A day free of business visits has not been afforded our group until today, but I think it was still a day of learning for all. We embarked around 09:00 for the Blue Mosque, nicknamed because of the blue tiles that are present on the interior. We had a, well, colorful tour guide named Kemal whom we were ordered to address as Sultan. He did not tolerate yawning (very rude to yawn in front of a sultan when he is talking to you) or asking “Where is the bus?” when tired, as that too is very rude (punishments could include forty lashes, though I do not think he subjected anybody to more than a tongue lashing). He entertained us with jokes about the five rules for a woman finding a man, and later took a picture with all of the women in our group (his harem). He was colorful as he entertained us throughout the day.
We walked quite a bit throughout the day, which was refreshing, and a good way to feel slightly immersed in the Turkish culture. At the Blue Mosque, we took off our shoes, similar to the mosque in Abu Dhabi. Some of the male and female visitors had to cover up a little if their clothing did not cover them sufficiently (legs, arms, etc.) with a blue plastic wrap. The mosque was definitely grand, and had low lights (maybe ten feet off the ground, but probably less) from enormous simple chandeliers; the height was low because the chandeliers were from the time when the lights were manually lit each day (apparently electricity has not been the way of the world for thousands of years; go figure). The Blue Mosque is the only one with more than four minarets, which has an interesting story behind it about a demanding ruler’s insane demands and the artist’s (who was particularly attached to his head) ability to get out of doing the impossible.
Near the Blue Mosque is Saint Sophia. If I recall correctly ‘Sophia’means wisdom, and is not the name of a real saint, but this particular church, turned mosque, turned museum, is over one thousand years older than the blue mosque. The inside was truly spectacular and I’m not sure that the Blue Mosque has anything to beat it. One interesting tidbit about this building is that it was not destroyed when Constantinople was conquered. The Islamic ruler rode in, fell in love with the architecture, and decided to preserve the building. The artwork inside, depicting Jesus Christ, Mary, and others was plastered-over instead of being destroyed. As a result, when the building was turned into a museum, the plaster was removed and the artwork was largely still present.
We learned that the original name of Istanbul was not Istanbul at all.What was it? No, not Constantinople either (do you have that song stuck in your head now?). New Rome? Still too contemporary. Our guide said the first name was Byzantium, similar to the Byzantine name of the empire. Istanbul, as it is known today, is a name with a couple of stories behind it, one Christian and one Islamic and neither which I remember well enough to recount. I guess the song about the city’s name could have a few more verses, or a few more choruses. The city is the only one in the world spanning two continents (Europe andAsia) so you often hear about city locations by whether they are on the Europe side of the Asia side.
Our last organized stop was to a place that made carpets. We were able to learn about hand-woven vs. machine-made carpets, how to tell the difference, how Turkish carpets differ from others in terms of their knots, how long it takes to make a carpet of a certain size and the variables affecting that time, the materials of carpets (silk, wool, and cotton), and how many of our children we would need to sell to afford a carpet. Some of the carpets were truly beautiful, and I wanted at least two of them, but as I have no children to sell, I would have needed to sell one arm, one leg, and a kidney in order to get one, so I opted out. Others with more children, or grandchildren, sacrificed as needed and were able to get some enviable items. Any in the area should take the opportunity to learn more about the carpets and how they are made. It gives you some appreciation for their look, durability (150+ years of high traffic) among other characteristics. Interesting trivia: In order to make silk carpets by hand a worker can only work about two hours per day. They work for fifteen to twenty minutes, then take an hour off, then rinse and repeat until they are done. This happens because otherwise they hurt their fingers. Wool carpets, I think it was, allow the worker to get more done in the same time period because of the oils like lanolin that continually moisturize the worker’s fingers.
Many then went to the Grand Bazaar and were introduced to a new buying experience. The most persistent car salespeople in the world would probably be rookies here by comparison. A few techniques that help them get you in a conversation include small things like calling you “friend,” asking “Can I show you something?” or simply coming out with a special/low/one-time/etc. price. They’ll ask your name, ask where you’re from, ask if you’re on your own or with family, and then follow a perfect flow to get your business. While that can be frustrating, they are also willing to deal. Many people internationally believe all Americans are rich, so they’ll start out really high; be prepared to walk away. Our Negotiations class came in handy, but the best starting advice is to be willing to just walk away. If you do not walk away once, you’re probably paying too much, since they’ll come after you at least once. Anyway, it’s a fun experience, and I’ve found places that would not negotiate on prices are frustrating (Magnum bars, for example, in most places) which is probably how foreigners feel about Americans all of the time since we rarely negotiate on common goods’ prices in a store.
The end of the day concluded with some new excitement. I hope family back home does not think we are in a battle zone and are in imminent danger of annihilation, since that is not the case, but the people here are not the same as in the USA and we are in the country’s capital so the climate may be excited by that. You may remember the reference to the Galatasaray football club when talking about Nike’s sponsorships. Today the team took on another Turkish team. The other team, in order to win overall based on the season’s points, had to defeat Galatasaray, but at the end of the game the score was still 0-0 (i.e. they were tied). When this happened I was in the hotel and suddenly heard a sizable noise outside my window. The party celebrating Galatasaray’s victory had begun and lasted for a while.
How long, you ask, did the party after the ninety-minute game continue? From the time the game ended around 8 p.m. the partying continued outside our hotel until at least 03:30 (several of us woke up around that time and still saw/heard everything continuing). In that time there was singing, shouting, honking (a lot of honking), and basically craziness all over. Outside our window there were flares, blocked streets (by people in the road), cars stopped as far as the eye could see (because of the people in the streets), and basically a lot of excitement. People were climbing statues, trees, and anything else they could because, well, they were happy. This was apparently a big match, between country rivals, and not everything in the country was peaceful, but if nothing else these people are passionate about football. Again, I do not want to scare families back homes about how their relatives or friends are going to be killed overseas; the feeling is not one of danger anywhere we have been, but this is not Provo or Salt Lake City either. For information on happenings far from our residence due to this same game, see the following link:http://espn.go.com/sports/soccer/story/_/id/7922769/fans-storm-field-turkish-league-championship-galatasaray-fenerbahce