Plaj!

After spending the previous day lounging around on our hostel’s rooftop bar (which, by the way, has an incredible view of Istanbul and the Sea of Marmara)

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(This is the view)

…Katherine and I rallied a few other people from our hostel to take a day trip with us. We decided to go to Kilyos, which is a beach on the Black Sea. Our hostel called a shuttle for us that would be there “in ten minutes.” Ten minutes became an hour, and our “shuttle” turned out to be a tiny car meant for a driver and four other passengers. There were five of us- Luke and Tyler, the Australians, Jaimie, the other American, Katherine, and me-, and we all hilariously piled into the car. Luke was the lucky one who sat in the front, and the rest of us had to lie all over each other in the back. We realized then just how well we would be getting to know each other…

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(This is us in the car, with our badass driver who didn’t speak a word of English.)

Anyhow, we drove for about an hour and a half, the scenery gradually changing from the hectic, busy streets of Istanbul to smaller towns and villages completely devoid of tourists. Once we reached the beach, we had to pay to get in- but it was totally worth it. It was a huge, popular beach, with perfectly clear aqua blue water, crashing waves, gorgeous cliffs, and soft sand. It was so relaxing and fun, just laying out, reading, swimming, getting to know each other, and somehow finding ourselves talking about affirmative action and feminism. After awhile, we realized that our driver had been hanging out by us the whole time! We invited him over, and he generously bought fries for all of us.

(This is us at the beach)

Later, once we were back in Istanbul, Tyler, Jaimie, Katherine, and I all went out to dinner. We were trying to find some version of authentic Turkish food in our touristy neighborhood, but out of hunger and difficulty ended up at a touristy restaurant. However, the food ended up being extremely delicious, and I had one of my best meals yet- Turkish ravioli. The four of us stayed at the restaurant for hours and hours having one of the most hilarious conversations of my life =). It was definitely one of my favorite days in Turkey.

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Spending Too Much Money and Being Fat Asses

Wanting to explore another part of Turkey outside of Istanbul, Katherine and I headed out to one of the Prince’s Islands on the 14th. Our ferry ride over there was only about an hour and a half long and had gorgeous views of the city and its surrounding areas. Once we arrived, I was astounded by how serene the island was, particularly in comparison to the craziness of Istanbul. We sat at a peaceful café for about 2 hours, the only noise our conversation with each other. Finally, we began our search for our ultimate purpose in going to this island: the beach. The only modes of transportation that exist on the Prince’s Islands are horse-drawn carriages and rented bicycles. However, not planning ahead, Katherine and I just walked instead. It turned out that the area was extremely hilly, and its beaches were, of course, on the opposite side of the island from where we were. After trekking around forever, we finally found a beach… that costed 25 Turkish Lira (about $14) to enter. We decided to just suck it up and pay, since we had walked so much and didn’t know where the next beach would be. It turned out to be a lovely beach after all, with pretty cliffs, the serenely beautiful Sea of Marmara, and our own reclining lounge chairs. It was very relaxing to just lay on the beach and swim in perfectly clear water.

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However, once we were ready to head back to the ferry dock, we remembered how far away it was. We chose to ride one of the horse-drawn carriages, which costed a yucky amount of money. The ferry ride back, however, was during the sunset and was so beautiful.

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Our plan after that was to head back to Istanbul on the ferry and, later on, meet up with Tolga and Vincent again in Taksim. However, by the time that we actually arrived in Istanbul, it was already after 9:00. We realized that we didn’t have enough time to take a taxi all the way back to our hostel, get ready, and take a taxi to Taksim. However, we also were just at the beach, and we didn’t have clothes to change into or any makeup with us. Therefore, we decided that we would just go to Taksim and shop for new outfits and makeup. After failing to find a taxi, Katherine and I just walked there instead- which was up an extremely steep hill and took forever. Once we finally reached Taksim, we realized how starving we were, and how badly we wanted non-Turkish food. As a result, we ended up at- you guessed it- McDonald’s! It was there that I ate the most food I have ever eaten in my life; I ordered two cheeseburgers, a medium fry, and, in an effort to be health-conscious, water. And in record-breaking time, I ate every. last. bite.

Feeling sufficiently like fat ass Americans, Katherine and I went shopping for new dresses at Mango. Then we hit up a Clinique store to browse around at makeup. Now, Clinique is one of the more expensive brands in the U.S., but because it is imported in Turkey the prices are more than double. A smart person would maybe realize, hey, this is not worth it! However we were feeling desperate and pressured to buy something because we were the only ones in the store, and they were staying open late just for us. Thus, we caved and spent way too much money. Afterward, we saw another makeup store a couple stores down that was crowded and had tons of samples. We went in there to put on some eye shadow samples to finish off our looks, and then realized that we should have just gone there in the first place.

Finally, we met up with Vincent and Tolga. We all went to that park that we had gone to a couple nights beforehand, and then we went club-hopping. These clubs were a little different from the first one we went to, in that they played American/electronic music. However, somebody who shall not be named was having too much fun, and somebody had to send her home…

Then the next day we did absolutely nothing and it was amazing.

Bazaars and Baths

After a long night of dancing our booties off, Katherine and I only had one thing on our agenda for the following day: a relaxing, cleansing Turkish bath. However, discovering that those are better to have later in the day, we decided to hit up the famed Grand Bazaar in the meantime. Picturing it to be a chaotic, bustling market filled with beautiful jewelry, clothes, and shoppers bartering, it turned out to be quite underwhelming. The bazaar was quiet and not very crowded, and it felt more like a glorified mall than a flea market. Unimpressed, we moved on to the spice market nearby, which was pretty cool, and street markets in the surrounding area. While these were slightly more interesting, there was still a lack of cute clothes or accessories. Hungry by now, Katherine and I stumbled upon a random, small restaurant in the middle of the market. It turned out to have delicious, authentic Turkish cuisine and probably some of the best food that we had on the trip. 

Afterward, we found ourselves at a large, beautiful mosque that actually looked like the Blue Mosque. We decided to go inside, and it was even better than its famed counterpart. The two were designed quite similarly, but there was hardly anyone at this mosque. It was so peaceful and serene, and confirmed my belief that Muslims win at architecture. 

Later on, it was time for our Turkish baths. Hoping for a relaxing experience, it ended up being more… interesting than anything else. The place that we went to was definitely not a tourist spot, and none of the staff really spoke English. They ushered us into a large, marble sauna room and just left us in there. Katherine and I were confused about what we were supposed to do, so we had to ask them again. One of the women came in and laughingly demonstrated how to lie down on this marble slab in the middle of the room, and told us to stay in there for 20 minutes. So we put our towels down and lied on the slab, and it was extremely hot. There were various little fountains where one could wash of one’s face with cold water to prevent passing out. Finally, the actual bath part of the experience started. I went into this room where an older Turkish woman with only her lacy underwear on washed, scrubbed, and massaged me. And when I say that she only had her underwear on, I mean that her saggy boobs were on full, unabashed display. Afterward, she told me to go back into the sauna, which made no sense to me; why would I want to go into a sauna and get sweaty all over again when I just got washed? 

At least my skin felt amazingly soft afterward.

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The Grand Bazaar

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The beautiful mosque

Wandering

Merhaba! My journey begins in Istanbul, Turkey. I arrived here on the 11th, and, taking a shuttle through the city from the airport, I was immediately struck by how the various cultural influences on this city blend together so harmoniously. You see, Istanbul is the only city in the world that straddles two different continents- Europe and Asia- and it truly does feel like a European city and a Middle Eastern city all at the same time. Markets and bazaars, lots of traffic, a modern public transit system, kebab restaurants, very old and very beautiful mosques, bright lights, women in hijabs and burqas, and women not in hijabs and burqas all fill the streets.

I disembarked in the district of Taksim, where I would be meeting up with my Couch Surfing host, Tolga. Mind you, this was my first time flying to a foreign country by myself, and here I was- waiting on the side of the street for some guy who I had never met in order to stay at his house. It was quite nerve-racking, yet thrilling at the same time. Tolga arrived, and with him was Vincent, a guy from Germany who was Couch Surfing with him as well. They took me on the metro to the University District, where Tolga lives, and I instantaneously felt comfortable with them. They seemed cool and friendly, and I knew that I had made an excellent decision in how I would be spending my first night in Istanbul.

At his flat, Tolga cooked for us some excellent Turkish food of spicy pasta and grilled vegetables, and he served us traditional Turkish liquor. It was then that I learned my first Turkish word: çakırkeyif, or, in English, tipsy. Thoroughly exhausted, I went to sleep soon after that and awoke at five in the morning from the mosque’s call to prayer.

Katherine, my travel buddy, arrived the next day, and we met up at the hostel at which we would be staying for the rest of the week. Our hostel is in an extremely touristy part of the city called Old Istanbul. It is very close to the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia, and it feels like an isolated village within the city. It has narrow, cobblestone streets, tons of hotels and hostels, overpriced restaurants, and a noticeable lack of Turkish people actually living here. Regardless, that day we did some touristy things- we saw the Blue Mosque, which was very beautiful but quite crowded, and a really cool cistern which is in a cave and dates back to the Roman empire. Afterward, we wandered around the city, which would come to be a theme for our trip. We have a tendency to walk around, say, “Oh, that street looks pretty!”, get lost going down a bunch of winding roads, and subsequently walk… and walk… and walk. Our own hostel is really confusing to try to find, and there has yet to be a time where Katherine and I were able to come back to it without circling around it for thirty minutes.

Later that night, we met up with Tolga and Vincent in Taksim, which turned out to be one of our favorite places in the city. It is a crowded hub of young people, and there is a huge street there that is blocked off to traffic and filled with awesome restaurants, shopping, night clubs, and bars. The four of us went to a liquor store and bought some vodka and wine, and Tolga took us to this amazing park where locals hang out. It was a little off the beaten path like a true secret spot, and once we arrived, Vincent, Katherine, and I were the only tourists there. It has a stunning view of the city, including the Bosphorus Bridge, the water, the lit up mosques, and the Asia side of Istanbul.

Afterward, Katherine, Vincent, and I went to a club that Tolga had recommended to us. It was on the top floor of some random, unmarked building, and I immediately fell in love with it once we went inside. There was a band playing modern Turkish music, which actually was extremely fun to dance to. The club had an amazing view of the city, and we danced and danced until five in the morning.

And this was only my first 36 hours in Istanbul.

P.S. If you have not heard of couchsurfing.org, it is the best website ever. If you are traveling anywhere in the world, via Couch Surfing you can stay at random people’s houses for free. As my post has probably demonstrated, it is an amazing way to meet local people and find out about all the best places to go to. Image

Taksim Square

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Tolga, Vincent, and I at the park in Taksim

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Katherine and Vincent at the park