Monday, July 5, 2010

So the thing about Istanbul is...

For the past week I've been running around Istanbul slowly making sense of it all... The language, the history, the culture - giving special attention to geographical orientation. This place just keeps on going and going and going. On Saturday, we went to a Emre's family vacation home on the Marmara Sea. The hour long drive never took us through a sparsely populated area, making the size of this massive city startlingly evident. 17,000,000+ people. Yeesh.

The cookout at Emre's place was awesome... We all swam in the pool, had traditional Turkish kebabs in the garden, along with eggplant salad (like babaganoush), spicy [raw] meatballs, tomato and spicy pepper salad, melons and raki... The night ended with some belly-dancing and soccer.

We've been to so many famous mosques I can't keep them straight in my head, so I'll just say they were all amazing (which they truly were) and leave it at that. My favorite mosque was this little hidden gem with an almost impossible to find entrance... It was perched atop a collection of merchant shops near the famous Egyptian Spice Bazaar. That place was incredible; I've never smelled anything that overwhelming yet appealing in my life. I really hope to make another stop there before the trip is over.

We spent one of our free days in Taksim enjoying the culinary products of Istanbul's finest local cafés. Let me just say that fig pudding has never tasted so good... Nor has chicken breast ever looked so appealing in a bed of warm stringy sweet creamy dough topped with syrup. My newest obsession: sage tea... and hazelnuts.

Today we had another class, followed by a scenic 6 hour cruise up and down the Bosporus. We stopped at a town by the mouth of the straight that opens into the Black Sea, then proceeded to hike to the top of what felt like a mountain. At the top was an ancient fortress/ castle that had incredible views of the entire area. I, feeling adventurous, climbed along the fortress walls to get a better view... And to nearly fall a few hundred meters to my death. Lol. We grabbed some food at a hillside café with equally great views and leisurely cruised back.

Tomorrow we explore more historical sites related to the books we've been reading.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

A very long walk...

With the week behind me a complete blur of hotels, airports, airplanes and thunderstorms, Friday lead me in a new direction. We went everywhere... Stopping at the Blue Mosque where we saw the Turkish prime minister giving a speech, the incredible underground cistern that's impressive beauty couldn't quite be captured via iPhone pics, the Egyptian Acropolis (est. to be 3,500+ years old), the grand bazaar (the world's oldest mall ever, with 1000+ shops inside), a tea garden near an ottoman palace, the waterfront covered with restaurants and fishermen and street vendors selling nasty grilled corn and awesome muscles filled with rice and lemon juice, and ending at the bustling neighborhood of Taksim (always covered with people, shopping, bars, and street vendors... We sat there for a while and watched the world cup while taking in a few drinks).

Then on saturday our group went to the Bosphorus again to explore another little neighborhood near the posh hotels and exclusive high schools around the Four Seasons (I can't really remember the name of the exact neighborhood). There were all kinds of cool shops and vendors selling huge baked potatoes and fried muscles... And this interesting yogurt drink called aryan (kinda salty, yet oddly satisfying... Apparently yogurt is originally Turkish, so it's one of the most popular food/drink items here).

A few friends and I stopped by a vendor to pick up some Efes to drink by the water at the square... It sounded like a promising way to spend the afternoon and alleviate our body aches from the constant walking up and down hills for miles to get anywhere, until we noticed we were like right in front of a mosque and were being stared at by a few religious people off in the distance (or we could have just been paranoid). Our Turkish friends later told us that everybody does that, and they were surprised to hear that anyone stared at us, so i felt better about having potentially offended anyone. After watching yet another world cup game with these random Korean guys at a waterfront cafe (which turned ugly when Uruguay won), we headed back to Taksim to meet up the Turkish ITÜ students to watch America lose to Ghana...

They took us out afterwards to a little blues bar that had an amazing band playing all kinds of American and Turkish music... Everybody (even the quiet engineering students) let loose and danced. The Turks seem to know how to have a good time :) We hit up another club (where I tried this shot called the "brain tumor"... which was seriously delicious) and made our way back to campus around 3 or 4... Which, oddly enough, is fairly early to these people... Their bars stay open until 5 or sometimes even 6...

I spent most of the day Sunday laying in bed reading and catching up on sleep... Tomorrow we start classes. So I should really be in bed, considering it's like 1am.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

50 hours later...

So my trip started off with a boatload of bull crap from United Airlines... The woman in St Louis who checked in 4 of the people in my group (including myself, another student, and the two faculty members) refused to give us our boarding passes for our international flight- claiming we would get them in Chicago... Well, United then proceeded to delay the aircraft for 2.5 hours, allowing us 30 minutes to take a train across O'Hare, pick up our boarding passes at Turkish Airlines, get though security and customs, and make our way the the last gate at the end of the terminal... Needless to say, that didn't happen.

What really added insult to injury was that Turkish Airlines screwed us over by giving our seats away right in front of us (screwing over a Kurdish family- for obvious ignorant racial reasons- AND us because we didn't appear to be Turks like the family that got our seats).

Moral of the story: people are assholes, and you should never fly United OR Turkish Airlines.

Not ALL was lost, however, because I did get a killer room at the Intercontinental out of the whole ordeal. Free food, comfy bed, glorious bathroom, massive flat screen... Who could ask for more?

After 50+ hours in transit, we arrived in Istanbul at 6:00pm local time and were checked into our dorm rooms by 8:30... The ride from the airport really painted a brilliant, yet brief, picture of the world's 4th largest city. Huge mosques help you stay oriented throughout the city of red roofs, dizzying hills, beautiful blue bodies of water, ancient stone structures, and intensely colorful buildings. It's fairly cool (and by cool I mean ideal) here because of the recent rainy weather... About 70/75 degrees.

After trekking to campus through the city- strapped to the ears with bulky luggage- we took a break to relax at the cafe with our new Turkish friends just around the corner. I realized, while sucking down glass after glorious glass of tea, that Thursday was gone before Wednesday had even ended in my mind... And I also realized that we were in the same time zone as South Africa, so I wouldn't have to wake up early to catch the world cup games anymore!

Tomorrow: we explore the Bosphorus... hopefully!

Monday, June 21, 2010

And now for something completely different...

It's Monday, 21 June 2010, and I'm tying up all loose ends here at home before heading halfway across the globe. I have absolutely ZERO packing done... and like 2 million things to do before I leave (not the least of which is a boatload of laundry).

So since I have like nothing interesting to share at this point... I'm off to finish my To Do List before my plane leaves tomorrow at 6:42pm.