I finally landed in Istanbul and the adventure began as soon as I exited the plane.
Before reuniting with my mom, I first navigated my way through visas (I had purchased mine online which made that an easy line to circumvent) and then headed through passport control. The line looked miserably long, but moved quickly and the people watching made the time fly by.
After I got my first passport stamp ever, I was through the gate, grabbed my bag, and was off in search of my mom. That proved to be a pretty easy task given that as blonde Americans we both kind of stuck out.
From the airport we took a train, two buses, and a cab to get back to Besiktas – my mom’s neighborhood. Everything in Turkey is packed. Granted, it was rush hour, but we were like a can of sardines on the buses. The Turkish people were all very helpful though, pointing us in the right direction along the way and helping us find the right stops. If the buses are a tight squeeze here, so are the houses. Everything is built on top of each other! With all of the hills in Istanbul you can look at a hill and see layers upon layers of apartment and business buildings, with the minarets of mosques spread intermittently throughout.
When we arrived I was shocked by all the animals that greeted us. From the cab to my mom’s front door, I saw at least one dog and four cats. I wasn’t aware this was common in Turkey. Apparently Turkish people love animals, but don’t keep them as pets because of the expense, so the city is just filled with all of these communal animals. It is both adorable (the cats) and terrifying (the dogs roaming wild).
If the population density and hustle and bustle was surprising, the sounds of Istanbul were as well. From dogs barking, seagulls chirping, and just the sounds of the city I couldn’t believe how loud it was!
When we got settled in, my mom and I had an impromptu gift exchange. I had brought a few things with me for her, and she had been stockpiling gifts for me over the years as well. When I asked my mom last week what I could bring her from America she had three requests: an English language Scrabble set, wasabi peas, and an iPad mini. If you had paid me to guess what she would have wanted, I would have been 0/3. I guess sometimes you miss the comforts of home and they can be things you didn’t expect to miss!
She had a few boxes for me as well. My intro into Turkish culture started with a parade of hats. First, she gave me two Fez hats. Although popular in the Ottoman empire, I don’t think I’ve seen any Turkish people wearing them… yet.
Next, were two green Turkish hats.
After we finished goofing around with the hats, I opened a few more classic Turkish gifts, include: Turkish Delights (gummy candies), two absolutely beautiful Iznik style tile trivets, and a 1,000 piece puzzle of Kaplumbaga Terbiyecisi by Osman Hamdi. My bag is already going to be heavier on the way home it appears!
We headed out dinner with a trip through her neighborhood and went down to a cafe on the Bosphorus. As we went through her neighborhood we saw dozens of police. My mom lives in an area where the pretests had been fairly active, so I was initially alarmed at how many uniformed men were on the streets. They were just having coffee, smoking, and texting though – definitely not ready to engage in any rioting at that moment anyway. From there, our bus ride to the cafe took us through Bebek, the swanky neighborhood next door that I can’t wait to explore in the coming days.
Dinner was divine. We ate at this quaint cafe that was adorned in greenery, and our table was right next to the river. If you look across the Bosphorus you are looking at Asia!
By the time we made it to dinner it was about 8 p.m. and dark out. Since we were next to the water it was a little chilly, but each of the chairs had shawls on them. I loved it! Why don’t restaurants in the U.S. do this – I’m always freezing! I ordered salmon and my mom had this beautiful tomato tart that was to die for. (Note to self: look up how to make this back home!) We finished the meal with Turkish chi tea and then headed home.
Outside of her apartment, we met a family who was out celebrating the Muslim holiday of Lailat al Mi’raj. They had made red lentil meatballs (also known as mercimak kofte) and halva, a sweet dessert. They asked us if we supported the protest and it was so interesting to hear how they said the protest had bonded together the neighborhood. Nur, an English speaking psychologist, said that she never knew any of the neighborhood, but with this last week they all say hi to each other and are much closer now. Throughout the night we didn’t see much protesting, mostly just people banging on pots and pans. It was interesting to see the climate in Istanbul first hand, and hear the local perspective on the situation.
I’m so excited to be here in Turkey, with my mom, off on a week of adventuring! I didn’t see this coming a week ago, that’s for sure!