July 29, 2011 1 Comment
It’s hard to believe, but I’ve been in Istanbul for exactly one week. This city is HOT. I mean that in every way imaginable. I arrived in the middle of a tremendous heat wave:
My first night was spent in a hostel that was nice but in the epicenter of the club scene in Taksim Square. Taksim literally means water reservoir or fountain, named for the reservoir where water used to flow to the rest of the city. It now serves as one of the city’s major hangouts, particularly on weekend nights when it is packed with thousands of people. The main street in this area is Istiklal Caddesi, the ‘broadway of Istanbul’ packed with shops, restaurants, bars, clubs and stores. There are tons of side streets that are full of smaller shops, cafes and back-alley mazes that are lively, bustling and noisy around the clock.
One of the first Turkish traditions I experienced was the meyhane, a chill café-turned restaurant where you can get food, listen to music, play backgammon (which I’ve seen more people play in 5 days than in the rest of my life combined) or smoke nargileh, or hookah.
I moved into my apartment in Cihangir, which is apparently the artists district. Orhan Pamuk is said to live here, and writers are said to come here to channel his talent (so far…no luck!). Nobel Laureates aside, there are scattered beatniks and hipsters selling paintings and artwork in some of these hilly side streets, but by and large I’m happy to say I feel like I’m really living in Turkey. Few people speak English unless spoken to, and I’ve been living like a local by buying groceries at the local corner store (My first time making peanut butter and rose jam sandwiches) and sipping turkish coffee at a café up the street. On a sidenote, I found yet another reason to love coffee – you can use it to tell your fortune. Fal, or tasseography, involves upending the small mug into the saucer; the murky grounds remaining in the cup are said to tell your fortune. If I’m lucky enough to meet somebody who’s good at this, I’ll try to share the experience here.
Living situation aside, I am definitely a far, far ways from home. I’ve found the language barrier pretty substantial, and while people are generally very friendly and patient, it’s taken my tongue a while to get used to the soft, fluid phonetics of the Turkish language. Finding vegetarian meals is also a challenge, though there are definitely options available – lots of stuffed peppers, rice and vegetable dishes, and of course, plenty of ice cream. (Dondurma is Turkish ice cream made with a special type of flour, so it’s incredibly stretchy and textured. You have to watch this video.)
After a week of living here, I’ve seen a handful of the major tourist spots: Dolmabaçhe Palace, The Bosphorous cruise, Suleiman’s mosque to name a few. Next week are the major ones: The Blue Mosque, Aga Sofia (aka Hagia Sophia), Topkepi Palace, and the Grand Bazaar. A few of my favorite pictures so far:
I’ve been lucky to have an amazing, amazing view from my rooftop balcony at home, and every night so far I’ve spent at least half an hour marveling at the city. At dusk, the sun sets while lights flicker on and the nightlife begins. You can hear the house music and dance beats from the clubs, as well as the muezzins’ calls from various mosques echoing around the hills of the city.
This was just the first few days – there’s plenty more to come including the major sights, my visit to probably the best Turkish hospital in the country, and whatever else happens in the meantime. Thanks for reading!