Saturday, April 21, 2012

Irish sessions, an island trip, and a few midterms...


Happy Spring! Istanbul in the Spring is much nicer than Istanbul in the winter, as expected. It's a rainy Saturday morning here, and as per my usual routine in the US, I am at a coffee shop. Easter egg dyeing and candy-eating was a success (I will put up pictures of our masterpiece eggs on Facebook soon!). On Easter evening, I went back to the Irish pub session with a friend, and brought my recorder this time. I only knew one or two songs, and played pretty terribly, but I still had a lot of fun and ended up staying for three hours. I went back again last week and played a little bit more, and I'm planning on making a habit of it. Sessions are awesome! Unfortunately, it seems the girls in the apartment next to mine aren't so happy with me practicing recorder, though… makes me miss the music facilities at school back home.

 Last week I met up with my dad one last time, for a nice lunch (my last expensive meal for a while), and meeting some of his friends. We also stopped by the Grand Bazaar and the Spice Market to buy orchid root powder--the main ingredient in what has become one of my favorite winter drinks here. It's called sahlep, and sweet and creamy and a perfect treat from a street-vendor on a chilly day. Now that it's warm I'm not drinking much sahlep, but now I can make it for myself next winter in the US :). I don't remember much else of what I did last week; all of a sudden schoolwork has started to keep me a bit busy!

On Friday, my roommates and I went back to Ortaköy--one of my favorite spots in Istanbul. We strolled around, did a little shopping, and had our requisite kumpir (stuffed baked potatoes) and tavla (backgammon).

 Sunday was a wonderful day—my program organized a trip to Büyükada, one of the "Prince's Islands" that is about an hour and a half away from my area of Istanbul by ferry. The Islands reminded me a bit of Martha's Vineyard or the cape, with lots of cute little shops, restaurants, and summer homes. Apparently Trotsky spent some time there, too… We rented bikes and rode up to the top of the Island, where we visited a monastery and had a nice lunch outside. It was a wonderful break from city life—especially since the only vehicles on the island are bikes and (semi-vicious) horse-drawn carriages. After a nice big cone of ice cream, we headed home on the ferry, and I went back to the Irish pub for some more jamming.

This week has been spent mostly on working on my independent project and studying for the two midterms I had yesterday—Turkish and Politics of Nationalism. Turkish was mostly reading comprehension, so it was pretty difficult, but not too bad (and I'm taking that class pass/fail…). I studied a lot for Politics of Nationalism, so that wasn't bad either--plus, I have the advantage of being a native English speaker, unlike the rest of the class… I'm so amazed that all the Turkish students manage to do their university studies in English!

 Yesterday afternoon I lazed around, and have similar plans for today, unless the rains let up. I've been dreaming of going on a picnic…. :)

Sunday, April 8, 2012

High tea, bureaucracy, and a 4.5-hour dinner

Merhaba all!

It is a beautiful Easter Sunday here in Istanbul, and I'm wearing a flowery dress in accordance with the holiday, despite it not really being a thing here. But my wonderful mother brought me easter candy and an egg-dyeing kit, so there will be some celebrating going on at my apartment this afternoon :).

For now, I'm back in a café trying to do some homework. One of the most important lessons I've learned here in Turkey is my addiction to coffee shops. No, seriously... they're like a drug: I can't get any work done unless I'm sitting in a coffee shop with (usually) a latte. Not very Turkish of me, I know, and kind of an expensive habit.... heh. I'm looking forward to getting back to some of my favorite coffee shops near college in the US, but for now I'll enjoying scoping some out here in Istanbul.

Well, last Thursday was a very exciting day. Woke up around 5 in the morning without meaning to, but had to get up at 6:15 anyway for my residence permit appointment! Thrilling! Foreigners living in Turkey need residence permits, so we all got to experience the wonderful thing that is Turkish bureaucracy. A group of students from my program shipped off to a police-station-type place and waited around for hours, then handed in our papers and paid a large amount of money, then left. I was the first one out, around 2.5 hours after we arrived...

Friday and Saturday were pretty boring days; I had a research paper due on Saturday, so I spent most of my time reading and writing about the Fourth Crusade (if you don't know anything about it, just know that it's kind of hilarious and sheds light on the stupidity of humanity). I was free by dinner time on Saturday, and my parents took me and my roommates (one of whom had a birthday that day!) out to a nice dinner. We had lots of mezze--Turkish appetizers, kebabs, and a bit of birthday cake and Turkish coffee.

I forgot to mention—during the whole paper-writing process, my computer battery died (perfect timing, of course), which resulted in a quiet Monday (or was it Sunday?) in my parents' hotel room, transferring my computer data to my mom's computer, which I'll be using for the rest of the semester. Parents to the rescue! After the boring computer stuff my parents and I headed out for a nice farewell tea at the Pera Palace—a beautiful old hotel that was the final destination for many rich passengers on the Orient Express from Paris to Istanbul. We dressed up and ate finger sandwiches and cute little pastries with our tea. I then proceeded to pull out my laptop in the lobby to do online roomdraw for next year at school (we have specific times to choose, and I didn't want to miss mine); I'm sure I was the classiest room-picker ever.

Wednesday I had a midterm exam which went ok, but I'm not going to lie—it's a lot harder to study here in Istanbul than in the states. There aren't many nice study spaces on campus, and my room is hopelessly non-conducive to studying... hence all the Starbucks dates.

Thursday was again very exciting--I went to pick up my residence permit! Only about an hour of waiting this time, and I ran into a fellow Mac student at the permit office! She's studying at a different university in Istanbul. Small world. Anyway, now I have a little mini-passport-thingy to prove that I'm living here, and now I'm allowed to leave the country! Woo!

Yesterday my roommates and I went to our local Saturday morning market for some produce and dried fruit and nuts, then spent the rest of the day being lazy inside. At night we went to dinner with my Hungarian friend (from my Turkish class) and a bunch of his Turkish friends. Some Turkish was spoken, with a bit more English, and much rakı was drunk (I'm not sure if I'll ever like it, though...). It was a very Turkish experience—we started dinner around 8:30 and finished just around 1 AM! Our main courses (for which we weren't very hungry, since we had eaten so many mezze) came around 11:30. We three Americans had a good laugh over it, as we fought our culturally-ingrained "eat-and-run" instincts. It was good fun though, with live music and even a belly dancer (brings back memories of the belly-dance class I took in Portugal, though last night's was of a significantly different character!).

Time to head home and start boiling some eggs. Happy Easter to all!