I think I had the most culturally rich day of my trip today. It was my last day in Istanbul. I had a laundry list of stuff I wanted to see and do, but to be totally honest, I haven’t really felt like rushing around too much trying to see everything. Just BEING here is a big part of the experience. You can just sit on a bench and watch the people go by and absorb as much as going to a museum for an hour. That’s kind of what I wanted out of Istanbul, and boy did I get it in spades.
I’ve never been around such amiable people before in my entire life. Everyone wants to stop and have a chat, and even if you make it clear you aren’t going to buy anything they still want to offer you a cup of tea. Some of the men are creepy and it’s clear what they want, but most have been nothing but friendly and respectful. The women are a little more reserved, but if you make an effort with them they’re usually happy to talk. Heck, they’re women, of course they want to talk!
After that I walked back through the Grand Bazaar again. This place is so incredible it was worth a second look. It’s like a labyrinth, you can find your way in, but you cannot find your way out! I had to ask directions 6 times to get pointed in the right direction to get back to the Blue Mosque area.
Did you know that Backgammon is one of the oldest games in the world? It’s hugely popular here.
I had been planning to go to the museum at Hagia Sophia, but by the time I finally wound up getting over here it was just closing, so I guess I’ll have to see it next time I come! As I was hanging around in the park area between Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia I started talking to some people. One of them had just been in Vancouver visiting his good friend Rick Hansen! He asked me if I knew him and I said no, but that I obviously knew OF him, he’s a local hero! After chatting for a bit they invited me to their Ramadan dinner in the back kitchen of their carpet shop that night. I was really enjoying our conversation so I didn’t hesitate in saying yes.
Because Muslims aren’t allowed to eat or drink anything between sunrise and sunset during Ramadan, the meal they have post sunset is an important one. They were telling me that sometimes they’ll have up to 50 people getting together for dinner. Tonight was special because they’d hired a woman who had come in to cook for them. The meal was exceptionally good! There was tomato soup, a tzatziki style yogurt dish that was much thinner so you ate it with a spoon, sort of like soup. Then there was a spiced meat with rice that was so flavourful and delicious and the bread… how do I describe the bread? It’s a special bread that they only eat during Ramadan. It’s sort of like a thick pita bread with a baguette texture. Some of us sat at the table, and some sat on a rug on the floor.
There were a couple of other “foreigners”there as well… a girl from Alaska, and another girl from California. She was interesting because she was 19 years old, and had converted to the Muslim faith a few years prior. She was one of the most well spoken, mature 19 year olds I’ve ever met. She had just been in Cairo on an archaeological dig (that’s what she’s studying) and it was kind of surreal sitting there having a conversation with Muslims about evolution, science, nature and religion. Very, very eye opening.
What being here has made me realise is that despite our differences, people are people. It’s truly amazing how travel really does make the world a smaller place. My evening ended just about as perfectly as I could have wanted because they pulled out the backgammon set (backgammon is HUGE here!) and we played a few games out on the front stoop of the shop with the sounds of live music playing in the background. Just about a perfect day, I think!