When I first went to the Copenhagen airport to begin my next travel adventure, I was still honestly still a bit sad to have left Prague. But Istanbul soon proved to have its own advantages (for starters, we got a complimentary full meal on the plane both ways–Turkish Airlines is a new favorite). (For those of you not caught up on my life, this was an optional study tour, for which I took a 1 credit class–Turkey at the Crossroads.) On the way to our hotel the first evening, Koray (our guide) was explaining the layout of the city to us. Our hotel was in the New City, which is actually from the 14th century. Throughout the trip we were surrounded by so much history it was amazing. And we’d find out so casually, like “Oh by the way that monument you’re standing next to is over two thousand years old.” It was just crazy. Rather than give you a blow by blow retelling of the whole week (and leave you sitting here for an hour reading all about my life) I’ll just talk more in detail about the highlights of the trip.
Transportation: Rather than go around by bus, we used public transportation, which allowed us to see more of the city and the people. We used both cards and “spoons,” which come from the fact that the transportation passes used to be actual little spoons. Here’s a picture of my dear little spoon:
Topkapi Palace: An old palace from the days of the sultans. All of the walls were covered in intricate tile designs, particularly in the Harem where the Sultan and the women servants lived. Of course, it was all missing all the lavish tapestries and decorations and it was still unbelievable. It’s hard to imagine how amazing it would have looked in the past. We stopped in the treasury and saw a HUGE diamond that was actually originally found in a trash bin and sold for about 3 lira before anybody realized it was a diamond. We also saw some old weapons including some swords that were so huge it was impossible to imagine somebody actually using them. Mosques: There were mosques everywhere. Luckily there weren’t any right next to our hotel so we weren’t woken up at 5am every day, but it was really cool to hear the call to prayer every once in a while while we were exploring. Plus they were beautiful to see in the landscape.
our view from one of our lunch places. nbd.
Turkish Rugs: As an extra treat we got to go to a rug gallery where we basically got a sales pitch on Turkish rugs. It was actually pretty amazing, as they explained just how much labor it takes to make each rug: the women can only weave for 4 hours a day because the work is so detailed! The salesmen just kept pulling out rugs, handling them as if they were as light as feathers. We were all really tempted to buy them, but even the little baby ones cost as much as 350 lira. Not exactly in my price range… Turkish Bath: One of my personal favorite parts of the trip was our visit to the Hamam, or Turkish baths. DIS paid for our basic entry, and I decided to spring for a soap scrub and an oil massage because how often do you visit a Turkish bath anyway? It was definitely worth it. As for clothing when we were there, we each got a pair of disposable underwear and a towel for the bath portion. At first it was a bit awkward but we all got used to it pretty quickly after being surrounded by half-naked women (the men had a separate section for the whole process). The only weird thing for me was that I had not brought my contacts to Turkey, and I couldn’t wear my glasses into the bath because they would just steam up anyway. So I was sort of blind the whole time and couldn’t see people’s faces very well (sorry if I gave you any weird looks!).
Anyway, first we all laid down on a hot stone while we waited for soap scrubs. You got tokens to indicate what services you had paid for, and every once in a while a large Turkish woman would come over and point to one of us, indicating that she would do our scrub. I think they were pretty used to guiding tourists around who don’t speak Turkish (according to Maja, our professor, it’s mostly tourists at the hamams ever since houses got running water), because the woman who did my scrub just tapped me and pointed when she wanted me to do something. After our scrub, we were told to go sit in a separate room with a large warm tub to soak in. It was really pleasant for a bit, but after a while all the steam and humidity and heat were starting to feel like a bit much, so those of us who got massages headed over to the next stage in the process. We went into yet another room where we got new big hot fluffy towels and sat to wait for our massages. This took a while and I was one of the last ones picked, partially because I couldn’t see the womens’ motions (since i still had no glasses) when they came into fetch us so I was slower to react than the others around me. I briefly wondered if the massage was worth all the hassle, but once I finally got there I was so glad to have gotten it.
My masseuse was really nice and a bit cheeky. She made fun of me for my ticklishness because I twitched every time she got anywhere near my feet and she kept insisting that I relax more. When I was done she poked me on the nose and sent me on my way. The whole experience was definitely something I will remember for a while. I never get massages or anything for myself at home, though after that experience I’m tempted to do a little more self-pampering. Everybody came out of the baths in such a good mood and our class was buzzing about it for the rest of the week.
Armenian Village: On one of the days we got to sign up for one of three different small group visits, to give us a chance to see a part of Istanbul without the whole group of 26 tromping around. I chose to go with Maja to see the Armenian Village (not actually Armenian, or a village, but just a neighborhood in Istanbul) and to talk to her sister and her sister’s mother-in-law, a clinical psychologist who had lived in the area for several decades, about their experiences living in Istanbul. There were seven of us in the group, and it was really nice to talk in more intimate setting and finally hear about someone’s personal experiences in Turkey, rather than a lecture on politics or current events (though those were really interesting as well). We also got delicious cakes and sahlep (my new favorite drink–elaboration forthcoming), and Maya read Matt’s future in his Turkish coffee grounds.
there were so many jellyfish! no swimming for me.
Lectures: Speaking of lectures, we had two formal ones on the trip: politics and current events with Martin Selsøe, a Danish-Turkish journalist reporting on Turkey, and Orientalism and gender in Turkey with Nora Onar, a originally American professor who has been living in Turkey for over ten years.
Martin Selsøe’s talk happened just before lunch, so I think some of us were a bit distracted by the bread on the table, but it was really interesting. He talked a lot about Turkey’s relationship with the EU and its current status with regards to membership application. According to him, Turkey appears to have decided to cease their strides towards membership after comments made by other countries that they would never be able to become full members. He also explained how EU membership is not necessarily the best path for Turkey to take. He also discussed the issues that Turkish journalists face when attempting to report accurately about Turkey, and about the current issues with Turkey’s political leadership system (especially the involvement of the military chiefs). It was really helpful to hear a little more about what decisions and complications Turkey is currently facing so we could understand the climate we were in.
Nora Onar’s talk was one of my favorite academic visits of the trip. She discussed the theory of Orientalism as it pertains to Turkey and really challenged us to think harder about our assumptions about veiled women. She talked about how Muslim women are starting to veil themselves in different ways, with loud and fashionable scarves, perhaps using the veil as more of a religious symbol than adherence to the religious doctrine itself. She also explained the tension between veils as oppressive (i.e. forcing women to cover themselves and protect their family’s honor rather than living independent lives) and liberating (allowing women the freedom to have their own jobs and go out in public without being surrounded by men). It was a really helpful academic take on what we’d been seeing all around us, and I only wish it had happened earlier in the week (rather than on the last day) so we could have had more time to observe the situation in Istanbul in light of the theory we were presented with.
Turkish Dance: Although we did not get to see the Whirling Dervishes, we did get to attend a dance performance, displaying traditional dances from different regions of Turkey, including belly dancing! The dancers were amazing–one of the men walked on the tips of his toes without toe shoes, and there was a woman who isolated parts of her body in ways that I didn’t know were possible. There was even a dance with black light effects. My only complaint about night was a German lady sitting behind Allie and I, who first asked us to switch places so she could take pictures (because I was supposedly too tall even though we’re about the same height sitting down). Then at the intermission she asked us to switch again because she kept sticking her camera over Allie’s shoulder and catching her hair in it (and she didn’t even apologize!). My experience of the spectacular performance was impossible to ruin, however, and the free Turkish delight in the lobby definitely made up for the rudeness of our fellow audience member.
Blue Mosque: One of the must-sees in Istanbul is the Blue Mosque, which was built in the 17th century. The name comes from the blue color that used to cover the whole interior of the mosque–now you can just see patches of the color it used to be. It is still used for worship today, but hundreds of thousands of visitors also come between prayer times. Normally the girls would have had to veil in order to enter the mosque, but because it is such a popular tourist destination, veiling is no longer compulsory. We did have to take off our shoes and carry them around in little baggies though.
it was a bit difficult to take pictures because there were a bunch of cables coming from the ceiling to hold various lights and speakers. also we could only stand in a blocked off area in about half the mosque.
Hagia Sophia: After seeing the Blue Mosque, we just walked across the street to visit the Hagia Sophia. It’s crazy to be typing that. The Hagia Sophia standing now is actually the 3rd one that has been built in the same spot. Of course, this third one (built by Justininan) is still from the 6th century! INSANE. The first one was built by Constantine in the 4th century out of wood and was burned down. It was rebuilt by Theodosius II but destroyed again in the early 6th century in a riot. Some of the ruins from the second Hagia Sophia are still sitting outside the current one though. Though it was originally built as a church, it was used as a mosque for several centuries after the fall of Constantinople. Today it is a just a museum to avoid religious conflict. It is also HUGE. The Blue Mosque could actually fit inside it!
This is actually a mosaic made from hundreds of tiny tile pieces. The silver part that Mary is standing on is very rare because silver mosaic tiles are difficult to make; usually the silver oxidizes and turns black before they can be put together.
Turkish Film: Another one of our academic visits was with Ümit Ünal, a Turkish filmmaker. We watched a literally no-budget movie that he directed, Ara, and then had a question and answer session. I actually really liked the film. It was the kind of movie that is aimed to make you think, rather than endearing you to the characters or the situation. There were many different vignettes in mixed up chronological order, and sometimes you would see part of a scene and not see the whole sequence until much later, giving you two very different impressions of the same event. A funny fact came out in the Q&A session when Matt asked why he has chosen to film in black and white. Ümit Ünal first said “Well actually it was a mistake” and we all laughed, assuming that it was a mistake in the filming process. It turns out the projector had just started playing it in black and white and he hadn’t wanted to interrupt the screening to fix it!
Lamda Istanbul: Our other visit that day was to Lamda, a Turkish LGBT organization that works with all kinds of issues, and collaborates with leftist, anarchist, and Kurdish movements. There was a bit more of a language barrier for this presentation, because although the presenters could speak English they clearly weren’t very comfortable with it. In the end, they ended up speaking Turkish and having Maja and Şarl, another one of our tour leaders, translating. This was interesting in itself, and a more effective way to hear what the presenters were saying about the situation for LGBT folks in Turkey.
The North Shield: On the way to almost anywhere we passed a pub called the North Shield, about which Allie made a couple comments in the beginning of the week, saying it looked classy and she wanted to go. We ended up making fun of her a lot for this (I’m not sure why) and pretty soon the North Shield was a big overblown inside joke. So of course we had to go check it out. It turned out to be a very odd place–an overpriced Scottish themed pub with a music selection ranging from Jessica Simpson to “Singing in the Rain.” There were chairs with rooster print and rarely more than a couple customers (besides our little group of four). Later we found out that it was not only a chain, but a Turkish chain (but still Scottish themed?). It was really a strange place, but one that will always hold a special place in our hearts.
a second North Shield--the realization that it was a chain
Shopping: Shopping is an important part of any vacation, especially one to Turkey, where you can haggle! I love haggling and it’s always tempting for me to buy things just to haggle even if I don’t actually need them. Needless to say, I did a fair amount of shopping throughout the week, both at independent stores and at the Grand Bazaar (which we went to as a class) and the Egyptian Spice Market (instant Sahlep ftw). I got a lot of presents–many for myself, but also crossed off some final Christmas to-do items. One of the most interesting things about shopping as a woman in Istanbul was the catcalls from the men running the shops. In the Grand Bazaar, I went on my own to maximize efficiency, and got a lot of interesting comments. Everywhere we went was pretty crowded, so it was pretty safe, and most of them were just trying to entice us towards their store. One of my favorites was “Let me change your life today. I’ll give you a deal: only 20 lira for this scarf and me!” In the Egyptian Spice Market Allie and I also got followed out of a store by a man who at first seemed to be offering to sell himself, but then seemed to be offering us money in exchange for something. Needless to say we did not accept.
The Asian Side: While the majority of Istanbul is in “Europe”, there is a part of the city, primarily residential, that is technically in Asia. So on our last evening, we took a private yacht cruise (WHAT?!) around the Bosphorus and over to the “Asian side.” In reality the two sides are pretty much the same–if anything, the Asian side seems more like Europe than the European side. Still, it’s pretty cool to say that I went to Asia for dinner. While we were there, we also went to the top of a huge hill (Istanbul has many, including a large 70 degree slope–half slope, half stairs–we had to climb every day to go anywhere from our hotel) where we could see all of Istanbul. The city is HUGE. According to Koray, it stretches (at minimum) 50 km. on either side of the Bosphorus. Plus the whole thing is basically city because they are really no suburbs, so most of that is apartment buildings rather than houses.
this doesn't really do justice to how huge the city is, but you can get an idea. also, it's important to note that this was only one side of the hill--on the other side, the city stretched out for a while as well.
Atatürk’s Death Day: Thursday was the anniversary of the death of Atatürk, the man who basically secularized Turkey and is still identified as a major leader figure in the country. At 9:05am on that day every year, all Turks stop what they are doing for a full minute and just stand still, remembering him. We were told about the moment and sat to watch it happen. It was so cool to see people just suddenly stop in the street, and cars refuse to go at the green light. There were some people who obviously didn’t know what was happening, and were weaving their way through the stopped crowd or honking their horns at the cars stopped in the street. I would have taken a picture, but obviously everything is stopped on film.
FOOD. You thought I’d neglected my favorite topic didn’t you? I was just saving the best for last! There is a lot to write about, so I’m just going to show you the typical foods we enjoyed on our many meals.
All of our meals began with a sort of tapas appetizer, called mezes. Basically bread with all this stuff (usually communal--in this picture we each got our own). It was next to impossible not to fill up on bread and toppings before we got our real food.
We usually got at least one börek--usually filled with just cheese, but one of them had sausage in it too. Some were small (like this one) and some were quite large--almost a meal in itself.
Not sure what this was, but it was filled with meat and it was delicious.
These were eaten like shrimp... just grab the tail and bite the rest off. Just like popcorn?
I never ordered fish, but it was always served whole, complete with lots of bones. I witnessed some pretty creative maneuvering from people trying to de-bone their fish.
Turkish meatballs. One of the common menu options. Usually came with a grilled tomato, a jalapeno, and either rice or french fries.
What we theorized was lentil or some kind of bean soup. It was really finely ground so the soup was really smooth. Quite delicious!
Döner--the Turkish version of shawarma. Basically, the meat is cooked on a rotating spit and bits are shaved off as they are cooked. Very tasty!
Cay (pronounced "chai") tea--typical in Turkey.
Apple tea in a typical tea cup. We got served tea or coffee on almost all of our visits. Apparently real Turks don't actual drink apple tea though--it's only for tourists.
Sahlep--my new favorite drink. It's made from orchid root, which makes it a bit thicker, but it tastes like sweet milk. You put cinnamon or nutmeg on top and it is SO GOOD. I bought some instant Sahlep to bring back--we'll see if it tastes as good as the real thing.
Turkish coffee: I never ordered it because I don't like coffee, but apparently it's like coffee only thicker and stronger (and often with a lot of sugar added). It's served in a little espresso cup, and when you're finished you turn it upside down for a few minutes before allowing someone else to interpret the grounds. Maja found everything from a couple sitting on a car to a seal and a "lionness" in this one.
Baklava: very tasty! The only difference I noticed in Turkish baklava is that it's often made with pistachios instead of walnuts.
Turkish delight--definitely not for everyone. It's kind of like a gelatinous cube with different flavors, and sometimes nuts inside. Personally I think it's tasty (depending on the flavor) but some people were not so taken with it.
a piece of cake--called "pasta" in Turkish, which confused us a lot at first. this one was caramel flavor and was mostly cream on the inside. yummy!
I don't remember the Turkish name for this, but it was one of my favorite desserts. Basically really gooey pudding-like substance. This one was burnt on top (on purpose) but you can also get one with cinnamon (my favorite) or a traditional one with chicken (sounds weird but is apparently tasty).
This one is milkier and thinner than the other pudding (basically sweet rice pudding), but also has cooked top. Yum-tastic.
So that concludes my trip to Turkey! I have to say, as much as I enjoyed my two week travel break, it was definitely exhausting and I am glad to be back in Copenhagen with my host family. The more unfortunate part of returning is going back to classes and homework! I only have five weeks left here (crazy!) so there are many final projects, papers, and tests awaiting me. Plus I am going to be so busy fitting in all my last bucket list items, hanging out with my DIS friends as much as possible, and enjoying the holiday season in Denmark! A big event on the horizon is cooking Thanksgiving dinner for 16 people with my host mom. I’ve never even really helped cook Thanksgiving dinner before because my dad always handles it all, so it’ll be interesting. I think me and Charlotte are starting to realize what a big task it’s going to be, and freaking out a bit, but in the end I’m sure it’ll be really fun. Then I am going to Amsterdam for a weekend with Allie, possibly having a friend visit Copenhagen, and then it’ll be finals! This is going by so fast! Though I will be happy to go home again for break and then to be back at Carleton, I will also be so sad to leave my amazing host family, and Copenhagen, behind.
That said, I still have not finished unpacking (oops?) and I have a lot of homework to get done today, so my sappy reminiscing will have to be cut short for now. I will try to keep updating regularly in all the craziness of the next few weeks, but it’s definitely going to test my (somewhat lacking) time management skills.
[Also, check back soon for an update on my "Danishness" page. I have been slacking on that front recently, but I hope to add a few more items in the coming week so stay tuned!]
Hej hej for now!