Monday, July 15, 2013

Istanbul, not Constantinople!

This past weekend, I went to Istanbul on a whim.  My friend Evan is there for 2 weeks on a language program before heading back to Petersburg, and I've wanted to go to Turkey for a while, so at the last minute I decided to go for it.  It also helped that I didn't work after Wednesday and that tickets were super cheap.  On Tuesday I sent out a few urgent couch surfing requests, on Wednesday I found out where I was staying and bought a ticket, and on Thursday I was in Turkey.

My first impressions of the city were "Wow, this is beautiful," followed by "So it turns out I don't understand Turkish at all.  Like...I can't read any of these signs. This should be interesting." This was the first time in my life I've been to a country where I don't speak the language, which was really strange for me.  In the US and Canada I can use English, in Puerto Rico I used Spanish, and in Russia...well, you get the idea.  Very few people speak English in Istanbul, to the point where even asking for directions was difficult. Luckily, the Turks are incredibly warm and friendly people, so more than once when I pointed to a name on the list of things to do my host gave me, someone walked me directly to my destination.  There was also a lot of gesturing to communicate, which most people take for granted in these situations. By the second day I could read the alphabet and started to notice some similarities with Russian, though that helped very little. I felt so much more comfortable when I got on that Aeroflot plane and could understand everyone, and completely at home in Sheremetevo where I could ask for help.

The city was absolutely gorgeous, the food was amazing, and my host was really nice, though really busy.  I saw most of the major attractions (Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque, Basilicas Cistern, Grand Bazaar, and Topkapi palace just to name a few), ate a lot of new things (like a pudding that's actually made out of chicken breast.  It was delicious.  Evan only told me what I ate after the fact, which was perhaps wise).  It was refreshing to be somewhere by the sea that was also warm and beautiful with friendly people.  I took a ferry to and from my host's apartment each day.  I apparently look Turkish, which I never knew before.  Istanbul is really cheap when compared to Moscow prices...why do I live here again? I may need to move to Turkey someday.  I got back to Moscow at 6am Sunday morning after sleeping through the entire flight, and was greeted by thunderstorms.  In another 1.5 weeks I'll be landing in JFK.  So it goes.  To summarize: go to Istanbul!

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