Turkey 2019

Istanbul Day 1: Can I Interest You In A Minaret?

Well that week-long stint in America was just too much for me to handle, so I just had to leave again.

 

Okay, for real though, I had planned this Turkey trip MONTHS before I even knew Ecuador was going to be a thing. In short, Turkey was my primary target this summer, while Ecuador just kind of happened.

 

So. Why Turkey? A myriad of reasons.

 

  1. In college, I was a Middle Eastern Studies minor. It was a subject of interest that just kind of kept accumulating different courses until I’d landed myself a footnote on my degree. I find the culture fascinating. I find the art and architecture to be intricate and beautiful. And unless you count the Moorish influence in Spain, this is the first chance I’ll have to actually see it up close.

 

  1. As a history teacher, this place is my jam. It was at one point the center of the world, where east met west, where trade was at its prime. This particular region has also been taken over by just about every major Eurasian land empire that ever existed, so it’s an absolute hodgepodge of history and culture.

 

  1. I’ve been writing a hobby novel that takes place in Turkey. So, you know. Field research. (No you can’t read it, it’s dumb and it’s also not done yet).

 

So unlike my Ecuador trip, I’ll be embarking on this adventure with a buddy. This is Sarah. She’ll be accompanying me on this expedition. Will we make it out alive? Yes. Will we make it out still liking each other? Let’s find out.

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Our adventure began with a ride to the airport (thanks Mom). After some goodbyes, we made our way to check in with Turkish Airlines. It was thankfully drama-free. At least until it was almost time to board. There was some kind of hiccup with boarding passes of people who were coming in to make a connecting flight. All I know is that there was a crazy long line and we boarded like a half an hour later than we were supposed to.

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But soon we had taken our seats. We had the emergency exit row, which was nice. I mean, we were probably the last two people who needed any extra legroom, but it was nice to have anyway.

 

After a round of airplane food, a glass of white wine, and some sleeping pills, by some miracle, I did spend the majority of the flight sleeping. I usually can’t sleep at all on flights, so even though it wasn’t a comfortable sleep, I was happy that my nine-hour flight went by pretty quickly.

 

We landed and we taxied for what seemed like forever. Istanbul has a brand new airport, and that place is ginormous. There was also some kind of trouble at the gate, which forced us to sit on the plane for an extra ten or so minutes. After so long flying, we felt like we were in airport purgatory.

 

But victoriously we did eventually make our way off the plane and into the airport. We had a couple of errands to run before making our way into the city. Of course we had to go through customs, which was again, thankfully, drama-free and fairly efficient. Good job, Istanbul.

 

There was a little bit of money drama. I was having a hell of a time finding an ATM while Sarah was on the phone trying to make sure that her travel alert had gone through with her bank. We stood in line at the cash exchange counter to ask where an ATM was, but then the teller informed me he could get me cash. My card wouldn’t scan on his machine. Which, wound up being a blessing in disguise, because the service charge there was obscene. And two seconds later I found an ATM. Which worked. Nice try, currency exchange pirates.

 

With our luggage, money, and sanity in tow, we hailed a cab and made our way into the city of Istanbul. It was a little rocky at the start. He was very nice, but spoke limited English. And he had me plug the hotel into his GPS. About halfway through the cab ride I got a little nervous that we were going the right way, but we made it in one piece. We definitely drove through some questionable neighborhoods on the way to our hotel, but the area where we’re staying is quite nice, and very convenient to the tourist locations.

Something we noticed from the cab is just the crazy number of minarets in the city. Like, obviously I knew there would be minarets in Turkey, but they’re so tall that they seem to peek out of every nook and cranny of the city. In a line of sight with a far view, you can easily see like five at a time.

 

Our hostel’s receptionist helped us with our bags (after we tried to shrug him off, thinking he was just some random guy on the street. Sorry dude, didn’t know you worked here). He brought us up to our room, which is decent. The air conditioner is kind of there “for show” and the sheet situation on the bed is a little interesting, but we’ve got a cool view of our street (including a minaret).

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Another thing that we did notice right off the bat was how loud it is here. Not because of street noise. Not because of people talking. Not even because of the Call to Prayer (though it is very loud when it does go off). No, I’m talking about two things: seagulls, and cats. Turkish seagulls have something to SAY. And they are SAYING it. LOUDLY. And of course, our air conditioning isn’t great, so our window stays open. And then we also heard a couple of cats getting into a turf war outside our window. At first we thought it was a kid crying. But nope. Mad cat.

 

We settled into our room a bit, and each took a shower. It’s one of those European coffin showers that you close yourself into. Not a huge fan. But hey, the water was hot and the pressure was good, so I couldn’t complain.

 

By then it was around 7:30pm and we knew we wanted to have an easy night. We decided to go for a short walk to find some dinner and then head back in for the evening. Before we left, we decided to check out our hostel’s rooftop terrace. It’s got a beautiful view of the Bosphorus Strait, where people are swimming, sailing, and the like. Pretty neat.

From there we embarked on our quest for dinner. We’d gotten a recommendation for a restaurant from our receptionist for a dinner location, so we headed off in that direction. On our way we had to dodge a multitude of pushy maître d’s who were hell-bent on us coming to their restaurants. I’m talking, blocking our paths, not taking no for an answer, trying to sweet talk us. Everything. I had no problem walking right by them. Leave me be, sir.

 

Eventually we made it to our restaurant of choice, which also had a crazy menu man outside, but we were nice to him and he showed us how to get to the restaurant’s top-floor terrace. It involved a lot of stairs, but it was worth it to get some open air. We each ordered a different kabob for dinner and some French fries for the table. Sarah’s was plain and mine came in some kind of tomato sauce, complete with even more french fries. All of it was delicious. We also each got orange juice that tasted like they’d popped a whole orange into a juicer and called it a day. Super fresh. All of it tasted amazing. And the whole feast cost less than $20 total. Alright, Turkey. Definitely trying to win me over with cheap good food.

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While we were eating, we heard the Call to Prayer for the first time. This is the singing, played through speakers on the minarets, as a reminder for Muslims to pray, five times a day. It doesn’t last long, maybe three minutes or so. But it is cool. There are different men singing, it’s not all one recording. So it’s kind of an overlapping chorus of chanting you can hear from every angle. It’s neat. It’s kind of loud, but still not as loud as the seagulls.

 

After dinner we made the short walk back to our hotel. There weren’t as many crazy menu men out in the street, but there were a couple. One guy was calling out at us from the other side of the street? “Spanish? Italian? Hola!” to which Sarah turned to me and said “He’s obviously talking to you, because I’m albino.” So in Turkey, I apparently pass for European.

 

Right in front of our hotel, Sarah got to pet a kitten and she was really excited about it. He was very cute and he liked her a lot. Look at this. I’m pretty sure it was the highlight of both of their days.

Before bed we put our name down to go on a free walking tour of the city with our hostel. So with plans set for the next day, we plopped down on our giant bed with the weird sheets and called it a night.

 

 

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