Because I am now approaching the six-month mark of my time in Israel (a multiple of three, the magic number of consecutive months my tourist visa allows me to stay in the country), I took off last Wednesday for a couple of days in Istanbul. I kept a journal of random thoughts as I explored, so I now present to you: an incredibly stream of consciousness trip report on a pretty amazing city. Supplemented by occasional photographic documentation, etc.
Bullet points from my journal entry labeled “Thoughts from Turkey”:
– It seems the ubiquitous cat trend that pervades the Middle East hasn’t skipped Turkey
– Cats here, however, are much fatter than the bony rodents that reside in Israeli dumpsters
– Cats here are probably fatter because people (locals, not just stupid tourists!) actually take bags of cat food, throw it on the sidewalk, and watch the creatures fight it out. Amusing, I guess, but…unexpected. People in Israel pretty much just ignore the cats and laugh at the tourists who find them so fascinating…
I didn’t get a picture of the cat-feeding, but I did get this picture of a cat drinking from a tombstone…
– Initial thoughts on Turkish language: a lot of cognates with Arabic that are easy to identify when written; when spoken, however, sounds a lot more Slavic to me. So I understand nothing. And, from what Wikipedia tells me, it’s structurally pretty different from both the Semitic and Slavic language families
– Yes, I spent my first night in Istanbul reading Wikipedia articles about various topic related to Turkey. I tried going out and walking by the water for a bit, but came back after being harassed by three different men, one of whom would not stop following me and asking for a kiss (apparently one of the only English words he knew, since “Leave me alone or I’ll call the police” had no visible effect)
-“How do you say leave me alone in _______________ language” seems to be a thing I Google a lot
– the Middle East is rapidly making a feminist out of me
– the man-hating kind of feminist
– Wikipedia really is a pretty great resource.
– You meet all kinds of strange people in hostels. Always. (Though, I must say, Israel does attract a special brand of weirdo that you don’t really find anywhere else.) In this hostel, so far, I’ve been told:
– “Climate change and pollution are poisoning our water, and because of that we are becoming poisoned and black on the inside; our souls are becoming black, and that is why our society is crumbling. We are bad on the inside.”
– “Hey, we heard Constantinople is a good place to go in Turkey. Do you know how to get there?” Ok. You don’t have to be an expert on a place before you get there, and there’s something to be said for learning from experience, but do at least a little research first. Also, thanks to these goofballs, I had this song stuck in my head all day:
– “We don’t need young people today studying about politics and religion in other people’s countries. We have enough of our own problems in each of our countries. We need young people in labs, curing cancer and HIV. That’s the only thing we need this generation doing to help people. We need them in the labs.” To be fair, after totally invalidating every life choice I’ve made in the last five years, this woman was actually quite friendly and helpful for the rest of my stay.
– “…” I never saw this woman awake. I arrived to my room and she was sleeping. I left for the day and she was still sleeping. I got back in the evening and she was already asleep. No idea what, if anything, she actually did in Istanbul.
– For more on the varieties of oddness you find at hostels…http://waitbutwhy.com/2013/07/12-types-of-people-youll-find-in-every.html (number 4 in this article looks REMARKABLY like this crazy Slovakian guy who camped out at the inn in Nazareth for a few weeks and tried to warn me and the other employees that Obama had some dictatorial connection to 666 and was slowly taking over the world with a robot army. I am not at all kidding, and neither was he. And the smell description is also incredibly accurate…)
– Aslan means lion in Turkish! Maybe I knew this already?
– Ok, the Basilica Cisterns. A photo for you:
Those of you who really know me will understand from this picture how much I’m already loving Istanbul at this point. I love dark, creepy places underground. Especially when there’s water. This is awesome.
– Two more pictures, this time from the Hagia Sophia:
This is an image of Mary and Jesus next to Arabic calligraphy featuring the words “Muhammad, peace be upon him”
A mosaic depicting the emperor kneeling down at Jesus’s feet
Again, for those of you who know anything about my interests…a taste of how much I’m loving this city. Interfaith interactions and religion and politics…there’s so much in this city. So interesting.
– Not impressed by the muezzin at the Sultanahmet (Blue) Mosque. I think our own muezzin at the White Mosque in Nazareth is much better. Not that I’m really qualified to make that assessment
– Oh my gosh, seriously, a public service announcement to all Middle Eastern men: IT IS NOT OK TO TOUCH MY BODY UNLESS I SAY IT IS. I repeat: DO NOT TOUCH A WOMAN UNLESS YOU A) KNOW HER AND B) ARE INVITED TO DO SO. I don’t care how blonde she is or what an obvious tourist she is or how incapable she may be of reacting against you or how randy you’re feeling at that particular moment – YOU HAVE ABSOLUTELY NO RIGHT. NEGATIVE RIGHT. I haven’t been to a Middle Eastern country yet that has positively surprised me by not making me want to emasculate all the nation’s males. I hoped you would be different, Turkey, but alas… Aside from infuriating me, though, it’s also sad; because at what point does something in their society or general surroundings make them think it’s ok? I mean, when I see baby boys being toted around in the market, clawing at the edges of their mothers’ headscarves and flashing toothless grins at passersby, literally all I can think is “How sad that this adorable infant will most likely grow up to be a disgusting creep like the guy behind me reaching for my butt right now.” And I know that isn’t fair, but… I guess that instinctive reaction is my own form of PTSD or something. Moving on.
– Oh, and one more note to Middle Eastern “men”: button up your shirts. You’re gross.
– I really don’t like being an angry person. Sorry.
– But actually, I think that is one of the most difficult things about the Middle East for me. I feel like I have to be a complete jerk to half the people I encounter in the streets (the male half, to be clear) just to protect myself. I can’t make eye contact, I can’t respond to any of their cute or silly or stupid little opening lines, I can’t laugh at their jokes; I have to simply walk straight past, staring ahead, not smiling and totally ignoring them. And I know they’re used to it and it doesn’t hurt their feelings. That’s the problem. I’m the one whose feelings hurt after these (non-)interactions. I hate having to be that rude, standoffish person in public day after day. It’s exhausting and saddening.
– On a lighter note: ice cream! So, in Turkey, they put some kind of resin in their ice cream that makes it stretchy and a little bit chewy and sort of taffy-like. One byproduct of this unusual texture is that the vendors can play all kinds of ridiculous pranks on their customers:
I had to go through a similar process to get my ice cream, though thankfully not quite as prolonged as what that poor little girl had to endure.
– Thoughts on the Topkapi Palace: pleasantly not Disney World-esque. Maybe that’s because it’s the off season. Maybe the rain helped. I think a big part of it was that everything was kind of rough and bumpy, all the paths cobblestone instead of smoothly paved asphalt (though if I were a mother pushing a baby stroller, I clearly would have harbored less positive feelings toward this authenticity). As I poked around and explored, though, I could actually imagine I was a sultan, walking across the palace balcony through the drizzle, staring out across the hazy Bosphorus and deciding the fate of the Ottoman Empire (haha. Feel free to laugh at my ridiculousness. I am.) Even the bathrooms added to the realism; whereas most very nice tourist attractions have disgusting dark pits of bathrooms, these were truly palatial, with gold-framed artwork and well-lit vanity mirrors and a delightful but not overpowering scent. (Though, to be honest, any bathroom in Turkey that had traditional sit-down toilets felt more or less palatial to me…). Overall, loved the palace a lot more than I thought I would.
– My bargaining skills really aren’t too bad. While purchasing the one souvenir I bought in the Grand Bazaar, I managed to talk the guy down from 25 lira to 10 and was quite proud of the accomplishment. Granted, the friendly, shaggy vendor wearing a woven poncho and smoking something hand-rolled was most definitely high – the bubble wrap he used to package my purchase still reeks of marijuana – but I don’t think that necessarily would have made him more prone to lower his prices. Plus, I had already talked many of the other, decidedly non-hippy vendors in the area down to about the same price.
– Bargaining is one of the only times I feel glad to be a blonde female.
– And what was I bargaining for? Well. One of my very favorite things about Istanbul was the abundance of lamp shops. Which sounds super random. But they were beautiful. And half the pictures I took were pictures of lamp shops. I couldn’t actually buy a lamp (for a number of reasons – budget + fitting it in my backpack on the airplane + where would I put it), but I wanted a little reminder of those shops and decided to buy a candle holder thing from one of them.
Seriously, though, so beautiful…