Saturday, September 20, 2008
Old friends and new experiences
So you know how they say (or at least I say) that you have to be on your best behavior when traveling abroad because you never know who you might bump into, and that you will always see someone you know? Well we were here a short four days before it happened to us.
Thursday, Peter and I walked (quite a long way) across the Galata Bridge over the Golden Horn to the Sultanahmet neighborhood, the old part of Constantinople where Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque are. We were strolling through the First Court of Topkapi palace -- the area that is outside the ticketed area, so it's a free place to spend a pleasant afternoon -- when suddenly we saw Sarah Morris, a professor from UCLA. She and her husband John Papadopoulos, who was one of Peter's MA thesis advisors, were in town leading a group of UCLA alumni on a tour of Turkey. I guess it's not so odd that two professors of classical archaeology would be in Istanbul, but what are the chances Peter and I would be in the exact same place at the exact same time? It's was definitely one of those "Fancy meeting you here" moments. It turns out that they are both on sabbatical and spending the year in Athens, so Sarah invited us to come over to visit, which I think we will plan to do at some point.
That day was Peter's first introduction to parts of Istanbul outside our immediate neighborhood, but we are pacing ourselves -- we didn't go into any buildings but the Blue Mosque, his first mosque visit. We mostly wandered around and got lost in little neighborhoods. We found the fish market (stinky but interesting), and a man offered to take us across the Golden Horn on his VERY small boat, but we declined. There is so much to do here, but we have time, so there's no reason to burn ourselves out.
Yesterday (Friday) the Center took us all out to the campus of Koc University, where we took a tour and had lunch with the President of the university. Peter and I sat across from him at the table and had a good chat. He's a very nice man, a mathematician, who keeps saying that "People who know these things" told him the best way to set up the Research Center program. For instance, he wanted to house it on campus and have the Fellows teach classes at Koc, but "someone who knows" told him that that would make the program less attractive because it would not mean time off for research (which is true) and that no one would want to live on campus (also true) because it is far far out of town and away from all of the libraries and archives. I'm glad they set it up the way they did!
that being said, the Koc U. campus is pretty amazing. It is only 7 years old in that location. It sits in a heavily wooded area (which we were all surprised existed so near to town) on the point of land directly where the Bosphorus meets the Black Sea. We went up to the top floor of the administration building, which is almost like a lighthouse tower done in the Ottoman style with cushioned benches surrounding it so you can sit and admire the view. Some of you may remember from your mythology (or from your Ray Harryhausen movie "Clash of the Titans") that the spot where the Bosphorus and the Black Sea meet is where Jason and the Argonauts had to dodge the clashing rocks that the Greeks said were put there to prevent ships from passing safely. The rocks were said to come together and crush any vessel whose crew was foolish enough to brave the passage. Interestingly, the entrance to the Bosphorus looked so peaceful (picture above) that I had a difficult time understanding where they myth came from until a professor at the University explained it to me. Apparently the tides in that area are extremely dangerous under the surface. There is one tide that flows out from the Bosphorus to the Black Sea, and one that flows in the other direct, above it. These two tides form whirlpools which could easily catch a ship, especially a smaller one. She told me that within the last few years two divers who were working for the city, doing some maintenance on underwater pipes in that area, got caught in the current coming in from the Black Sea and it was so strong that by the time they were able to escape from it hours later, it had carried them all the way into the Dardanelles!
After our campus tour and filling out a lot of paperwork for residence visas, insurance, etc., we were treated to a Bosphorus boat tour. The University had chartered a small private boat and it took us very slowly from the Black Sea back up to the Golden Horn. We passed several smaller communities and saw some surprising things, including pretty young children out in the middle of the Bosphorious fishing alone (see picture below)! All in all, the tour took about 4 hours. We had drinks, and a really fabulous meal including fresh fish from the Black Sea, and we all chatted and listened to music and let the Turkish Fellows point out all of the landmarks to us as we passed them (mosques, Ottoman palaces, military buildings, etc.). It was really the best way to get oriented. Istanbul can be difficult because it is easy to forget that it is really a maritime city that is split by two waterways (Bosphorus and Golden Horn), and without seeing it by boat (or from the air, I assume), it's hard to understand where you are standing at any particular time. But I think we get it now!
Disclaimer: the pictures, which Peter took, are a bit blurry because the boat was small, so it was rocking quite a bit, especially when larger boats passed us. We saw the Norwegian Jade sitting at the mouth of the Golden Horn, hogging the entire thing! It was really kind of obnoxious.