So on the way here (about a week ago) I had an 11 hour layover in Istanbul. So I bought a visa and left the airport, with a little bit of a plan. Someone had given me directions for how to get to the main tourist area, so I didn't have much problem. Istanbul is a crazy place, but it seems normal compared to Cairo looking back on it. From my stop off the Metro, I could see the Aya Sofia (Hagia Sophia--used to be a church, then a mosque, now a museum) and the Blue Mosque, but I didn't know which was which. I was walking through a park towards them when a guy came up to me and said "Can I harrass you?" but I thought he said "can I help you?" so I didn't say no as emphatically as I should have and he followed me for awhile asking questions and being annoying until I told him to go away and leave me alone. And he said "fine, I'll leave you alone, and someone else will come harrass you, its what you deserve."So this shook me up a little, so instead of stopping at the Aya Sofia I kept walking and wandering, and finally ended up on a bench in the same park.
Eventually I got my nerve back and went to the Aya Sofia. I met a Canadian couple outside, I went up to talk to them becuase I heard them speaking English. They had been living in Geneva for the last 2 years, they were very kind, I spent most of my day with them. It was really nice not to be alone, and since Turkish is completely incomprehensible to me, it was helpful to talk to someone. The Aya Sofia is stunning--all these shafts of dusty light coming in through the windows, beautiful old mosaics from the building's Christian years and huge circles of Arabic calligraphy from the mosque years. Giant chandeliers hang from the ceiling really low,I almost hit my head. I think its the most beautiful builiding I've ever been in. We went for lunch (shwarma on the street) and to the Blue Mosque's courtyard, but couldn't get in becuase it was prayer time. So we went to my new friends' hotel, and went up on their roof, where we could see the Bosporus on one side and the spires of the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sophia on the other. We were up there during the call to prayer and it was kindof haunting but very cool to hear the sounds coming from mosques around the city (including across the street). Then we went back to the Blue Mosque and got to go inside, there is a lot of intricate and beautiful tile-work but other than that it struck me as a lovely and huge mosque, and that's about all. We went to get tea by my suggestion in a rather nice, although very smoky, restaurant (everyone in Istanbul seems to smoke like chimneys).
Then I saw them to the Metro stop and went on my way to the Grand Bazaar. I was over my initial timidity and loneliness, and felt very confident. I got a cup of tea from a shop owner, and bought a box of apple tea from him. The Grand Bazaar is a huge labyrinthe of tourist kiosks, jewelry shops, antiques, fabric, and what appears to be rip-off designer brand stuff. Its fun to get lost in, although the male shopkeepers can be kindof rude to women alone.I got in a bit of a yelling fight with a guy selling lanterns--I thought I wanted one, but decided I didn't have enough money right when he started to wrap it up. He kept going, and when he finally caught on that I wasn't going to buy, he got mad at me. So I left, yelling back "I tried to tell you!" and he shouted some more in Turkish, and I was kindof perversely pleased. Its terrible, I know. I also got a ring for free--I was looking for a very old style and had to dig around in the box they didn't keep on display becuase they were so old and he finally gave it to me for free "becuase I like your look- very simple." but probably becuase he couldn't sell it to anyone else. I also got a changepurse for free, becuase I looked at it, asked the price, and walked away, so he called me back and said "for you, free. A gift." So, I, always one to take free stuff, said thanks.