Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Istanbul, not Constantinople

Okay, I know I always talk about wanting to move to different cities we visit, but this time I'm serious: I want to move to Istanbul. Shut up, it's for real this time.

We spent our first 8 days in Istanbul, completely enthralled by everything. Granted, the first 2 days we just wandered around in a culture-shocked stupor, mumbling about how smooth the roads are, how fresh the fruit looks, and how amazing it is that the buildings have elevators. (When we first arrived at our hostel, we were deliriously hyper because it was 3am and we had been traveling from Nepal for 20 hours. When I saw the elevator I screamed, "ELEVATOOOR!" and giggled the entire way up, even though Ross and I were squished into the tiny little space with a large and somewhat perplexed Greek man. That is when I realized I had culture shock.) But once we got over that, we were like, daaayum, this place is actually fucking AMAZING, yo. In those exact words.

First of all, it was nothing at all like what I expected. I think, looking back, that I expected something out of Aladdin -- lots of dusty roads and little monkeys in fezzes running around. It was not at all like that. No one was wearing fezzes, and there was not even a single monkey, which was disappointing. Instead, Istanbul was an enormous, cosmopolitan city with well-dressed people in sky-high heels and cute little cafes and shops everywhere. The skyline is studded with beautiful mosques, while the ground is dominated by an inordinate number of adorable stray cats, which added to the city immensely. It is an extremely glamorous and eye-catching city.

More mosques than you could shake a doner kebap at:

Stray kitten + ancient sculpture = golden photo opportunity:

Another thing I quite enjoyed is the quirky Turkish culture. It seems like life is lived in the streets here -- people don't stay at home surfing the internet (like some people do back home, but I won't mention any names). They go to cafes, sit around on little stools sipping overly strong but inexplicably tiny glasses of tea, smoke hookah, and play Backgammon. There's much more of a community feel here than in North America, and I really like that. I WANT TO INFILTRATE YOUR COMMUNITY, Istanbul. And I must admit, the ubiquity of Backgammon has made me really want to learn to play. (Although I can't say the preference for tiny furniture and child-sized glasses of tea has particularly won me over.)


or alternatively, "WHY AM I SUCH A GIANT?"

What really grabbed us is that Istanbul is just European enough to be familiar, but just Asian enough to be very interesting -- a combination we've been searching for this whole year while scoping out potential future cities to live in. The fact that it's relatively cheap definitely doesn't hurt either. We half-seriously started to point out neighborhoods we might like to live in and restaurants we'd like to become regulars of. Not that we're thinking too far ahead or anything. Just because I've already made friends with the crazy neighborhood hobo, DOESN'T MEAN ANYTHING, OKAY?

One potential future home, dog included:

I also had no idea how historically rich Turkey was until we got here. Ancient Egypt, Ancient Greece, Ancient Rome, The Ottoman Empire, The Byzantine Empire -- all those topics I learned about in history class, they all happened RIGHT HERE! How crazy is that? Considering that both countries I've lived in have a history no longer than 300 years (not counting Russia, of which I have no memory), that is PRETTY FUCKING CRAZY, if you ask me.

We actually got to see original sculptures from ancient Rome:

As well as original tablets with ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs on them:

Is your mind blown yet? Because, I don't know if you realize this, but mine was.

We also visited Aya Sofya and The Blue Mosque, two absolutely stunning buildings which were impossible to photograph properly, but just trust me, they were great.

The marvelous Blue Mosque:

Part of the interior of Aya Sofya, built in 562:

The Basilica Cistern was fascinating and spooky. I had no idea what a cistern was before visiting this one, and when I learned that it's basically just a place where water is stored, I was a bit confused about why we were bothering to go see one. But then the reason quickly became clear: it's 100,000 sq ft, built in 532 and gorgeous. Plus, two of the columns are supported by giant Medusa heads for some reason. One of the heads is sideways, the other is upside down. I don't know why, but I like that. When those emperors built stuff, they really did it properly (and somewhat strangely).

They built this JUST TO HOLD WATER:

Creepy 1,500 year old Medusa head:

There were many more amazing sights - The Topkapi Palace, The Grand Bazaar, Suleymaniye Mosque, not to mention being able to go from Europe to Asia on a 5-minute ferry ride - but I'll just summarize by saying GO TO ISTANBUL, it will be fucking awesome and you won't regret it. And by that time, Ross and I will probably have moved there, so we can all hang out and play Backgammon. Alright, now this post is starting to sound like an advertisement or something, so I'm going to stop there.

Now we're in Selçuk, a cute little town right next to Ephesus, which are meant to be the most beautiful and well-preserved ruins in all of Turkey, if not all of Europe. (A side note about Selçuk: We just realized we can see the Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, literally right from the terrace of our hostel. This place keeps getting more and more fucking amazing.) We'll be doing a tour of Ephesus today! I can't wait, because I am nerdy like that, and ruins make me giddy.


  1. glad it was so amazing!
    ps: about the "300 year long history of canada and us"--you are forgetting about the first nations that have lived here way longer! there is a big history here, just not in the same "massive city/empire type way"....... ;)

  2. I'M SO JEALOUS BLARG! Move there so I can visit. K? I already KNOW how to play backgammon.

  3. Jenny: I suppose that's true, but I find their history quite boring, and there's not much left to look at from that era besides some replicas of totem poles. So all in all, I think I prefer Europe on that count. ;)

    April: OMG, you must teach me!! I will move to Istanbul if you teach me how to play Backgammon. Fair deal, I think.

  4. Just FYI, I am still obsessively reading your blog and being SO JEALOUS that you remain overseas while I am back here in the U.S. living such a fucking mundane life...
    Glad you're having so much fun, it's great experiencing it all vicariously!

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