Written 2/3, Edited 2/21
Istanbul, oh Istanbul! What a magical, eye opening experience. I was in Istanbul from Monday through Friday (1/28-2/1) and A LOT happened in a very short time. Sunday night, I decided on a whim that I would go to Istanbul the next day. Mostly because Julie and Jennifer couldn’t stop raving about it, and I thought it would be warmer than Rome. INCORRECT. It was actually colder than Rome, rainy, with one of those wet colds that you can never get warm from. Anyway, I thought I was so awesome and spontaneous booking a flight the night before, like a true adventurer…
The trip started to go bad when my train from Rome to Fiumicino Airport was delayed, causing me to have to rush when I got to the airport. When I got to the check in desk the lady looked at me like I was crazy and said, “You better hurry.” I made it to the gate in time to grab a sandwich and a water, and the flight went pretty well. After sitting in passport control for 45 minutes, I found out that I was supposed to pay for a visa before going through, so I had to find this tiny, tucked away desk and give a man 15 euro of my hard earned dollars away, only to sit in line again. When I finally got through the line a second time, I found out that my luggage never got on board with me. So I had the wonderful prospect of wearing a black tee and white sweater for 5 days straight running through my mind (same socks, same undies? Blech), which quickly escalated to panic… “They are never going to find my baggage!!! Same socks, same undies, FOREVER?!” That’s the problem with language barriers. If I had known how to speak Turkish, I probably would have berated the poor guy for an hour asking so many questions. Instead all I could do was get these huge tears in my eyes, causing him to say “It’s okay”, and me to reply, “Are you sure?” and he gave me this look like, “UMMMM we’re talking about communication between Italy and Turkey, I’m not sure of anything.” GREEEAT. So this whole time I’m hyperventilating about my bag being lost forever and my 6 month supply of contacts being lost (first world problems) and thinking, if they lose my bag for good I’m going to have to go home. There is no way I can survive in a foreign country with just a backpack with my computer, sketchbook, journal, and Kindle it in. While those things are all great, I kind of prefer clean underwear.
Anyway, I leave the airport and take an hour bus because I flew into the Asian side airport (yay, add a continent to my list, however breif!) and arrive in Taksim, which is a long street with shopping, restaurants and bars. I met my host, Mehmet, there and we walked to the apartment. (Added at a later date: I can write this because in the weeks since writing this post, my dad asked me if I Couch Surfed while in Istanbul. Since I can’t lie I told him the truth. And I’m sure he’s already told my mom. I’m sorry for the remaining few readers of this blog that are now having a heart attack *cough, Ginny and Linda, cough*, but Couch Surfing was a pretty awesome experience. And I’m still alive to tell the tale.)
The next morning I took off on my own ready to take on Istanbul. As I walked, I was amazed by the different sights and sounds, as I had gotten so used to the Italian and the comfortable sights of a city I’d been to many times. Istanbul and Rome are very similar in that they are both ancient cities, and were both built on 7 hills. That’s where the similarities end. Turkey is an Islamic state, so instead of seeing massive Catholic churches everywhere, you see massive mosques with huge minarets. On that first day, the best experience I had was the first time I heard the call to prayer. The call to prayer goes out five times a day over loudspeakers mounted on the minarets of the mosques, and can be heard from anywhere in the city. The first time I heard it, I got goosebumps. At that moment I knew that this city was so far outside of my norms and comfort zone that it would be a wonderful experience.
The New Mosque was built in 1597 and was the first mosque I had ever been in. I was lucky enough to get there as the prayers began. When entering a mosque, you have to take your shoes off and cover your head, male or female. Men can pray in the front of the mosque, women pray in the back. I have a lot of feelings about this separation for prayer, but as this is not a religious blog I will not go into much detail on my opinions. Email me if you’re interested, we can get coffee and chat about it for hours. Regardless, being in a mosque during a time of prayer is a very moving experience.
Just like in Catholicism, some of the best work can be found on the ceiling.
The Hagia Sofya was first built by the Byzantium Emperors as a Catholic church and place where state business was taken care of, such as coronations. It was later made into a mosque. For centuries this church was fought over, until Ataturk, the dude that unified Turkey, told everyone to stop it and made it into a museum, showcasing the mosaics and art of both. Those were his exact words. “Stop it.”
The Blue Mosque isn’t the oldest or the largest mosque, but it’s definitely the most famous. Legend says, when the Sultan was building it he said he wanted minarets made of gold, but since the word gold is close to the word 6, the builder instead made the mosque with 6 minarets, which is extremely unusual.
I also explored the Grand Bazaar, saw the Bosphorous bridge at night, and took in all the beauty that is Istanbul.
Now lets talk food. I LOVE Turkish food. I love Turkish tea. Turkish cuisine actually has a lot of similarities to Greek and Italian food in many ways. The main staples are bread, tomatoes, peppers, nuts, olives, etc. However Turkish food relies very heavily on the meat, mostly chicken and lamb, in the form of kebab. I loooove kebab, and since protein is the thing I’m missing most in my Italian diet, it was nice to eat big chunks of animal. I think that though the ingredients are mostly the same, the Turkish style of food was a nice refreshing break from pizza and pasta all day, every day. Don’t get me wrong, I loooove my pasta, but a nice salad of tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, and onions was much needed.
The sweets in Istanbul get me soooo excited about life. I have always loved baklava every since my days running around with Samantha Hughes in New Mexico, but my new found love is kunefis. Kunefis is almost like shredded wheat flakes, and in the center there is a soft white cheese. It is covered in sweet syrup, and can be served with ice cream, pistachios, soft goat cheese, or a combination of them. I don’t know where the hell I’ll find kunefis in California when I go home, maybe I learn to make it just to satisfy the craving. (In editing this 3 weeks later, I now have an intense need for kunefis. Thanks a lot past Brittany.)
Another thing I really love is aryan, which is like a cross between yogurt and milk. Turkish people put salt in theirs, I didn’t feel the need. I loved it, and I think it has to be good for your digestion, all those probiotics. Jamie Lee Curtis would be stoked.
The people I met were extremely fascinating as well. The Turks are known for their friendliness and hospitality, and they didn’t fail to disappoint me. From the Lost & Found baggage guy at the airport who walked me all the way outside to make sure I got on the correct bus to get to Taksim, to the shop owner who took me on a tour of all 5 of his shops, introduced me to his wife, and invited me for tea. Mehmet, my host, was an absolute gentleman who made a delicious Turkish breakfast for me every morning. His two friends, one was an exchange student from Germany and the other was a war refugee from Syria, were absolute dolls, and the German girl gave me a nice yellow sweater to keep so I had an additional shirt to wear! Also, I met a friend named Eyup at the Blue Mosque and he made it his duty to get me some kebab and tea and show me Istanbul. I honestly can’t believe how fortunate I was to get to meet these people; sometimes the people are better than the sights! Men in Turkey are gorgeous, and are like more polite Italian men, equally as willing to harass you until you talk to them, but in a REALLY nice way. Nice harassment.
So the luggage thing, how did that all work out? Not so well, but it could have been worse. My bags never left Rome, so I was able to pick them up upon my return. The problem? My bag was broken into and a small leather bag was stolen, along with some other small things. Then my suitcase was taped back together because the zipper had separated. Honestly, I was really angry about it, mostly because it was an airport employee and come on people, where is the trust! But now I’m just sad. Okay, maybe still a little mad as I’m cussing in Italian in my head right now.
My trip to Istanbul taught me a lot of lessons that hopefully I can learn from and become a more experienced traveler and human being. I left for Istanbul because I was having a hard time finding work on a farm in Italy, and I thought I could travel while working out my plans for later. Tuesday morning, I wake up, and there is an email from a farm in Rome asking me to come stay with them as soon as possible. It was actually the same farm I was supposed to stay at during the beginning of the trip that cancelled due to a roof leak. But that’s the funny part. Of course I leave and then I’m needed in Rome. Of course it’s the farm that was my first choice for this trip that I thought I wouldn’t get to visit. I’m constantly learning that I’m not able to control the world, and things sometimes work better when you let the world take the lead.
Losing my bag was an excellent lesson- this time a very practical lesson- always pack a spare set of clothes, especially socks and underwear in your backpack, as well as all essentials, such as deodorant and for me, contact solution. Also, I will never again travel like this with anything in my suitcase that has sentimental value to it, as I already don’t travel with anything of actual value. Not all people are wonderful. With every situation that turns out well, there are a million tiny things that could change that course. Traveling is all about constantly learning to make it work.
My bestfriend Bre and I talk a lot about everything happening for a reason. Whenever we meet someone, or like someone and it doesn’t work out we ask “Why did this happen? Why did I meet this person? What am I supposed to learn from this?” Sometimes there isn’t an answer, or there is and we just can’t see it yet. So in asking this question about my new friend Eyup, all I can think about was one conversation we had at dinner. He is an entrepreneur (Mitchell Grajeda, if you’re reading this he reminded me a lot of you in this way), and so I was explaining to him about my desires for the future, however cloudy they are at this point in life. He said one thing that stuck with me, so I think this is the reason I met him. He said, “You can work from here” pointing to his head, “or here,” and points to his heart. “If you work from here (heart), and you follow how it feels, you can’t go wrong.” The words themselves are very smart, but he said it with such truth and conviction, I could really feel his meaning. I think part of why this touched me so much is that I feel like for most of my life, I’ve been a use-your-head kind of girl, and I’m really trying to morph this into using more of my heart. In the past, when looking at how situations turned out, I realize that I had some sort of bad feeling about the whole thing, but due to conversations with people, coercion, or guilt, I went against what I was feeling, and maybe the situation turned out poorly. While I don’t think throwing my head and the wonderful common sense I was gifted with out the window is an option, I think that part of being a responsible adult is trusting yourself more than you trust other people, and knowing that if it feels right, it’s probably okay to do it even if no one else thinks it is. Trust your intuition.
Overall, this trip was such a wonderful, eye opening, sometimes uncomfortable experience. Would I recommend Istanbul to everyone? Absolutely not. They aren’t as fully developed as Europe, all though with the kindness of the people, I guarantee that one day they will be an excellent tourist destination. But I think many people aren’t ready for Istanbul, especially those looking for a comfortable, vacation-like setting. As open-minded I am, I still had difficulties on this trip. But going to Istanbul makes me a legitimate hardcore traveler, and I’m so proud of myself for opening up for this new, life-changing experience.