Friday Robin Cantrell and I left New York City, and the US, to travel to Erbil, Iraq to conduct a Dancing to Connect Workshop with Iraqi youth from Kirkuk and Erbil. If you need a quick catch up you can either check out the WSJ article or the WNPR interview.
I served in Fallujah in 2005-2006, and going back is monumental, not only for me, but for the people of Erbil, Kirkuk, Veterans of the Iraq war, and hopefully the world.
The next few posts, for the next ten days will be about the trip and the experience, so for these posts please excuse grammar, spelling and punctuation. Like today, we are both working on very little sleep, different routine, different food, and tons of stuff to take care of during the day, and are usually posting at night. Iraq is seven hours ahead of NYC and right now my head is pounding and I can’t figure out if it’s the coffee, water, or lack of sleep.
As far as I know, no American commercial airline flies directly into Iraq, so we flew from NYC’s JFK airport to Istanbul, Turkey and had a fourteen (14) hour layover. It was a great plan, sleep on the plane, tour Istanbul, then hang at the hotel until the flight left at about midnight Istanbul time.
Nothing is ever that smooth.
The Istanbul airport was ok. A little trouble with passport control, no trouble with visa, a lot of trouble with Turkish Airlines. You see, in Istanbul, the staff is better at ignoring you than half of the people in NYC. They seriously pretend you are not there. So we spent a bit of time arguing, then gave up and headed into Old Istanbul to visit the Blue Mosque and the Grand Bazaar. I was on a mission to find a drink that a friend had recommended, but I couldn’t remember the name.
Since Istanbul wasn’t the mission, I’ll give you a quick rundown through photos:
Once the cab stopped barreling through the streets, we were on foot. We found a fresh pomegranate cart where they made fresh pomegranate juice. Knowing the anti-oxidant properties of pomegranates, the juice was awesome, although a bit tart.
Then we headed to the Blue Mosque. We wanted to check out the inside, but it was prayer time and the mosque wasn’t open for visitors so we decided to get lunch as we were both starving.
Along with lunch, we had Turkish Coffee. A German rug-store owner was sitting next to us and read our fortunes from the grounds left in the cup. Don’t get your hopes up. it was all hogwash.
We started walking from the Blue Mosque (shown) to St. Sofia’s Cathedral.
The Cathedral cost about twenty dollars so we decided to head back to the Blue Mosque. The inside was incredible. I’ll post more photos of it later, as they seem to have gotten lost in the bloggisphere.
After the mosque, both Robin and I had to use the Water Closet (WC) and there was one behind the Mosque. Upon my arrival in the basement of the courtyard, I was faced with my mortal enemy, the squat toilet. A formidable foe that requires its opponent to have keen balance, a steady hand, and strong knees. I quickly conquered the foe and surfaced to Robin’s exclaim of, “You had to make a doodie? I am so proud!” I knew that we grew closer that day, having served and conquered a mutual enemy.
One of the entrances to the Grand Bazaar. The Bazaar was hard to get around and every shop owner tried to pull us in their shop. They were rather friendly and good with conversation usually.
The handiwork and colors are incredible
And the mix of old and new was amazing
I wanted to buy this for Nutcracker
Amazing Turkish Delight, a yummy candy that I had to buy. Robin bought Pasmanye, a cotton candy type candy that is the consistency of really fine hair. It was weird but good.
We spent an awful long time looking for this entrance. Again, asking for Nargile, and for the Chululu Alipasa got us interesting and hard to follow directions. But we finally found it.
I love these lamps, they look like hot air balloons
The Nargili (in Turkish, Hookah in Arabic) tasted like strawberries. We also had apple tea and lemon tea.
A try at getting a panoramic shot of the Nargili shop.
Then we went on a search for a famous dinner restaurant (directions are all “on this corner, turn right, 300 meters). The food was very good. Robin had eggplant kabab, and I had lamb with cheese and pita. The restaurant is famous for its flaming entrees and we saw a few served. We almost ordered the one where they slice the bottom off of a flaming clay vessel.
On our way back to the Blue Mosque to get a taxi back to the airport we heard “Salep, Salep.” I exclaimed, “THAT’S IT!” My friend Quinn Pendelton wrote about it on her travels with Ballet de Monte Carlo and I wanted to try it while in Turkey. It is a rice based drink with Salep (a type of seasoning only found in Turkey, and cinnamon, served hot. It was perfect to settle dinner and keep us warm on a slightly chilly night.
Then we took pictures of the Blue Mosque illuminated at night. Can you see the bats flying around the minnerettes?
Then we were back to arguing for a place to rest with Turkish Airlines, our flight got pushed back and hour and a half, but soon, we were on our connecting flight to Erbil, Iraq.