Traveling the world, learning languages, and immersing myself in new cultures.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Istanbul, Turkey: Tryptophantastic Turkey Day

Synopsis: On my quest to visit all of Europe, and then see Asia, I found a place that will give me both in one visit: Istanbul, Turkey. I found a host on couchsurfing and I will stay with him for a few days. And, I spend Thanksgiving in Turkey.

Trip Overview:

Day 1: Head out of Zaventem in the early afternoon, to AtaturkIstanbul. It's a 4 hour flight so I have plenty of time to learn some Turkish...that I quickly realize is super hard to learn and I immediately give up and watch spongebob on my iPad. I land in Istanbul and catch the bus to the stop where my host, Ibrahim, is going to meet me. He eventually finds me and he takes me back to his place. After dropping off my stuff, we go out for something to eat at a local spot that he frequents. I tell him to order me something really Turkish, and I end up with a tripe sandwich and wash it down with yogurt. Head back to the house for the night... a bit traumatized.

Thoughts: I am greeted with rainy weather, though it is warmer here than in Brussels. Initially I didn't know it was a cow stomach sandwich, and after eating 85% of it, I asked him what I was eating... which meant I had to struggle with that last 15%.

Ibrahim, my host, and I

The mosque next to his house that had loud speakers that announced the 5 daily prayers

Işkembe and ayran = Cow stomach and yogurt! 

Day 2: I wake up at 6am in the morning to a prayer on the loudspeaker. Since Ibrahim has to work, I venture out into the city on my own. I get directions from my host to get down to Taksim Square, where I walk around a bit and check out the main strip, İstiklal Avenue. I then walk back to Taksim and jump on the hop on/off bus. I end up sitting next to a Colombian guy, who I practice my beginner spanish with. I make my way to all the big sights, like Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque. After the bus tour, I head back to the house. Once Ibrahim comes back, we go back down to the main strip to go to a couchsurfing party, hosted in the city. It was ok, mostly guys looking for girls, but there were a lot of people there, mostly not Turks. 

Thoughts: Drizzling and cloudy all day. But, that didn't stop me or the hundreds of other tourists. I am pretty impressed with myself and my ability to speak spanish, after only one year of classes. Initially, I got lost going downtown and it took me an extra 45 minutes to get there. On the hop on/off bus, the wind and rain made it a lot less bearable, and the downstairs of the bus was packed, so I had to stay on top. Ibrahim knows the city so much better than me, as we got to Taksim in a fourth of the time it took me on my own!

Taksim Maksemi, where guys were selling umbrellas everywhere

Peaceful protest on the main road

İstiklal Avenue, the main strip by Taksim

In front of Hagia Sophia

The Blue Mosque 

One entrance of the Grand Bazaar

My first couchsurfing event outside of Brussels

Day 3: We wake up late and head to various markets and food stores to  buy fresh milk, honey, and meat and veggies. Then, we head back to the house where Ibrahim makes me lunch (since we slept through breakfast) and it is pretty good. I have a good host.

I head off on the bus to the asian side of Istanbul and walk around the markets and streets, to experience the same exact thing I could have experienced on the european side of Istanbul. But, I have now, officially, been to Asia.

After heading back to the house, we go out to a few clubs and bars, the first of which Ibrahim's friend is having a birthday party. We dance and party for awhile there before heading to a larger dance club, and dance the night away. Good times!

Thoughts: I wish I could have spent more time, on a nicer day, on the asian side, which, believe it or not, is not actually called "the asian side" but, Ümraniye. 

Good hosts make you breakfast

During my trip to the "Asian side" of Istanbul 

The middle lane is just for buses, so they never have to stop for traffic

The neighborhood milk guy gave us a behind-the-scenes look

A birthday party in some club

This band was pretty good

Day 4: Bus ride back to the airport.

Thoughts: Had a great time.

Final Thoughts: This was my first experience in a predominantly muslim country, and it was interesting to see the differences and similarities with a christian nation (like France) or religiously unaffiliated nation (like England). The prayers on the loudspeakers, the style of dress, and way of life, were major differences and new things for me to see. The tourism, food, and nightlife were fairly similar to other places in Europe. Overall, a very nice trip, and I plan to go back to Izmir or Ankara one day. It pays to have a great host, and I got to enjoy the city more easily thanks to him.

Location: Istanbul, Turkey


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