“The holidays” these past two years have been kind of off. Last year’s unbalanced feeling I blame on the lack of snow all over the country. Not that I minded it all that much, driving in DC would have been much less pleasant. This year was thrown off by the fact that I celebrated Christmas with my family over skype. Not quite the same as getting to eat breakfast at Grandma’s house every other year of my life. But at least there’s technology! I managed to speak to my mom’s half of the family that day! Without skype, what would I have done? Worried about expensive phone cards running out sooner than I wanted them too, that’s what. So that was nice to avoid.
On my short break, I wanted to do something to distract me from the general homesickness. So I decided to go to Istanbul. Again. Why? Because I couldn’t pull together an affordable Zanzibar trip in such a short period of time. Honestly. And my friend in Malta was back in DC for the holidays. And the trip some of my friends took to Ukraine (some members of the group I went to Iran with) was too much for such a short time. Istanbul was the next best ‘outside of Ankara’ place I could manage.
But you know what? Istanbul’s pretty exciting. Especially when you consider that you’re going for New Year’s Eve, going to see a friend you haven’t seen in 2.5 years and another friend you haven’t seen in a year, and decide to disregard that whole ‘turn off all electronics’ comment on the flight in.
It was quite the epic little landing. The only thing on par with it view-wise was landing in Minneapolis/St Paul International Airport after my New Year’s trip to Russia two years ago. That view might have actually been better because I could see both the downtown of the city I was born in and the city I lived in at the time in the same view from the plane during descent. It was a VERY cold winter morning (I was coming in from Russia and I’m still saying this) and the chill created a fog over the two cities so it was as if there were two islands of skyscrapers sticking out of the low-lying clouds letting me know I was almost home. Now THAT is something I wish I had a picture of.
Coming back out of Sidetracked Alley, I want to note that Istanbul was more exciting to come into this time. I wasn’t worried about how to get around, I had already figured enough of that out the first time. So this time I felt slightly more in control, a good feeling in a country where you don’t speak the language all that well. Without much fuss, but three transfers from plane to metro, metro to tram, and tram to commuter rail, I successfully navigated myself and a classmate and all of our luggage to a hostel.
Now let me say something. I generally refuse to take trips where I have to pay for a place to stay. I prefer staying with friends and spending money on their dinners in return. Unfortunately I couldn’t do that this time around because most everyone was gone for the holidays. That makes this trip, and the trip to Iran, exceptions to this rule. I think I stayed in 3 different hostels over the week or so I was in Istanbul and all were nice. The first had my favorite view though.
And as per my normal modus operandi, I did nothing touristy for the majority of this trip. What did I actually do then, you may ask. Well, my friend, I ran around the city. And by the city I mean I went to İstkilal Avenue, the major pedestrian thoroughfare in the city’s center, every day to hang out with people, catch up, run around. One of the first people I met up with was a friend, N, from CLS, the summer language program I did in Russia and Tunisia. N is also a linguist (but has an MA, not just a measly BA) and like me and a select few others prefers to pick apart a ridiculous number of languages simultaneously to learn them as opposed to doing more theoretical work. And is good at it. Probably better than me. Scary, right? Anyway, N was back visiting friends for a few weeks, so we met up. I actually ended up spending a lot of my free time with him and his friends.
For example, night two the two of us, one of his friends, my classmate, and one of his friends all went out to a bar, took over the only booth by the window, and hung out. Which ended up being a mess of languages (and dialects of said languages) and eventually resulted in us finding a cat in a box on the spiral staircase fire escape out side the window of our booth. What did we do with this cat? We let it into the bar. Before you worry, know that we did this with the bartenders’ OK. And that a significant number of bars in the city have literal bar cats. I’ve heard tell of cats sitting upright on bar stools as if they’re going to get a half liter of beer themselves. Another photo I wish I had.
A few days later, I went to meet N and just as I got to the meeting point I stopped because I heard someone yell my name. Someone that wasn’t N. It turns out that I have once again proven the world is small. One of my coworkers from Maryland, who I did not know was even in the country, stumbled upon me. In the middle of Istanbul. What? Does this actually happen to people?
Apparently it does. But the coincidences don’t end there. This friend was with his fiancee, who is Kurdish. I knew this previously, but did not know she was finishing her PhD in Ankara until this happenstance encounter. After I got over the initial shock, I demanded that they wait until N arrived. Why? Because he speaks Kurdish too and I wanted to make him talk to my friend’s fiancee. It was the best timing possible. And I’m still shocked that it ever happened.
Back on track. As stated before, most of my time was spent with N & Co. Including New Year’s Eve. Of course it took me until then to remember to start taking photos of people, but by that time they didn’t turn out too quality.
I also didn’t remember to take photos until we weren’t on the move anymore. Meaning this was while we were waiting for the ferry to go to Kadıköy on the Asian side and celebrate the New Year. Previous to this we had trekked through İstiklal again, drank our body weight in black tea, and I climbed a building over this crazy staircase just because I wanted to sit on the windowsill.
And said windowsill. Easy climb, comfortable seat
In any case, we eventually got onto the ferry. It was my first time. Hadn’t been to the Asian side of the city before. Which also means I crossed the Bosphorus for the first time. That was kind of exciting, but unless you can see it from the troposphere I think it’s hard to grasp how interesting it really is to cross over to a new continent.
Once we arrived on the Asian side, we mosied to a friend of a friend’s apartment where we were treated to dinner and good company. Sidenote: I was the only person at this party that was not functionally fluent in Turkish. I did a lot of listening and understood more of it than I should for how much I’ve studied, but it made it hard to participate in conversation. Fortunately, N and J are American and K might as well be with how well he speaks English, so I was set there. On top of that, J’s wife (who also speaks English) is Iranian, so I could speak to her as well. Apparently it’s still shocking for her to find an American that speaks her language, even after knowing N for at least the last year, who also speaks her language. A comment that made me chuckle was one that I over heard in Turkish while I was speaking Persian. One of the hosts of the party said something along the lines of “He speaks so much when it’s not in Turkish!” Why yes, when I can speak, I do. Windbag me just can’t express itself quickly or easily in spoken Turkish yet.
This is [someone else's] proof that this night happened. From the right is our host B, his friend T, N, T’s wife whose name I forgot many times, J’s wife M, B’s wife A with awesome slippers, me, and K who almost fell off the couch during the taking of the photo. Or else I made some comment that made him want to threaten to strangle me. Either is fully possible.
K and I were the youngest two at the party so we bonded over that. Also made everyone white russians for everyone throughout the night, we’re a great team. M at one point also read my fortune. In Persian. That was fun, actually. I don’t remember all of what was said because she read it for ten minutes and it was relatively detailed, but the gist of what I remember is that I have a goal and three paths in front of me. All of the paths reach the goal, but with a different route, so I will get there eventually. The fact that that’s all I remember from those ten minutes of fortune-telling says I should have probably recorded it or taken notes or something. Not being in class seems to increase the amount of time I spend with ‘selective hearing’ turned on. Still a memorable New Year’s. Good people, new friends, and language barriers overcome.
As I mentioned earlier, I was not very touristy for the majority of this trip either. However, mother, you can rest assured that I made sure not to spend more time in Istanbul than I ever have in New York City without at least going to some tourist attractions, something I still haven’t done in NYC. Now for the flood of photos I tag onto the end of every post.
This was the about where I ended my touristy day. Yes it was an early ending, I was only outright touristy for about 4 hours, but to be fair, one of my friends had just arrived in Istanbul and it was my last day, so if we were going to meet it was a now-or-never situation. And by now or never I mean now or not for another five months. See, this friend, E, I know from undergrad. She was working on her PhD and we were in the same Arabic class for at least a year. E also happens to be Turkish, though, so she visits home pretty regularly. Funny story, I told N where in Turkey she was from and he responded with ‘What?! That’s like being from Disneyworld!’ And it’s true, she says her hometown is dead outside of tourist season.
Anyway, I wanted to catch up with E, so I ran back to İstiklal and we had tea. It was unfortunately a very brief visit because she was waiting for her friend that she was staying with to get off of work, which only left us about an hour. Most of this time we spent planning meeting again in the spring/early summer when Disneyworld is up and running again. And then afterwards, she introduced me to the best thing in Istanbul: the wet burger. Yes, I understand the name sounds unappetizing, but it’s a cheap (2.50 TL, or about a $1.50) and addictively delicious burger.
To give you an idea, later that evening after making friends with some more Americans that were in Istanbul for New Year’s before going to Rome for their semester abroad (and that I’m trying to recruit to go to Zanzibar with me), I had two more. I also introduced the group to them in the process. I can’t wait to go back, just to have another one.