When I followed the protests in Istanbul in the early summer, I wasn’t sure what kind of country I would encounter when I stepped foot in Istanbul this fall. Yet today, we got a taste of what those weeks were like.
But before that, I’ll start from the beginning! Our first stop on the itinerary today was the Dolmabahçe Palace, a beautiful and extravagant building that honestly rivals Versailles in terms of scale and ornamentation. We took the metro down to Beşiktaş, a district along the European coastline of the Bosphorus strait that bustles with all sorts of ferries traveling across to the Asian side. The palace itself sits right on the water, with breathtaking views of the water and over 45,000 square meters of palace rooms.
Unfortunately, we weren’t allowed to take photos inside the palace, but its interiors were even grander than the outside. We were able to tour the main entrance hall, the secretariat’s rooms, the sultan’s apartment, Atatürk’s room, and the grand ceremonial hall.
After the tour, we took a ferry to the Asian side of Istanbul.
Once we got off the ferry, we ate lunch at the most amazing restaurant near Kadıköy Square. The restaurant prides itself on offering specialty dishes from all across Turkey, and we were able to sample a wide variety of dishes. Out of all the delicious cuisine we’ve had so far, this one was by far the best meal.
We then had some free time to explore the nearby bazaar after lunch.
When we were walking to the restaurant, we first came across a concert and a couple groups of protestors marching down the street in honor of World Peace Day. But by the time we were leaving the area, the crowd was huge. There was a large crowd near the stage, and both the streets and ferries had been shut down to accommodate the protest. So, our only option was to walk about a mile and a half down the road to the nearest bus stop so we could get out of the area.
This walk had us walk right down the parade of protestors, which was slightly unsettling even though the protest was well-organized and it appeared to be cooperating with the police.
There was a huge variety of groups at the protest, each with their own demands, although they all appeared to come out in support of World Peace Day. Our guides for Istanbul, Nese and Mehmet, tried to lead us as quickly as they could out of the area, particularly because many were protesting the U.S.’s proposed strike against Syria.
After about 40 minutes of walking, we finally reached the end of the parade, and were able to cram onto a “domus,” a small bus by which you pay with cash. The domus operates on a kind of honor system: when you get on the bus, you pass up the bus fare to the front person by person, even if you’re crammed in the back.
We then spent the afternoon in Üsküdar, lounging on some cushions looking out at the water and the Maiden’s Tower, a small tower about 200 meters from the shore. We had time to rest and have some tea—or, in my case, a Coca-Cola since it was so hot.
Amanda and Alex also had their fortunes read by Nese. According to custom, once you’re finished drinking your Turkish coffee, you are supposed to read your fortune from the coffee grounds left over.
About halfway through Alex’s fortune-telling, Amanda asked if she could have her fortune taken afterwards. Nese responded, “Yes, but it’s tiring to make up these fortunes!”
Afterwards, we walked to another ferry stop, and took the ferry and metro back to our hotel. At the hotel, I checked the news to find out what the protests were about earlier today, and found out that there were more protests occurring in Taksim Square, where the police had blocked entrance to Gezi Park.
We were told to stay away from the area for the evening, but it will be interesting to follow any developments that come. According to the agreement we signed before study abroad, we’re not supposed to seek out ways to participate or observe protests. However, while safety is always a priority, it was exhilarating to experience a protest first-hand.
But to all my worried family members––don’t worry, I’m okay!