About a year ago, my fabulous cousin Megan and I discovered that we’re kind of the same person, and wanted to do the exact same thing with our lives at the exact time. So cleverly we thought, “Oh! Let’s do this together!” Several months and hundreds of restless planning hours later, we moved to Istanbul, Turkey. And by hundreds of hours, I mean a few evenings together with a bottle of wine and our laptops, doing some research, but admittedly also spending a lot of time calculating the travel time from the city to the Greek isles and eating up the images in a Google search of Istanbul. We came with no place to live and no source of income, just a skeleton of a plan and an appetite for adventure.
Our pre-Istanbul plans differed, so after Megan spent a few weeks traveling Scotland and London, and I spent a week in Philadelphia and New York City with Victoria Watts (known in some circles as Queen Jane), we decided to get crazy and just meet in the Istanbul Airport. Janky and harried as we were, we did eventually find each other near baggage claim, but only after I spent the entire flight not sleeping at all and instead devouring 5 episodes of the ever-culturally-important TV hit Gossip Girl on my iPod. I’m well on my way to becoming a more educated and aware global citizen already!
I was surprised by how bright, clean, and absolutely massive the city is, even just at first glance. A language barrier certainly exists, considering I came here knowing how to say “hello” (merhaba) and nothing more. You may be surprised to find that’s not exactly sufficient. We did, however, learn the Turkish word for “hookah” on night one, so clearly we’re knocking out the vocab in order of importance. (The word is nargile. Unfortunately, it’s not pronounced like Luna Lovegood’s “nargle”, as Megan and I had originally hoped).
We ended the first night with the obligatory getting lost, so after aimlessly wandering rows of identical cobblestone streets, we hailed a cab and attempted to communicate where we wanted to go. At first the driver thought we were trying to say Sea of Marmara, which would have been unfortunate because as it turns out, Megan and I aren’t exceedingly sharp or perceptive, or even particularly coherent, after not sleeping in 48 hours and we had actually gotten in the cab while in plain sight of the place we were staying. Five lira later, we were back where we started. Just to make it worthwhile, we asked our taxi driver to walk us upstairs, tuck us into bed, and put on a pot of hot tea.
That night, I bullied Belle & Sebastian into lulling me to sleep, but the morning call to prayer obligingly acted as a very effective alarm, jolting me awake at some unknown, ungodly hour. With my natural tendency toward discipline and devotion in mind, you’ll probably be confused to learn that I opted out of prayer and instead rolled over for several hours more sleep. Later, we finally roused for a breakfast of honeycomb, dried mulberries, and blocks of feta cheese, which kind of make life worth living. We arrived during the season of Ramadan, so the practicing Muslims of the city fast from sunup to sundown. Our hostel is located near the Blue Mosque and each night during Ramadan there is a festival of traditional Turkish music, street vendors, and Whirling Dervishes. There is no drinking allowed within 600 meters of a mosque, so people in the area spend their nights in outdoor cafés, drinking black tea and smoking hookah. Megan and I passed many a lovely evening there, meeting locals, watching live musicians, and playing backgammon, a very popular game with the residents of the city.
All in all, we’re feeling pretty accomplished. After all, within days of being in the country, we’d picked up a few Turkish words, made some connections with locals, navigated a bit of public transport, and, most importantly, looked at some long-term places to live. Finding work? Tomorrow or the next day will have to do. Or next week. Until then, we’re mercilessly staking out tickets to Istanbul Fashion Week.