I visited Istanbul for the first time 4 years ago. It was one year before the high school graduation. Very symbolic, because now when one more year is left to my university graduation I am here again celebrating my 22th birthday in Istanbul.
Before this trip to Istanbul I had one more opportunity to cope with Turkish culture shadings. I was invited on a free trip in Turkey. I’d be back only today. But several days before the departure people who had invited me said that there was no place for me anymore. I was really confused. Why would someone who is not sure invite me more than a week in advance?
I was so angry that I managed to stop a car in Turkey! Yeah, in Turkey where it seems that people do not really pay much attention to the traffic-lights.
So, I had two ways – to be angry, do nothing and complain about unorganized and always late Turkish people or do something. My birthday was coming up and I didn’t want to spend it alone in a hotel. So, I asked if there were any places to go to in Istambul with Americans. Hallelujah! I was lucky and got a spot.
Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the past. Sometimes I wish that I hadn’t had this year or maybe even two. On the another hand, youth is for making mistakes and if you understand them it will make you grow. Again, I want to go places and do things. I feel such lust for life, for discoveries and those little aha moments that I believe that these three months are like a gift that allows me to look at myself at a distance. I think I’m here in Turkey for a lot of reasons, but mainly to cope with emotions and become more tolerant. I do not worry anymore if something doesn’t go according to a plan. I just laugh at it. What else should I do? When you have done everything you could curiously warm tranquility settles inside and here, you learn to wait. The time passes by and you get what you’ve earned.
As our mentor, Mehmet said, ‘We just don’t care’. So, maybe this is a secret of Turkish life?
The first day
I’d say that Istambul is a city as you experience it, and felt as discovered. As Napoleon Bonaparte said, ‘If the world were a single state, Istanbul would have been its capital.’ It’s a meeting point of cultures and civilizations. For me it’s a city with a limitless sky above, where Europe and Asia meet. At first sight it looks like a city full of mess, noise and no harmony, but you’re wrong it is always balanced precariously, far-sighted, a town open for everybody.
Istanbul is the most developed and the largest city of Turkey, and the latest discoveries indicate that the history of human civilisation goes back 400,000 years ago. The Megarians settled and founded the city of Byzantium that later lent its name to the Byzantine Empire. However, the first settlers in the region established their city Chalcedon (Kadikoy), on ‘the land of blind people’ which was strategically less important. And the Megarians, led by Oracle became aware of the beauty of Seraglio Point (Sarayburnu), and they established their city there on the opposite side of Chalcedon. Today historical peninsula is the most nicest part of Istanbul.
This is a city that many desired to conquer. But the desire to possess the city cannot be explained only by its strategic position or unsurpassed beauty; it has a different attraction, a mystical magnetism that used to draw states, empires and great conquerors towards it.
For more than 1,500 years Istanbul was the capital of two empires, firstly the Byzantine and later Ottoman. It’s the reason why here diverse cultures collide, nations and religions mingle. Those cultures, nations and religions are the small pieces that form the mosaic of Istanbul.
I’ll name places that are really worth visiting here.
We had really boring guide Apdal. Drop all the guided tours and go explore the city with your friends or locals, because it is much more interesting to get lost, to ask for a way. Yeah, I love travelling with my friends, but at this moment even trips only with myself sound enjoyable. Because it’s the hardest to be only on your own, solely with your thoughts, habits and stereotypes. But it is worth doing, because after sometime you start to feel free and let the past go without you anymore. When you are afraid of something, you feel that you are alive.
So, talking about our guide, he was kind of person who can’t attract your attention. Also, after the long trip we were almost dying, so listening to him became even harder. Firstly, we visited Blue Mosque. I still don’t know the reason I hadn’t put scarf on my head, the guide was worried only about shoulders and legs.
Next visit was to Hagia Sophia. Originally built as an Eastern Orthodox church later it was converted to a mosque in the mid 1400s. Now its a museum.
Basilica cistern (Yerebatan Cistern) was our other point. One of Istanbul’s major shortcomings was the supply of drinking water. Actually, still is, you can’t drink water from the tap, but should buy bottles. This cistern’s roof is supported by 336 columns. As before two years ago I threw a coin again, I’d like to come back here someday. Inside is really dark, you can small fish swim, wooden platforms built just above the water level, and of course mysterious Medusa head, which is rumored to turn the unwary gazer into stone if directly, looked at in the eye.
For lunch we went to restaurant which looked like one of those Italian. I loved the service there of course. It is way different from other places I visited. I had some humus and chicken crepe. The prices are way bigger than in Eskisehir, but you have try Istambul’s cuisine for sure. But better not buy food from streets – I tasted sandwich with lamb, but after this I felt strange it was too heavy.
Topkapı Palace is a place within the royal walls. It was the residence of the Ottoman sultans for 400 years: The Topkapi Palace was built on the prime site of the historical peninsula of Istanbul with commanding views of the Istanbul Strait. The architecture of this palace was not similar to European places. The Ottoman sultans paid great attention to build grandiose religious buildings, while they kept the architecture of their own residences quite plain, just enough to meet their needs. This was probably due to the influence of Islamic thought.
The last visit was in Grand Bazaar. Our guide knew that everybody was itching to spend money, so he pointed out all the cheapest places in the city, but asked not to bargain. What a lie! Where else would I get a bargain if not here, because they double the prices every time, so you can easily overpay. Me, Qianqian and Caroline were called Charlie’s Angels. That was the sweatiest invitation. Others were too intimate, insulting or just too obsessive.
Despite 3000 of odd shops it didn’t look crowded. I got some presents, and I had a really interesting chat. We were trying to bargain for earrings. I was trying to play as we are here already for three months, so we know the real prices and people, but that guy said, ‘Oh, you even don’t imagine what the real Turkish people are’, that was mysterious and not very pleasant experience. But you should visit this place and feel that messy and authentic Turkish atmosphere.
I enjoyed going to Spice Bazaar much more and buying Turkish delights (gummy candy type of thing made out of honey and other favors).
The second day
Staying in Sultain’s hostel was tolerable. Well, when you come just for two nights it doesn’t really matter where, right?
Day began with Bosphorus boat trip. It was amazing as it made me feel like being in-between two worlds. Later we went for a lunch and had a strange fish sandwich which was made on the street.
If you want to visit Dolmabahçe Palace you have to wait in a huge line. Also, prices for entry are different for Turkish people and foreigners – we had to pay more than two times. But as you enter the palace you forget all about it – it feels like dreaming ancient dream.
But there was akward moment when guide started saying that people from Europe are rude and stucked-up (he thought that all our group is from America), so then he realised that I’m from Lithuania, he tried to cover up it distinquishing people from England, France and Spain.
Istiklal Street (Istiklal Cadesi) – is the main lively street in Turkey. It’s really crowded – around 2 million visitors every day. The only vehicular movement breaking the flood of human activity is the nostalgic thread of tramlines. Both sides of the street are lined with art galleries, famous shops and cafes where lively talk goes on and passages drink dens. Interestingly there are no rubbish bins because of the fear of possible terrorist attacks. So, it’s a little bit dirty. The Americans started asking whether it was like this in all Europe? Of course not, it depends on the country.
I loved the view, panoramic vistas of unique location from Galata Tower. You can observe lives in streets and lovely terraces on the roof. Somebody is rushing, somebody is just reading, taking and sun tanning while others are trying to catch birds for food. I wanted to stay here for a while. Finally, in this tower I realised that today is my birthday.
As I read in one tour book, the world‘s cultural heritage is like a big puzzle. Each monument, each object, is an irreplaceable part of the overall picture which gives us insight into our origins, our development and our lives today. It helps us to understand and appreciate other cultures. Each discovery, each new interpretation adds to the puzzle and makes the picture clearer and as I feel new experiences rushing can change our personalities a lot.