First Time to Istanbul

This really was an incredible experience. The city really is as beautiful as I’ve heard it is. Now I understand why METU students run away on the weekends to Istanbul. Now it makes sense.

Ankara is very yellow everywhere right now. In Istanbul everything is green, tulips grow naturally everywhere, and there is even palm tress! The water also surrounds the city and even splits it into two continents!

IMG_1794The bus took about 8 hours in total from METU to Istanbul destination. Maybe flying is better…? Although it was neat to see the earth change from yellow to green. I went out there by bus with a friend from my handball class, Gözde, whose boyfriend lives there. I stayed at my friend, Gamze’s (who I actually met in Canada because she was doing an exchange there last year) house. I spent a lot of time, however, exploring the city by myself.

When we got into the city Gözde, her boyfriend, and I spent some time together. They were very very good to me. They refused to let me pay for anything and kept telling me that I was their “guest”. They took me up the Galata Tower and that was SUCH a beautiful view
of Istanbul streched out in all directions. I highly recommend this place. 🙂

Then the three of us went for dinner together and I tried Chicken Iskander. I think I prefer beef but this one was delicious too.

 

Eventually I met up with Gamze and she was very eager for me to try everything Turkish (in the department of food). We walked down Istiklal Avenue (I think that was the name of the street) from Taksim Square and she collected free samples of everything possible for me to try. I tried Turkish Coffee (I have been putting that one off because I don’t like coffee) and it was actually better than I expected it might be. It was very sweet and actually tasted similar to hot chocolate, which I haven’t had here either. What I really loved was the Rose Petaled Pomogranete Lokum (or Turkish Delight as you might better know it). This was DE-licious!

Then it was turning into evening and Gamze showed me some of the night life in Istanbul. We ended up at a Plaza with Turkish Meze (appetizers) and live music. We had bread, strained yogurt and herbs, garlic yogurt with carrots, and a few other things. Gamze got the musicians to come over to play our table music and we stood up and danced together. This consisted of me mostly following her movements.

At this place I also tried Rakı, which is a famous Turkish alcohol. This alcohol looks similar to vodka and has a similar amount of alcohol but when mixed with water it turns cloudy! I thought that was really neat! Also, it tastes like Black Liceroce (which I generally don’t like but this was pretty decent, and like nothing I had ever tried before).IMG_1894

We headed back towards Gamze’s house in the Beşiktaş area of Istanbul. On our way back
we stopped for a chocolate dessert. This place put so much detail into their food. The one we chose was like two pancakes with chocolate designs on them, not to mention, in between then was kiwi, bananas and strawberries. Yum, yum, yum!

Around 1 am is the time when we left the chocolate place to go back to Gamze’s house. This is the first time I tried hitch hiking… It is very common here! Gamze pulled over a car to get us up her hilly, cobble stoned road that she lives on. Thankfully, there were no problems! Hitch hiking is very unnerving to me but it does seem very common here!

The next morning I set out to explore Istanbul by myself, as Gamze had other things to do. What an interesting opportunity to get to explore the city all by myself. I would have been much more afraid if I didn’t have data on my Turkish phone plan. It really helped me, numerous times, actually.

I went to the peninsula of Old Town there, where the majority of tourist attraction are. I paid 4 Lira to take the tram from Beşiktaş to SultanAhmet station, which was easy enough actually. When I got there, I could not believe the beauty!! Çok güzel!!!

After I walked around a bit exploring, I decided on visiting the Archaeology Museum and the Aya Sophia mosque (these are both the places that my roommate, Ege, recommended for me to see in Istanbul) but there were tons of other places I could have visited too! There was a Carpet museum, which I think might also have been interesting.

I enjoyed the Archaeology museum but I think other people would have enjoyed it more than me. There was tons and tons of viewings about mummification, stone engravings, ceramic paint artifacts and other artifacts from neighbouring Euroasian countries, such as Palestine.

The Aya Sophia was the first Mosque I’ve ever visited and the first time, actually, I sued the scarves that I brought with me here to cover my head. I was required to do this out of respect. I didn’t stay long but I liked that this was free and it was so beautifully designed on the inside!

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It was about 4 pm now and I saw signs for the Grand Bazar, and, as that was a place on my list to see I followed the signs there! It was not as I imagined it to be. My mind was imagining it would be more Canadian-like, I think. Everything was connected together along a street and it was hard to tell when it actually started and ended, other than there was a large part of it inside. It stretched for miles and miles in all directions. It would have been so easy to get turned around in there, again, thank gIMG_1951oodness gracious I have data on my phone! The indoor part of the Bazar had a flat floor and a cigarette smoke haze to it.. After being bombarded with “Welcome!” and “Here!” and… “Teenager!” I realized that I was out of the Bazar.
My phone told me I was now heading to the Egyptian Bazar. When I got there I realized this one seemed very similar to me. But I did see watches I liked for 10 lira (instead of 20 or 30 like I’d seen in the Grand). I looked at them for a while and picked one I liked to buy. My watch I was using stopped working here a few weeks ago anyways. So, success. 🙂

I started to get very cold at this point (I had forgotten my Jacket in the morning) and it was becoming very windy so close to the water. I came across a Tram station that would take me back to Beşiktaş called Eminönü. This took me back to where Gamze lives. As she was still busy, I then I look the opportunity to eat a dinner. I had Lahmacan (which is very Turkish and is like a thin pizza). I love how they are always so cheep! It only cost me 5 Lira (which is less than $2.50 Canadian)!

IMG_1955_2I then made my way to a nearby park and the sky got darker and darker as I took in the beauty. It was so peaceful at this park. I sat at the small lake that you could walk around
and I watched a beautiful swan in the lake comb its feathers. I thought about the Ugly Duckling. I thought about the flexibility of its neck to reach all the feathers and itchy places. By the time it was 8:30 pm I decided to head back to Gamze’s house and see what she was up to now.

She didn’t seem up to much now. So we had a bit of a heart to heart chat. Then she wanted to go out to a club to show me more night life even though I’d already had a very full day I somehow decided to go for the experience.

Gamze had on a dress that was short and she offered for me to wear one of hers. I really didn’t think this was a good idea in Turkey so I kindly rejected and said I’d wear my jeans long sleeve shirt, and scarf around my neck, which had served me pretty well for the majority of the day. She said they might not let me in. I didn’t believe her! A dress code to wear minimal clothing in Turkey. That’s insane, I thought! But I really should have believed her…

When we got there I was very surprised at all the people waiting around the bar entrance. The women, specifically, all had short dressed on and high heels. Gamze suddenly fit right in. The security guard at the front told us it was full and reservations only. Since we didn’t have one, we weren’t allowed in. Gamze told me we would wait for her other friend to come. He said that he could get us in somehow. So we waited for a bit and it was true. He charmed the security guards and told them he was with us. The security guards gave me dirty looks up and down my covered body but did let us in. I was feeling rather uncomfortable by this point but once we were past the security check I realized that the place reeked of cigaret smoke. There were maybe 400 people crammed into a small space and maybe 50 of them weren’t smoking (first hand). Gamze’s friend had two other guy friends; the three of them smoked 4 packs of cigarettes between the three of them. Cigarette after cigarette. Disgusting.

They were using their arms (with cigarette in hand) to keep the beat of the song, and though they didn’t speak much english they told me “dance!” and asked me why my body was so rigid. I didn’t have an answer for them. It was also very very loud. We stayed an hour and a half approximately and at 2 am I began checking my phone and Gamze picked up that I was done and wanted to leave. So, thankfully, we did go back to her house at this point. When we got back to her house I somehow felt more wide awake then I did at 10:30 or 11 pm when we left for the club but I did fall asleep around 3 ish.

I woke up in the morning around 8 am feeling rested. I was in Istanbul! I wanted to explore more! Gamze was again busy for the day though. So we said our “Görüşürüz” and I was on my way with all my things.

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I made my way over to a ferry dock (where she had suggested I could go) and paid 4 Lira for
a one way ferry ticket – same price as the tram! This was a beautiful ride! The boat took me right past the Maiden’s Tower that Gözde pointed out to me from the top of the Galata Tower. It is a tower in the middle of the water that is accessible by another ferry. There were people there exploring. One day I hope to do that too!

I found a Börek breakfast place in Kadıköy (where the ferry took me) and enjoyed spinach Börek with çay 🙂 I realized that Gözde wanted to stay another day in Istanbul at my breakfast here so I decided that I would head
IMG_1977back to METU earlier than later, as I had a class the next morning I didn’t want to miss. She was really helpful over text in directing me to the bus station and even typing up a Turkish paragraph that I could show to help me get a ticket. I again tried to use my phone to get there.. but I got a bit lost so I took a taxi there and that worked out well. I paid 50 Lira for the ride back to Ankara. It was a long ride by myself this time. Gözde and I chatted the whole time on the way out. This ride was quieter and I
journaled about my weekend in a book the Gözde had bought for me!

 

When I got back to the central train station in Ankara at around 7:30 pm I found a taxi out front and he spoke no English but my Turkish was enough to get by. When I got into his vehicle. He pointed to the iPad he had on his dashboard showing the current news. There was another bombing in the city centre just 10 minutes or less ago.

Again, another eerie feeling ran through me. I had hoped the one just less than a month ago was going to be my only experience of this eerie feeling. It would have been enough to experience. But, no, here was another one. The aftermath was happening right at that moment. The taxi driver spoke tons of Turkish to me and when I heard words I recognized I would repeat them and he thought that I was understanding everything. It’s important to feel listened to, even if I couldn’t really hear all that he was saying.

I feel an overwhelming sense of safety as the taxi entered me back into the METU campus.

 

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