Where There is No Such Thing as Typical.

Last Thursday I sat in a Krispy Kreme restaurant in a mall on Istiklal Caddesi, in Istanbul, eating a sugary snack. I was alone at my table with my notebook, preparing to start an afternoon of shopping - most of it of the window variety. Across from me a young woman sat staring at her phone, fully covered in smooth, inky black fabric. Nothing was visible except her eyes, which were heavily lined in black. After a few moments, a young man sat in front of her. He wore what seems to be the uniform for young, fashionable men in Middle Eastern cities: acid washed jeans, a muscle tee with some sort of graphic art print, a huge, shining watch, and more hair gel then, well, hair.  He leaned forward in conversation with the young woman in black, gesturing toward the mall around us.  They were just a typical Istanbul couple, in a city where there is no such thing as typical.

The Bosphorus with famously delicious fish sandwich shops.

That's what I loved about Istanbul.  There's no such thing as typical there. For every woman wearing a headscarf there was one in a miniskirt. It is a diverse, stunning city that that feels  as free and energetic and beautiful as Paris or New York.

Freedom to wear a tube dress or a headscarf - or even horizontal stripes.

The Grand Bazaar was immense, a place to enjoy getting lost in. I wasn't sure if I should look forward to going, as Cairo's huge, famous  market was disappointingly full of items ordered from a factory in China. One vendor's goods looked much the same as the last. Everything needed dusting.

But Istanbul's famous market was full of unique and colorful designs: jewelry, lamps, scarves, pottery, and shoes that I wanted to stare at all day. Curved knives that Charming wanted to stare at all day. But with over 3,000 shops in the Grand Bazaar, there wasn't time to linger at just one.

One of thousands of shops in the Grand Bazaar.

I wish I had a bit more selection to choose from.

Foodwise, it seemed to me that the less we paid and for a meal, the better it was. The more we paid and the longer we waited, the worse it was. Street food rules in Istanbul.

Reaching into a bag on Istiklal Caddesi.

Charming had been to Istanbul before, so it was fun for us to revisit some of his favorite places to eat and people watch. We easily and quickly got used to the culture of sitting in a street café, sipping beer and watching the crowds roll, prance, crawl, meander, and sell their way by us.

We walked and walked. I loved walking Istiklal Caddesi, the famous pedestrian street that was crowded day and night.
2958490_origWe saw the majestic Hagia Sophia which today is a museum. It's been both a church and a mosque in it's time, and there were signs of both religions in the interior, which I thought was cool.
Then we walked down the block, waited for prayers to be over, and got in line to see the Blue Mosque, known to be one of the largest and most beautiful mosques in the world. We had to take our shoes off and put them in a bag that we carried with us. Also, scarves were lent to those women who didn't bring one.  But it's funny, you can see that many women whipped them off the moment they got inside:
The interior was breathtaking, with columns like redwood trees. There was a large open carpeted area in the front for Muslim men and children to pray. It was quite open, since there were only a few who had stayed for the prayers and short sermon in English that was followed by the one in Turkish.  A Muslim man entered to pray followed by several veiled-in-black females. The two monitors (females!) at the front apologized, said the women couldn't be here, and guided the women to  a small area in the back, behind the tourists with their smelly shoes in hand, to pray away from the soaring central area. The children, however, joyfully ran and cavorted  in the large open prayer space skipping around the men who prayed in reverent stillness. I thought it would be so strange to go from being a little girl, and being able to run around your dad who is praying in the big main area, to having to pray in a tiny, latticed-off space way in the back.The difference between Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque helped me understand more about Turkey and the way it straddles Eastern and Western culture. As a country, it seems to be a great example of both secular appreciation of what religion has to offer, as seen in the museumification of the Hagia Sophia, and devout religious expression that allows a few tourists to squeeze in and get a glimpse of it, as in the Blue Mosque.Towards the end of our days in Istanbul, we took a two hour ferry cruise on the Bosphorus.
Below was the typical view, not just from the ferry boat, but of the general skyline of Istanbul. This mosque is probably famous, but were are so many like it, and more of surpassing beauty, that I didn't take particular note of what this one was called.
Overall thoughts on Istanbul?  I loved it and hope to return.