I just spent an amazing, jam-packed three days in the wonderful city of Istanbul. It was my second trip there, the first being three years ago with my parents, and I dare say I’m in love! I’m even toying with the idea of trying to teach there for a year after my Master’s. Who knows? Perhaps Wrap Me in Phyllo Dough will go Turkish in two years!
Asia – Yes, that’s right! I went to Asia! Istanbul is divided by the Bosphorus river. One side is European, while the other is officially located in Asia. On our last day, Carrie and I took the ferry across the river, and suddenly found ourselves on a new continent.
Blue Mosque – The Blue Mosque is my favorite building in the whole world. I find it so architecturally fascinating and incredibly aesthetically pleasing. It has really come to be the symbol of Istanbul for me.
Cousin – Cousin? Cousin? Oh yes. Cousin. My travel buddy Carrie’s cousin, in fact. You know, the one we ran into inside the Grand Bazaar. If this is not proof that we live in a small world, I don’t know what is. To really appreciate this, you must also take into account that Istanbul has an unofficial population estimate of 19 million, and the Grand Bazaar itself is a huge maze of 4500 stands!
Dolmuş – The dolmuş is a form of public transportation in Istanbul. It’s a shared minibus; and I wish I could tell you more than that, but even though I rode on one, I have no idea how it works. We hopped on while trying to get to a different neighborhood on the Asian side, and since we couldn’t communicate at all with the Turkish drivers who didn’t speak English, we only wound up much further from our destination; but, that said, we had a total blast bumping along in the old-fashioned minibus to the beat of blasting Turkish pop, and still managed to engage in seriously giggle-worthy nonverbal communication with our charismatic drivers.
Efes – Efes is a Turkish beer (seemingly the only major Turkish beer?). And you know what? It was great! It complimented every meal I had it with, and I’d describe it as generic in a good way. It’s not very distinctive, but it goes well with Turkish food and sure helps beat the heat!
Fountain – The fountain located in between Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque is one of the coolest fountains I have ever seen! It’s beautiful in the day, but truly spectacular at night, as it lights up in different colors.
Grand Bazaar – How could G not be for Grand Bazaar? The Grand Bazaar is one of the largest and oldest covered markets in the world. With what seems like a million booths and a million ridiculously ostentatious vendors to match, the Grand Bazaar is not to be missed. Make no mistake; you gotta get your game face on. It is packed with tourists and locals to the point where you can hardly move at times, and with so many shiny, colorful things and noisy racket going on all around you, I’d describe it as sensory overload on crack. That said, once you let yourself indulge, it’s a blast! I myself really get into haggling, and I dare say I got some steals with the comeback “But sir, I’m just a poor teacher…” The vendors certainly have their own arsenal of lines, some more business-based than others. Though “Hello my angel, how can I help you spend your money?” and “Darlings, come look at my rubbish!” got us giggling, this year’s grand prize goes to, and I quote, “Come back to my heart, meow meow!”
Hammam – The hammam is a public bathhouse, known worldwide as “Turkish baths.” You go in, strip down to whatever level of nakedness you feel comfortable with, and get yourself washed and seriously scrubbed by someone else. (If you can think of anything further outside the American comfort zone, please share.) This was my second time at a hammam, and it certainly did not disappoint. Stay tuned for a whole post on my hammam adventure!
Istanbul Is Constantinople – That’s right, They Might Be Giants (and whoever it was who originally wrote this song?); the name “Constantinople” is not exactly a thing of the past. In fact, here in Greece, it’s still called Constantinople (Konstantinopoli, to be exact). Between that and the whole FYROM controversy, my brain is seriously confused with all these dual names!
Jewelry – If you are in the market for some jewelry, Istanbul is the place to go! Everywhere you look, gorgeous necklaces, earrings and bracelets are being sold. In general, Istanbul is a great city in which to buy gifts for friends and family!
Kate & Carrie – My friend Carrie and I met here at the American Farm School, as she’s a student life intern here for the year. Together, we’ve been to Kavala, Xanthi, Drama, Corfu, Athens, Halkidiki, Ioannina, Pilio, Santorini, and now, Istanbul. She’s become one of my best friends, and we are perfectly suited as travel buddies! Though she lives in the eastern part of the States, I know we will keep in touch (including many text messages in Grenglish, I’m sure!) and–who knows?–maybe even come back to Greece together someday!
Lanterns – These glass lanterns are sold all over the city, and I just love them! With my usual moth-to-a-light attraction to shiny, brightly colored things, I can’t get enough of them. I bought one on my first trip to Istanbul, and had to exercise some serious self-restraint in order to not buy another one, as I already have too many glass things in my suitcase!
Medusa – Inside the Basilica Cistern, there are two massive stone carvings of Medusa’s head. The whole site is the very best in eerie delights–dark, dank, and complete with ghostly fish swimming through the spotlights in the water, the place will give you the shivers in the best possible way! This was one of my very favorite sites of the whole trip.
Night bus – I got on a bus on Friday night, and 9 hours later, I was in Istanbul. Not too much happened in the meantime, except for getting out of the bus for passport control once on each side of the border, and “Serenity Now”ing my way through the thunderous snuffling of a small, round child with a nasty cold and poor social judgment on how loudly one should speak when on a bus at 3 AM. You know how in some horror movie scenes, all you can hear is the characters’ terrified heavy breathing? Yeah. Like that. For nine hours. Serenity now!! (By the way, don’t you think this qualifies as an Adventure Face?)
Orchids – Why orchids? Because I drank some! Sahlep is a traditional Turkish drink made from ground orchid roots. It’s sweet, thick and filling, and is served hot with cinnamon on top.
Prince Islands – The Prince Islands are a small set of islands off the coast of Istanbul, about a fifty-minute ferry ride out from the Kabataş station. The best part about these islands? Cars are illegal! Carrie and I chose to go to Heybeliada, one of the larger islands. We found a tranquil island with a lovely pine grove, where we spent most of our time while on the island. It was so nice to get out into nature for a bit after the hustle-and-bustle of Istanbul. Even better, it was a prime glimpse of local life, as several families were having a Sunday barbeque in the woods. We even got to see a few women in full black hijab, with only their faces showing, playing with a soccer ball with their kids!
Queue – Or, that is, a lack of one when boarding or disembarking from the ferry. This is common in Greece, too, but it was out of control in Istanbul. Carrie and I had to hold hands to avoid being separated while trying to get seats in the mad rush to board the ferry, and I was nearly trampled while trying to go down the stairs to get off!
Ride – In a horse-drawn carriage, around the island! Y’know, there are some touristy activities that are a total waste of money, and some that are legitimately fun and useful. This was one of the latter. We were able to see much more of the island than we would have on foot in our limited time frame, and I was shocked by how much fun it was!
Spice Market – The food-based little sister of the Grand Bazaar, Istanbul’s Spice Market is a foodie’s dream. With mountains upon mountains of Turkish sweets, spices, dried fruits and other goodies, I could have spent hours in there (especially because of the free samples!).
Turkish coffee – As an avid coffee drinker, I was in heaven sipping a few Turkish coffees during my trip. This one I drank right outside Hagia Sophia.
Umlauts are funny. Even the word itself makes me giggle. And Turkish words are full of them: among Istanbul’s neighborhoods are Eyüp, Karaköy, Tünel and the double-whammy of Eminönü.
Vast – The city of Istanbul is 5,343 square km (2,062.9 sq mi) in size. With an official population density of 2,481/km2 (6,425.8/sq mi), you can imagine just how crowded this city is, and just how many people call it home.
Water – Istanbul is a city very connected to its water. Carrie and I remarked again and again how central the Bosphorus seemed to the feel of the city, and just how much of its life is found on its waterfront(s). We even saw dolphins every single day we were there!
Yemek is Turkish for food! I know, I’m so mean–I made you wait all the way until the Y’s for all my food photos! Get ready for a big ol’ droolfest, as we did not skimp on the good eats on this trip… in fact, one night I ate so much I very nearly threw up out the window of our taxi on the ride home!! In my defense, Istanbul drivers are crazy, but I definitely overdid it. Whoops. Who wouldn’t with all this lamb?!
Zaborowska – As in Magdalena J., who wrote James Baldwin’s Turkish Decade. This would have been my side research project if I had wound up in Turkey for my Fulbright, so I decided to do it anyway: I read James Baldwin’s Another Country (which I loved) and then traveled to Istanbul to see more of the city in which he finished it, while reading Zaborowska’s work about his time spent there. (Amazingly, after ten years of struggling with the novel, he finished it on the kitchen counter of a Turkish friend’s house in the middle of a raging party!) The research project would have ultimately been a comparison between Istanbul and the Harlem of Baldwin’s youth (and may still be, if [when] I live in Istanbul!). Her book is adding a whole new dimension to my understanding of Baldwin. As a black queer author writing during the Civil Rights Movement, James Baldwin was a thoroughly complex writer; but his attraction to Turkey, the Turkish friends he found, and the American public’s reaction to his being there (Zaborowska writes that one person she encountered assumed he had gone solely for the seemingly homoerotic experience of the Turkish bath!) all provide key insight into this profoundly interesting literary figure. I highly recommend both Another Country and Zaborowska’s work.
Phew! That was a whopper! If you made it this far, raise your right hand in the air. Are you doing it? Really? Really? Good. Now give yourself a pat on the back from me. You’ve just read my novella about Istanbul. I hope you know the city much better now, and I hope even more you’ve been inspired to travel there yourselves!
And now, back to my regularly scheduled enjoying the heck out of my last week in Greece. Pame! (Let’s go!)
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