(overlooking the Bosphorous and Asia at breakfast on the roof)
Istanbul Day 2 - July 8
When I got off the plane last night, I was walking to passport control when I saw a sign that gave me a mini-heart attack: Visas required for these countries, followed by a list that included Canada. Was my research wrong? Could I not buy one at the airport like I thought? I'm going to be stranded in a Turkish airport, what a disaster! I went up to a help desk and this wonderful young man assured me that I could indeed buy one in the airport for $60 USD, and then proceeded to walk me through directions to my hostel so I wouldn't have to pay for a taxi from the airport. He wrote his number down on the map and said to call him if I had any trouble. I didn't even get his name...
By the time I had got this all sorted out, I went to retrieve my bag, and saw an empty luggage belt that had stopped moving. Cue the heart palpitations. I've lost my luggage for the first time this trip.
I head to lost luggage to ask for some help, and this lovely young Turkish woman looked into it for me--turns out I was looking at the wrong flight from Athens. oops. We went to the proper belt and saw my bag, the lone ranger, just waiting for me to find it. Turkish people are SO nice!
I had to take a subway, transfer to a tram, then get off at Sultanahmet (near all the tourist stuff) and walk a bit. I didn't trust myself finding this place on foot at night, and didn't want to end up in a dark alley weighed down by 80 lbs of baggage, so I haggled with a taxi to take me. They said I could walk, but I'm glad I just took the car. So much easier. Plus i got to refine my bargaining skills!
The city is really unlike anything I've ever seen. You feel like you're in the middle east, but without the poverty, so it still feels like Europe, but there's so much history--the city is older than both Athens and Rome. Napoleon said that "If the Earth was a single state, Istanbul would be its capital." I can see why...
I woke up this morning still clutching my valuables, which is a good sign for safety in this new hostel. I seem to have misplaced my lock, so until I can buy another one (maybe at the Grand Bazaar), they are being carried with me at all times.
There is free breakfast included, so I headed up to the roof to enjoy some turkish coffee and whatever they eat for breakfast (cucumber, tomato, unidentified pungent cheese, unidentified meat, and bread with fake nutella). I ate in the open air, overlooking the Bosphorous and the gateway to Asia. I'm about as far east as you can possibly go in Europe.
As I was unpacking last night, I realized my aerosol sunscreen had exploded and was totally empty (thanks for the ziploc bags, Mom! My clothes are safe!) so I headed to the nearest market to buy some more. Only one problem: buying sunscreen that is good enough for my alabaster complexion is actually like the quest for the Holy Grail. The highest I've seen so far is SPF 4...
I may or may not come back with skin cancer.
Today I'm having lunch at this place near the Blue Mosque called Cafe Medusa, which had all sorts of signs outside with good reviews from the NY Times, tripadvisor, etc. So I figured I should check it out. I grabbed a table under a lemon tree, and ordered fried squash with cheese and eggplant stuffed with minced meat--hopefully it's good Turkish food! I've seen some signs for Turkish cooking classes near my hostel, so I may indulge tonight or tomorrow.
Fried squash appetizer:
Things I still want to do here: - Hamam (turkish bath) - Sightsee the Sultans Palace, Hagia Sofia, and the Blue Mosque - Grand Bazaar - Walk over to Asia
I think Turkey is a democracy, but religion is definitely at the forefront of their society--you have to state your religion on your identification. Turkey is 98% muslim, so there are mosques everywhere. 5 times a day, people just drop everything, turn towards the sun, and perform their prayer rituals. It's quite strange seeing this happen in the middle of the sidewalk, but I guess that's part of life here. I heard it's rude to take pictures of people praying, so I refrained, otherwise I'd show you what I mean. I don't need to be thrown in Turkish prison or something, though, so I'm not about to test my luck. You can also hear the prayers being called or sung over a PA system, which gives the feeling that you aren't in Europe anymore.
I'm a few days behind in posting because the wifi at the hostel was really shady. I'll catch up in the next few days.