and Turkey's famous tea. At promptly 8:45, we loaded the bus to travel to the site of the Theodosian Walls despite the ice and snow on the ground. These walls are apart of the stretch of Land and Sea Walls that run about 13 miles. Serving as protection to the city, the walls isolated Turkey and protected the only land route for potential conquerors. We experienced this exclusion firsthand as the Theodosian Walls were closed today. As a site for low-risk climbing and the perfect selfie, we were obviously disappointed.

However, its hard to complain in such a beautiful country. Populated by about 20 million people, Turkey is divided into both Asia and Europe. We are currently staying on the European side where the historical sites reflect prominence and prestige. One of these locations is the Hippodrome, the ancient hub of entertainment. Students try to image the road we see as the course for chariot races and the crowds cheering for their favorite team. We also see long towers at the site embellished with stone carvings and Greek inscriptions. Another landmark we visited today had a more practical use. The Basilica Cistern was dug underground as a storage system for drinking water that could supply the entire city for more than a year. Today tourists can see this cavern with its unique columns, which were never intended to be seen by visitors. One of these was the called Teardrop and there used to be a diamond in each drop of water carved into the granite. A few of us even threw a coin and made a wish. As a group, our final destination was the Great Palace Mosaic Museum, which is unique because the pieces on display are actually in their original location. Mosaics reflect the prosperity of the rulers at the time depicting images of humans, animals, and the combination of the two.

Bear by the bear in the Roman Mosaic Museum.
With individualized free time, most of us didn't know what to do except the place everyone back home insisted we visit: The Grand Bizarre. Lines of shop after shop overwhelmed us as we entered the first archway. Textiles is the #1 export of Turkey tourism falling closely behind; however the Grand Bazaar combines them both. Products of lamps, scarves, Turkish delight and so many more are appealing to shoppers and the experience is enough for tourists (or broke college kids), Shop keepers tried to get our attention with their fine products and special deals. And women were targeted as "Shawty" or, personally, "Blondie." No one on our trip has yet attempted the bartering tactics that are known in the Bazaar.

We all just enjoyed a fine dinner as a group. There is something very unique about travel that is bringing us together. We are united in our desire to explore and yet each bring our own interests into how we view things. So far, Istanbul has shown us the glory of an empire and the pride of its citizens today. And we can't wait to see what it has for us tomorrow...Hopefully warmer weather.

- written by Lauren Duncan

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