Friday, July 30, 2010

Oh, Istanbul

Oh Istanbul, now you’ve done it. I’ve been here for about seven hours, and I think it’s love.
But I digress. I was going to do the travel debrief, and go from there. I moved out of the apartment yesterday morning without too much trouble. Aunt Susie had to come rescue me AGAIN, because I have accumulated a crapload of stuff in the last four years. This was after she and Uncle Manny already had taken me out to a SPECTACULAR last-real-meal-on-American-soil dinner on Wed. night. Shout outs to Co Co Sala. It’s very delicious, and I’m glad I didn’t know about it until two days ago, or I would’ve gone broke. Chocolate bar, anyone?
Anyways, then I hopped on the bus to Dulles (it took a very long time), and checked-in with the grumpy United man. He informed me my big suitcase was 14 lbs. too fat. Upon inquiring how much it would be to just pay for the extra weight, he said $200. And I said very quickly that I would do some rearranging. So 13.5 lbs later, I am hauling two extremely heavy backpacks. Then, I got to my gate with a comfortable 20 minutes to spare, and I watched a huge storm roll in. Needless to say, that scrapped all immediate departure plans, so we sat the storm out. It was only about an hour delay. Then we boarded, and proceeded to sit for another hour as they repacked the bags (they’d taken them off because of the storm?!), and fueled us up. We departed two hours late, made up some time, and promptly lost it again when we had a missed approach on the landing into Chicago cause the plane in front of us decided it didn’t want to take off on time. This whole flying thing takes timing and coordination people!! But in the end it didn’t matter because I had a six hour lay over reduced to four hours. 
So I talked to the parents and then moseyed with my backpacks across the world to the other side of O’Hare and hung out with all the Arabs about to go back to the ME before getting on one of the nicest planes I’ve ever been on. Rock on, Turkish Airways. There was lots of food, and plush seating, and an empty seat next to me, and the cool personalized screen thingies. I watched Invictus, which was a good movie, by the way. It got better after I figured out to set the language to English. The first six minutes were a little rough, but they got straightened out.
Arrival was fine—no problems with getting a visa or anything. It was a smooth process. Getting my newly skinny bag was a little more nerve wracking cause it took awhile. Then I hopped on a bus to the downtown area, and some nice people helped point me in the right direction, which was very cool. Turkey, unlike Morocco, seems to believe in street sign (which I am a HUGE fan of), but they don’t really exist in the middle of a huge square, which is where I got off the bus. I was like, okay, enie-meanie-miney-moe, there are only about a dozen different ways I can go. Hmmm. But I made it without too much of a problem. It cracks me up though (this is an Egypt thing too), that when I was hauling my backpacks, I got the “foreigner” treatment. But as soon as I was back to sandals and a purse, I’m just part of the scenery. Hooray for being brown!!!
This afternoon, I wandered around some just to get the lay of the land. Istanbul is very beautiful. It looks like East and West ran at each other full tilt and ran smack into the other. There are all the red roofs of Eastern Europe with the bright bright colors of Scandinavia and the trees and grass of northern Europe mixed with the skyline of towering minarets and domes of the Middle East. I was expecting it to be a little more like Cairo, which is to say kinda brown and dusty. But it is stunning how this city just kind of rolls over the hills and takes no notice of the ocean parting it in thirds. The red roofs, bright colored buildings, blue ocean and green trees crammed everywhere they can grow (and some places they theoretically shouldn’t) combine to make Istanbul a city of rare beauty. But moreover, the people (so far) have been friendly and helpful without some of the obnoxious pestering of Egypt. I have only had one guy ask if he could take me out for tea so he could “practice his English” and another ask—in all seriousness—for a kiss. Ah, well, at least they weren’t immediately asking me to marry them as in—hem hem hem—some other places I know and love.
Istanbul is kind of like Alexandria, and yet so different. I don’t know. So far the language hasn’t been an issue. I had the most delicious dinner (after some debate of where to go, cause there are kebob places EVERYWHERE), which consisted of a spinakopita-like substance (that is to say there was pastry, spinach and cheese involved. The pastry was like a cross between puff-pastry and a flour tortilla), konafa (which was EXQUISITE!!! The Turks go a little less heavy on the sugar syrup, and instead of putting cream in the middle which is not my preferred method, they put pistachio ice cream on top. It was unbelievably good) and am now about to crash before I go adventuring tomorrow. I’m glad I packed my flashlight though, because the wash room, which is large enough for a sink, toiled and butt, does not have a functioning light. Awkward! I feel a little more justified in some of my bizarre packing choices.
So that’s the first installment. Pictures with be forthcoming!