Friday, November 19, 2010

Turkey and Lebanon

I just got home from my Eid trip to Turkey and Lebanon, and it was one of the best weeks of my life. I will try to explain everything we did as concisely as possible, but there's so much to say that I might fail. 

First, we flew in to Istanbul. We spent a total of 5 days and 4 nights there, and here's what we did.

We were staying in Sultanamet, a pretty area right near all the attractions (Aya Sophia, Blue Mosque, Tovkapi Palace, etc.) Turkey is beautiful, Istanbul is western and modern (according to my standards here), and the entire city was covered in trees.
This is the Blue Mosque, which is famous for being old and stunning. On the first day, we went to the Blue Mosque, the Aya Sophia, and Tovkapi Palace.

The inside of the Aya Sophia was gold and so pretty. Pictures won't do it justice, but I tried.

My friends and I outside the Aya Sophia. Pretty!

Then, we went to Tovkapi Palace which is where the Ottaman sultans lived. It was cool but the best part about it was the Haram, which is pictured above. That's where all the concubines of all of the sultans lived, and there were around 250-300 of them at any given time. It was really well decorated, lavish without being over the top, and had many rooms devoted just to parties and dances. One sultan had all 250 of the women killed because he didn't like them, so they were put in bags alive and thrown in the Bosphorous! This is where they lived.

This is where we strolled around every day, got breakfast, and shopped. Heleweat-eating was also our favorite activity, because Istanbul is known for its baklava. It was successful.

The next day we walked to the Spice Market and Domabache Palace, casually crossing the Bosphorous along the way.

This is Domabache palace, where Ataturk lived and died. There are still events there, and Obama was recieved there last year. I wasn't allowed to take pictures inside but I saw the most stunning, beautiful, lavish, sparkly things I've ever seen in my life. There was a 4-ton chandelier and gold everywhere. It was my favorite site in Turkey, because it was so sparkly.

Taken from a taxi. People are fishing from the edge of the bridge over the Bosphorous, and half-alive flailing fish were all over the ground. It was gross.

Turkish sweets at the spice market. Turkish delight is really disgusting.

Turkish cat. He looks Turkish.

The next day, we went to the Princes Islands by ferry. There are no cars allowed on the island, only horses and bicycles. We got there around sunset and were able to take a sorority picture... yes that happened.


The islands are known for their giant summer mansions, because that's where the rich and famous have their second homes. We spent hours wondering around the town picking out our future homes. Instead of taking a photo of them, however, I took a picture of McCahey playing with a kitten.

Then we went to Lebanon!! It's my actual favorite place that I've ever visited. I don't really know how to explain it, but I loved everything about it. The people are the nicest and will do really anything to help foreigners, but I may have just gotten lucky.  I think that I also like the fact that despite everything that's happened to Lebanon, and despite the fact that the civil war was so recent, the people still love their country, they are very happy, and have so much life and spirit. It's nicer than Jordan.
We went to see the largest set of Roman ruins in Balbaak, which is also known for being Hezbollah territory. There were shirts for sale supporting them but I didn't buy one.

Our over-eager and really weird tour guide.

Awkward group shot

Then, as we were driving home in our hired best friend cab driver's car, there was the prettiest sunset I've ever seen.

We went to AUB (American University of Beirut) and were disappointed to see that it is 100 TIMES PRETTIER than the University of Jordan. It has a track, an ocean view, a gym, actual facilities, it is clean, there aren't people smoking everywhere, there isn't a macdonalds, there are hills, there are trees, there are toilets.... and I could go on forever. The quote that sums it up best is this: "I'm glad we live in Jordan because now we know that this is better". I can definitively say that AUB and Beirut are prettier, and better, than Jordan, because I live there. I love Jordan though, don't get me wrong, but its a little like visiting Laguna when you actually live in Fontana.

Rocks, the Mediterranean, boys swimming, and sunset.

This is the corniche, a walkway along the ocean downtown.

This is my failed attempt to get a picture of the toy guns that all the little boys and girls carry around with them. They're either toy AK-47s or other smaller ones, but they look super real, and the kids carry them around like dolls.

Downtown Beirut.

Another aspect of Beirut that I love is the juxtaposition of everything. This picture has a giant construction site, a mosque, and a bombed building all casually next to each other. A lot of Beirut is new because the old buildings don't look very pretty.

The other part of Beirut has really expensive stores and new, French-style buildings.

It's hard to explain why I love Lebanon as much as I do, but it combines the Middle East, the Western world (france mostly), and its own massive number of problems (lots of war?). Everyone there is nice, the people are lively, and the city is awake all night. There are dance clubs, mosques, roman ruins, the sea, trees, snowy mountains for skiing, and all the food choices you could ever want. And, people are all willing to talk to you and open your eyes to what they have experienced, and I learned some interesting things.
Last story really quickly- I was at a bar with my friend Kelly and we were approached by some Lebanese men. They sat down and started talking to us, and it started with just basic small talk. Soon enough, though, we were talking about the civil war. The one next to me, Salim, remembers fleeing Beirut in the middle of the night in his dad's car, lying on the floor with their heads down, going as fast as the car can take them so they don't get killed. The other guy, whose name I forgot, told us about how anyone who showed up at the green line and tried to cross to the other side (Christian side, Muslim side) was shot point-blank on the spot. Alex, the third guy, had his living room bombed while he and his family hid in the basement. These three have been best friends since childhood, and the most interesting fact is that after this, we discover that 2 of them are Christian and 1 is Muslim, and despite the fact that they grew up during the civil war between the Christians and the Muslims, they are best friends to this day.

Cool stuff! All done. Go to lebanon.

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