Tag Archives: Travel

It’s tiring to make up these fortunes!

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.

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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.

We had to wear these plastic booties while in the palace so we wouldn't track in dirt.

We had to wear these plastic booties while in the palace so we wouldn’t track in dirt.

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.

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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.

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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.

PC: Lindsay

PC: Lindsay

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.

PC: Lindsay

PC: Lindsay

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.

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PC: Lindsay

But to all my worried family members––don’t worry, I’m okay!

Eat your food… or it will chase you in your dreams!

With our first full day in Istanbul, it was time to learn a bit of survival Turkish. Turkish is a difficult language, where each sentence seems like a never-ending word with its endless suffixes attached to each word and a tendency to elide vowels. Nevertheless, we began to practice the basics: merhaba for “hello” and teşekkür ederim for “thank you.”

Georgetown takes on Istanbul

Georgetown takes on Istanbul

After breakfast, our group headed out into the city for our first full day of sightseeing. First, we took the underground metro to Pera, which is the part of Istanbul where most of the Jews and Christians lived in the city. The streets in Pera where lined with beautiful apartments and rooftop gardens.

We visited the Pera Müzesi (Pera Museum), a contemporary, privately-owned museum that opened in 2005 and offered a fascinating comparison between modern and traditional Turkish art. One of my favorite parts of the museum was an exhibit called “Direniyorsan senin olsun” (It’s yours if you resist), which followed the recent protests in Taksim Square. Lines of photographs taken from the protests where mounted on wire, and you had to duck around the photographs to walk through the exhibit.

 

Exhibit for "Direniyorsan senin olsun"

Exhibit for “Direniyorsan senin olsun”

The museum also had an extensive exhibit about the relationship between ambassadors and Ottoman art. It was a two-way exchange––Ottoman painters like Osman Hamdi studied in Europe and brought back Western-influenced techniques, while foreign ambassadors commissioned artists to help bring the Ottoman Empire to Europeans back home.

Osman Hamdi's famous painting "The Turtle Trainer"

Osman Hamdi’s famous painting “The Turtle Trainer”

After the museum, we walked along Istiklal Avenue, one of the major pedestrian walkways in Istanbul. The street is excellent for people-watching and completely lined with all types of stores.

I was surprised at how many brands I recognized from back home: McDonald’s, Starbucks, Pizza Hut, Gap, Nike, Zara, and even a Shake Shack! We had lunch at a restaurant along the street, and we were able to pick from the buffet what we’d like to eat.

The food was delicious, but most of us were unable to finish our plates, probably due to lingering jet lag. Our residence director, Nese, told us what Turkish mothers tell them when they don’t finish their food: “Eat your food or it will cry and chase you in your dreams!” Hopefully the nightmares stay away!

After lunch, we walked over to Galata, a neighborhood in Istanbul that traditionally was settled by the Genoese. We were able to climb to the top of Galata Tower, which was built in 1358 as part of the neighborhood’s walls. The tower stands over 70 meters tall, and there’s a precarious ledge you can go on to see a complete 360-degree view of Istanbul.

After the tower, we ended up back on Istiklal Avenue, where we then visited St. Anthony’s Church, a Catholic Church that is run by Italian priests.

We were also able to try Turkish ice cream for the first time. Turkish ice cream is stored in these metal cylinders which keep it extremely cold—the consistency is more of ice than of soft serve. It’s then served with this huge metal stick that the man uses to chip off pieces of ice cream for a cone.

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The ice cream vendor we visited kept messing with us––he kept moving the stick around so Alex couldn’t get the ice cream!

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Lastly, we visited Taksim Square and Gezi Park, the site of the recent protests that were in the news in May through July. Taksim Square itself is really just a plot of pavement near a busy intersection, and Gezi Park is a medium-sized park with trees and grass where lots of young people were hanging out.

In Taksim Square, the police presence was visible but quiet; at the time we were there, there weren’t any protests going on. In fact, it was hard to put the scenes from the photographs we saw at the museum to the bustling, unremarkable intersection that we saw.

After sitting and resting for a bit in Gezi Park, we took the metro back to textile district and headed back to the hotel.

Overall, I love my first impressions of Istanbul. It’s a fascinating city—the call to prayer echoes over women in hijabs and minidresses alike, just as they do over ornate old European-style apartment buildings and shiny skyscrapers. It’s an interesting cities of juxtapositions—of the east and the west, of old and new—and it’s exciting to see it all in action.

Greetings from Istanbul!

With two flights, one crazy sprint through the Frankfurt International Airport, and 15 hours of travel, I finally made it to Istanbul. But first, my journey began with a long haul flight from San Francisco to Frankfurt on one of the gigantic new Airbus 380s.

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View from the window seat.

After 10 hours, two slightly peculiar meals of German food, and a couple of movies, my Lufthansa flight arrived in Frankfurt slightly ahead of schedule. However, I had to run from one end of a terminal to another and through security again in order to make it to my connecting gate within an hour. Luckily, my connection went off without a hitch and I was able to make my next flight.

For my flight to Istanbul, I soon discovered why it’s wonderful to fly foreign airlines: they still give you food! First, Turkish Airlines passes out Turkish Delights before you even take off. Then, even though the flight was just over three hours long, they served us an entire meal for lunch, with a choice of chicken medallions or beef kebab along with a small salad and dessert.

Once I arrived in Istanbul, however, the arrival terminal was pure chaos. I first bought my visa, then I snuck into the gigantic line that snaked way down the hallway. (I sincerely apologize to those whom I cut in line, but sometimes, a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do.) The line was ridiculously long—I waited 45 minutes before I got through passport control and headed over to baggage claim. With my tight connection and the huge wait at immigration, I was worried that my bag would be lost, but once I saw my purple behemoth suitcase circling around the conveyor belt, I wanted to dance and sing in honor of the lost luggage gods.

I exited the terminal, and after some searching, I was finally able to locate the other people in my pick-up group for a ride to the hotel, where we had dinner and finally got to meet everyone in the program this semester. Overall, there are nine students and three professors—hello, small class sizes!

We’re staying at the Fatih Hotel, which is located near Taksim Square in the heart of Istanbul’s textile district. The hotel itself is surrounded by numerous showrooms, ready to sell elaborate ballroom gowns, suits, and wholesale clothing to retailers. After dinner, we wandered around the streets near our hotel, stepping over the trash that was left for pick-up—huge bags of fabric scraps, cigarette buds, and discarded thread.

As we explored near the hotel, the streets were empty, save for the occasional trash pick-up or fast food delivery motorbike from Pizza Hut. It the kind of surreal quality that quite fits when you suddenly find yourself in a foreign country for four months. And so it begins.

A somewhat blurry look at an alleyway in Istanbul's textile district at night

A look at an alleyway in Istanbul’s textile district at night.