Istanbul: Where Europe Meets Asia
Posted by Andy Steves in on September 15, 2010.
I got up early Tuesday and caught the underground out to Athens airport and caught my flight to Istanbul. It was a long day, and once I found the hostel, I crashed on the bed for the rest of the evening. I scoped out the hostel when I woke up. It turned out to be a labyrinth of different floors, where some staircases didn’t lead to the same floors. There was a terrace on top with giant beanbags and many chairs with a bar serving drafts, kebabs, and nargilis (water pipes). You come across different types of hostels when you travel. There’s ones where nobody leaves their room, and others where everybody hangs out together and meets people from around the world and share great experiences. Thankfully, this was the latter, and I was happy to have found this place.
On Wednesday, a friend and I wandered through the modern part of Istanbul and came across what must have been a cultural dance show. We stayed for two groups until it was time to meet with Lale, a friend of my father’s who was dropping off the latest copy of the Istanbul guidebook that she and her husband, Tan, and my dad wrote together. Once we met, she told me she had arranged a tour for us the following day that took us from the Blue Mosque to the Topkapi Palace, the underground reservoir, and through a number of other neighborhoods. She had to make sure my friend wasn’t male, as the guide was female, a cultural taboo for two men to be with a lady I guess.
On Friday, we took a ferry up the Bosphorus Strait to the entrance of the Black Sea. I would never have guessed Turkey to be so green and vividly colorful. I think I was expecting something closer to a desert. But the ferry ride was an interesting and cheap way to sightsee. It dropped us off on the Asian side of the river for lunch.
After dinner that night, a few friends went out to see the nightlife in the new part of town. There, I bought a small bottle of raki. I’ve noticed each European country has their own liquorice-flavored liquor with a unique name. In France it’s pastis or anis, Italians drink Sambuca, it’s ouzo in Greece and it happens to be raki here in Turkey. Definitely an old man drink.
On Saturday, I made my way over to the Modern Art Museum, which I could take or leave. I sought it out because of the “design” exhibit that really turned out to be nothing more than a sparse collection of furniture from the decades of the 20th century. At the end of the exhibit, however, there was a fun, interactive video camera that would put up a three-second clip of you on repeat until someone changed it. Regular, uncreative people would just wave into the camera, but I tried something different. Because it was on a loop, I turned 360 degrees in about as long as the clip was to make a perpetually spinning me. Next I walked into and out of the frame in the same time, making a never-ending line of Andys.
On Sunday, my last day in Istanbul, I made my way over to the Asian side to find the Red Bull Flugtag. All week I had been seeing flyers for this goofy event where people make crude “planes” out of cheap construction supplies like PVC, various fabrics, duct tape, and paper. They take these contraptions, set them up on wheels, and run them off a ramp to see how far they get. It’s a call back to the first attempts at flight a hundred years ago. It was packed and it took a while to find a good viewpoint. I’m a bit taller than most Turkish people, but all the kids-on-shoulders made a veritable human forest to look through. After a few flights, it became clear this event was overrated and stretched out with actual action taking only a small fraction of the time, and the obnoxious MC taking up the rest.
Visiting Turkey just made me want to go farther east. It showed me yet again that cultures are beautiful no matter where they happen to be in the world. It was a completely foreign land to me, but the kind and jovial people there made it a fun learning experience. I’ll return someday I know, maybe en route to a place farther in the East.
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