When I first arrived, I was cranky, exhausted, and annoyed. All I wanted to do was sprawl on a bed and sleep. Jet lag was not working well with me. On top of that, it took us forever to try and find our hotel. By the time we had arrived, I was now thirsty and hungry as well as cranky, exhausted, and annoyed. I tried to take a nap, but I couldn't fall asleep as the cars kept whizzing past me, crushing any hopes of resting.
After an hour or two of attempting to sleep, my parents decided that we better start "traveling". We wouldn't want to waste any of our time here in Istanbul. When we first strolled the streets, I was unimpressed. Everything just seemed dirty, polluted, and unorganized. I plastically smiled as my dad took pictures of the bleak scenery. As we strolled, we reached Taksim Square which was full of honking cars. As the sun started to set, the area seemed to come to life. I was strangely more awake and curious about the city around me. I don't know where we went, but we turned into a seemingly nondescript street. However as we plowed further in, we could see the hubbub that was going around.
We were lucky to come during Ramadan, the Islamic period of fasting during the day and eating at night. As the sun sank, people seemed to come from nowhere, flocking to restaurants that were previously closed. As the sun disappeared, Christmas lights seemed to be strung across creating a warm and inviting atmosphere. Restaurant owners stood outside all the bustle encouraging people to come and taste their dishes. People stood in long lines waiting for their food while socializing and laughing with those around them. Additionally, stores began to open and people began to shop. One of the most memorable moments for me was seeing an ice cream vendor serve ice cream. The local ice cream, called Dondurma which included flour made from the root of orchids and a resin creating chewiness, was swirled around by the vendor and easily manipulated that it looked like play-doh to me. I was completely mesmerized. When we went back to the hotel that night, I was no longer cranky. I was excited about exploring this new and great city.
The next couple of days continued to astound me. I was used to seeing a Christian and Western influence on everything, but here in Istanbul, everything was so different. The Islamic influence was evident everywhere we went. Places that had originally been built as churches were transformed into mosques, showing both an Eastern Orthodox influence as well as an Islamic influence. Istanbul managed to incorporate all the traditional customs, rituals, and Islamic ideas (especially, the prayers in the morning. Beware of the loudspeakers waking you up at the crack of dawn!) as well as the more modern and liberal Western ideas. The architecture was different than anything I’ve ever seen. In Western culture, there is a greater focus on squares and 90° angles. However, in Eastern and Islamic art, there is a greater emphasis on circles and roundness. Our family made sure to see the sights, such as the Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque. These mosques are especially enlightening to the Western world about the more Islamic world. Also, it was pretty neat to be able to take your shoes off inside the mosque! Istanbul was an unexpected gem. It is a city where the West truly does meet the west.