Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Adventures: terrible cocktails, a failed quest, and a dip in the Mediterranean


I've had some fun times the past two weeks. Things are definitely picking up here—I've spent this morning (in a Starbucks, shame on me!) working on a research paper due at the end of the week, and I've been struggling along with my independent research project.

Two weeks ago, on Friday, my roommates and I had some adventurous times. First, we discovered that the president of Ecuador was speaking at our university, so we tried to squeeze into the auditorium, but it was too packed. We gave up on our other idea for the aftenroon (seeing the whirling dervishes--one of our friends who had planned to come was sick), and walked 20 minutes to Ortaköy. It's becoming one of my favorite places in Istanbul—reminds me somewhat of Cascais, in Lisbon. We wandered around, window shopping and admiring a lot of the jewelry sold there, then decided to go for cocktails at a bar called "Tipsy." That, and the offer of almost half-off cocktails should have tipped us off that it would turn into an adventure.... My friends both ordered Long Island Ice Teas, and I got a caipirinha, to see how Turks made the traditional Brazilian drink. It turns out that all of our drinks were pretty terrible, and also contained what felt like 4 shots each. So by the time we left and headed to a cafe for dinner, Ortaköy was spinning a little bit...

We stopped at a place our roomate had taken us a few weeks before, and ordered kumpir—essentially baked potatoes with any and all toppings you desire. Again, we honed our backgammon skills (I love that little cultural quirk!), and then hopped on a bus back home, stopping for a giant box of cookies on the way. We ate cookies and played pre-teen sleepover games, then went to bed before midnight. All in all, a sort of strange, but adventurous evening.

On Saint Patrick's day we decided to celebrate by going to an Irish pub—along with everyone else. As expected, the pub was packed, so we wandered around a bit more and found another bar, but my friend decided that ice cream and heading home early was a better idea. The next day, though, a friend and I returned to the pub and sat in on a "mega" trad Irish music session--it was amazing! We were there for ~3 hours, enjoying listening to the multiple fiddles, guitar, recorder, pipes, and even a hammer dulcimer. There's a session every Sunday, so I'm planning on going back, and maybe brining my own recorder. I treated myself to a 18TL/10$ cider, though hopefully that won't be a regular occurrence...

My dad arrived in Istanbul on Monday, and it was great to see him! He's the best tour guide and translator one could ask for. He accompanied me on some more adventurous times on Tuesday...
I've been looking around for cultural organizations for my project, and found one not too far from a metro stop, so I decided to take the metro and then walk, using a hand-drawn map I had made. Long story short, I spent a good chunk of time getting lost in what was essentially a jungle of highways, then lost my student ID and bus pass on the way. I didn't make it to the organization the first time, but my dad returned with me to retrace my steps (no ID found), and we ended up taking a taxi there (and asking for directions three times--it's in the middle of nowhere). We reached the place, but no one was there except for the wife of the director, who ended up giving us a ride back out of the middle of nowhere. Overall, a failure of a day... but at least I got a lot of exercise, heh.

On Thursday my mom arrived, and I had a wonderful dinner in my parents' hotel restaurant (one of the many perks of having my parents here—not just eating PB&J or omelets all the time!). On Friday I had my full day of class, then returned for the traditional Turkish music group at 7. We sang some songs (well, I tried), and I practiced some of my Turkish with the Turkish students. I was so glad for that, since it has been really hard to meet Turks here. The practice involved a long impromptu Turkish history lecture (that I couldn't understand anything of), and a lot of bursting into song (I tried to hum along...)

The next day my parents and I took a wonderful cruise on the Bosphorus—sunnier than last time!—and finished it off with a visit to an awesome castle along the shores of the Bosphorus--from 1452, when Mehmet the Conqueror was getting ready to take over Constantinople. After a quick break, I headed back to the old town to have dinner with my parents, 4 Norwegians, and an American professor from my University and his wife. It was a mixed crew, but lots of fun—it was great to see the Norwegian friends (I met them in Norway two summers ago), but I found my Norwegian to be really rusty—Turkish kept coming out! The dinner was superb, and I headed home full and sleepy, only to wake up after three hours of sleep to head to the airport and hop on a plane to Turkey's southern Mediterranean coast.

My program set up a group trip to Antalya, a beautiful beach town. We stayed at a five-star resort around 45 minutes away, and took advantage of their amazing buffet meals. We visited a ruined Necropolis, the Church of Saint Nicholas (yep, where St. Nick was buried), and took a beautiful boat cruise. On Monday we headed down the road to a canyon and an awesome high ropes course—of course I never wanted to leave. We finished off the trip by exploring the city of Antalya, where I happened to meet up again with my parents, who are spending the week there. All in all, a wonderful trip—it was so nice to get out of the city and take some relaxing time.

Now, another busy week of school, hence my extended stay here in Starbucks and anticipated coffee-shop hopping on the schedule for today. I'll just leave off by saying that I am LOVING being in Istanbul. Since I last wrote, the weather has turned nice, and I love wandering around this city; there's so much to discover and experience here. Stay tuned for more adventures :)

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Sometimes I Crave Turkish Delight


I realize it has been two weeks since I last posted, but when I'm not traveling around all the time there are fewer interesting things to write about. Still, I've had some fun times in the past two weeks...

Last Friday one of my roommates had a friend visiting (a friend who coincidentally had dated someone I went to high school with--small world!) so we went to the Çiçek Pasajı ("Flower Passage") for some drinks. It's a beautiful old space where flowers used to be sold—now it's mostly bars and restaurants, and somewhat touristy. Still a good time. The rest of the weekend was pretty boring, but last week I started getting into the swing of classes, finally! I'm taking a class on audio recording and editing (it's random, but really fun!), my "core" course on contemporary Turkish history and politics, Turkish language, Politics of Nationalism, and my independent project. I've decided to study Germans and German Turks (either return migrants or second generation) in Turkey to see the "other side" of the interesting Turkish-German situation in Germany. Hopefully this summer I will be able to continue my research in Berlin (depends on if I am awarded a grant or not).

On Tuesday I had a very special visit from some friends from college back in the States! They were on a study visit with their study abroad program in Denmark. We visited the Spice Bazaar and the Grand Bazaar and had Turkish coffee and baklava, then went back to Çiçek Pasajı that evening. It was great fun to catch up and hear about their adventures in Denmark.

On Wednesday my roommates and I visited Dolmabahçe Palace—a big, beautiful, "European-style" palace right next to our university, on the banks of the Bosphorus. The palace and the grounds were gorgeous, as expected; I loved the giant chandeliers. We also caught a chill inside the giant palace, so we spent the rest of the afternoon in the heated university library, trying to get some work done.

Last Friday I took the first step in my independent research project and visited the Goethe Institute here in Istanbul. They offer German classes and have a German-Turkish library, so I talked to the head librarian and learned some helpful things about German-Turkish culture in Istanbul. I'll continue working and hopefully set up some interviews soon.

I also went to an interesting event on Friday: my Turkish professor had told me he was playing a concert of traditional Turkish music—it turns out it was actually sort of a choir rehearsal! So I sat with 20 or so students and tried my best to sing along while my professor and some students played some traditional instruments. At one point my prof singled me out (in Turkish) and had me sing by myself! I turned beet red, but I had figured out the tune, so it was fun.

I didn't go out at night last weekend (was pretty tired), but I had a great time on Saturday with some friends—we went to Şişhane, where we strolled down a street full of music shops, passed by the Galata Tower (decided against going up since the line was long!), and crossed the restaurant-studded Galata Bridge. We ended up heading back to the Spice Market, where we took advantage of free samples of Turkish delight... a bit too much Turkish delight...
We finished off the evening with fish sandwiches on the Galata Bridge, and a trip back home by way of the second-oldest underground transportation system in the world--Istanbul's Tünel (the first is the London metro, I believe).

Since then I haven't done much. The weather has been pretty terrible, so I've done a lot of sitting inside and procrastinating on my reading, heh. Will be heading to my audio class this evening, so I'm looking forward to that! See you in a week or so :)