It’s been about two years since I lived in Turkey. Who would have ever thought I would voluntarily spend multiple weeks in Ankara again? In the last three weeks I have been to Istanbul about three times. The first when I flew in, the second to pickup a friend from Hong Kong and show him around, and the third was when my anne (mom) came from California.
I am traveling around Turkey for three weeks with my mom, doing both old things and new. I am showing her the life I lived, the way I generally live and travel, and the things I enjoy. Likewise she quickly figured out the things I do not prefer and the things I avoid, which include churches, touristic spots, and places that are overly commercial. Being an economist and an expat ruins me in many ways. I am not everyone’s cup of tea as a tour guide, but those who are in search for the authentic, will certainly have a time they will never forget if they manage to travel with me.
I took my anne to Ayasofia, also known as Haga Sofia to those in the West. Built in 360, this incredible building served as Constantinople’s Greek cathedral for over 1000 years until it was seized under Sultan Mehmed of the Ottoman Empire. From there it became a Mosque, where it remained as such until 1931 when Ataturk secularized it as a museum. One incredible building, with so much personality, character, and history. Besides a few of Gaudi’s pieces and a handful of mosques, it is hands down my favorite piece of architecture to this day.
I remember dreaming of visiting Ayasofia since I was a girl. Since then my dream has come true, and I have visited nearly a dozen times, taking friends there as a tour guide. This time it was a little bit different though. My mom was here. Like myself, she has a strong admiration and interest in Islamic art and architecture. A former art history major and artist herself, as well as the sister of engineers, she appreciates good design, especially when it has a historical context.
We went to Ayasofia around noon. I wasn’t sure what we were going to do after. I thought we would probably spend about an hour there maximum. That was about the longest I had ever taken anyone there. I myself I spent several hours there before, wondering the cooridors, imagining the past, taking photos, and making notes about various details. Never more though. Well my anne and I spent five hours in Ayasofia! I think we would have spent more if it hadn’t been closing, but it’s probably good we didn’t because the time we left our bones ached from the countless times we walked up and down the cobblestone stairs—as if we didn’t get enough cobblestone already wandering around in Istanbul.
I think my old roommates would probably think I was nuts if they knew we spent five hours in Ayasofia, but knowing how I am, and guessing that my mom is probably not so different, they also probably wouldn’t be too surprised. For five hours we took countless photos, experimenting with our knew cameras, and countless angles with different natural lighting as the day progressed. We heard call to prayer nearly three times while we were in Ayasofia. Before we had photographed nearly every corner and angle of the place we started amusing ourselves by taking pictures of tourists. This was especially fun, and as a mother-daughter experience it was exhilarating.
My mom used to criticize me for the photos I used to take of tourists in Turkey with my roommates. I guess with time my mom has become more like me. After all, we often find ourselves spending numerous moments during our occasional “mother-daughter time” by listening to David Sedaris’ books about his dysfunctional family on tape, or quoting other lines from Amy or David Sedaris. My mom may be pretend to be aloof and humanitarian, and for the most part she is, but she still has our moments where she still relishes in sinking to or below our (my dad’s family and I) level.
Taking pictures of the tourists was sort of our hobby in our days living in Ankara. After living in Turkey and seeing nearly every touristic site it all grows old pretty fast. The tourists start to drive you nuts. But still, we kept traveling. I think in a way we resented the tourists—they all had some great time and loved Turkey, but they didn’t live there. They didn’t live in Ankara, and they didn’t have to deal with all the bureaucracy and nonsense that comes with expat life. We were bitter, and we released our angst by taking photos on the weekends of ridiculous tourists that happened to amuse us. We would be sneaky. We did have SOME shame after all…usually. Lauren or Ena would go stand in front of said tourist and say they wanted a picture in front of some obscure landmark, only to have me zoom in on the spectacle of a tourist fumbling about completely unaware in the background. We were pretty sly for the most part. My most prized picture was the female Dutch tourist in her late 70′s who chose to ware see-through white short shorts in the Mediterranean in winter. Sure it’s the Med, and sure she’s from Europe, but so rarely do I allow myself wear shorts in a Muslim country, despite the location or the weather. It’s not that you can’t do it, and it’s not that people don’t. Tourists do, and some Turks even do too. I just find myself a chameleon to my environment. Put me in a conservative country and I become conservative. After living only three months in Cairo I felt completely naked stepping out in Ankara in a pink mid-thigh-length dress I once wore to work in Hong Kong.
Anyways, our photos at Ayasofia were not as cruel as the ones I once took with my former roommates. Some tourists had beautiful outfits, and looked very posh in the background. Others wearing more modest and traditional clothing created a beautiful and natural setting, almost like a painting. We did make a point to take a picture of the guy with the triangle shaped newspaper crafted makeshift captain’s hat however. But then again, how could we resist? Needless to say, my
mom and I had and are having a great time. Here are some of our pictures.
Two and a half more weeks in Turkey with mom. I wonder what adventures will ensue… We are in Kapadokya at the moment, heading to Ankara next to see friends, and then onward.