Up at the crack of dawn again today.
Last night, after I wrote my blog post, I struck up a conversation the man who had been sitting next to me. He is from Syria and is a student in Istanbul, working on his Phd in Management. He also has studied at an English language school here in the past, so although his phd course doesn’t require him to be in Istanbul all the time, he knows the city quite well. When I mentioned that my plan tomorrow was to go see the Aisian side of Istanbul, he kindly offered to show me around. We arranged to meet after breakfast.
At breakfast I learned Vedat is not actually from Syria. I had misheard him when he said he was from Serbia. He is actually an Albanian from Serbia.
We took a tram to the ferry and a ferry to Asia. There’s not much to see specifically over there, but he took me around the fish markets and neighborhoods. We passed a million more wedding dress shops. I was starting to wonder if there was another occasion for poofy white formal gowns in Turkey that I didn’t know about. Apparently, wedding dresses (like hazelnuts) are a big export for Turkey. This actually makes a lot of sense when you consider that this is a country famous for incredibly high quality, affordable textiles.
We had lemonade and pudding at a little cafe. I am slowly putting together a picture of Turkish food. It seems to be comprised primarily of meat, sweets, and tea. There are so many fabulous desserts here, but they’re usually too rich and sweet for me to finish.
After walking around a bit more, we sat outside and watched the ferry boat harbor and the Black Sea. The weather was chilly but not so bad. A man tried to sell us some counterfeit perfume. Vedat told me about a time he had asked if he could sample some, and it turned out to just be water.
And… That was Asia. As it was getting colder and later, we caught a ferry back to the European side. I wanted seafood for lunch, and Vedat know of some good places under a bridge. The bridge had two levels, the top was for cars and pedestrians underneath. Like everywhere in turkey, it was also a commercial opportunity. The restaurants were very good and had incredible views. I ate lunch sitting between Europe and Asia. Fishermen were sitting on the top part of the bridge. You could see their fishing poles if you looked up, and the lines drop into the water and reel back up. They sell the fish straight to the restaurants, sit it’s incredibly fresh.
There was one more purchase I wanted to make, so we tried to stop by the spice bazaar which is conveniently located right at the end of the Galata Bridge. It was as packed as I had ever seen it. Actually, Sunday has by far been the most crowded overall. It didn’t seem worth it, so we headed back to the hostel. Veldat hadn’t slept and wanted to get some rest, and I thought I’d get some ibuprofen and give the grand bazaar a shot.
When I returned to my room, I found some of my roommates for the first time. I had been waking up so early and going to bed so late that I hadn’t seen them before, and this was the first time I had actually gone back to my room during the day. They were three girls. Two were Moroccan sisters from Casablanca, one of whom studied in France. The third was a French girl who had gone to the same school in France, and had just visited them in morocco. Their names are Wissan, Sinah, and Alissia. I invited them to come along to the Grand Bazaar with me, so we all went together.
Unfortunately, the Grand Bazaar is closed on Sundays. We walked around the outer lying shops for a while, but the girls wanted to hit a Hammas before dinner. We arranged to meet afterwards at the hostel and then go find food together. I wanted to find a place to have coffee or tea in the mean time and do some drawing. I had brought a whole sketchbook, but still hadnt even opened it.
I decided instead to try some Turkish desserts, thinking caffeine might not be the best option that late. There are so many that I hadn’t had the chance to try yet. I ordered a little plate of assorted pastries, and began to work on some postcards.
There were two women sitting next to me. When one got up for a moment, the other started a conversation with me about my handwriting. We talked about postcards for a while, and then lots of other things. She is a Turkish lady named Eda from Istanbul. We chatted for a long time. She is hoping to come to the US to spend 6 months improving her English, which I honestly thought was already quite good. I told her about different cities and gave her my contact information.
The woman she was with turned out to be her sister, and although Eda doesn’t have a Facebook account her sister friended me right away. I really do hope I hear from her again and she has the chance to come to Kansas City (or somewhere). She have me a bunch of advice for my next trip to Turkey, and before she left she gave me one of the rings she was wearing. It’s very pretty, a string of black crystals on an elastic strand. She told me that the longer I wear it, the shinier it will get.
I was really glad to meet her. She was the warmest Turkish person I have met that wasn’t trying to sell me something. I have had lots of men profess their undying love for me (and every passing female tourist, I’m sure) as they ask me how they can take my money. Interestingly, the French and Moroccan girls said that people hassled them a lot more when I was with them. When it was just the three of them, if they weren’t speaking, people assume they’re Turkish. It’s interesting to realize how much my fair skin singles me out.
It was getting dark and near the time I planned to meet the girls host he hostel, so I headed back. I went to the room to drop off some things and met yet another roommate, this time a German girl. She was super sweet and we talked for a while. She had been traveling for a long time and was planning to just take a shower and read a book for the rest of the evening. Exactly like me, she had promised her mother that she wouldn’t go out after dark. I thougt an evening of book reading and relaxing sounded really wonderful, but hey: there is plenty of time for that in America!
When I went down to the lobby to wait I looked up my flight details for tomorrow. I had forgotten that my plane doesn’t leave til evening, so I basically have another full day tomorrow. I’ve already seen so much in Istanbul I’m having some difficulties deciding what to do with my time. There are some short boat tours that take you to islands in the Black Sea, but it’s hard to get much information online.
Vedat and his friend Sutki were in the lobby, so I invited them to dinner. The girls were late getting back from the Hammas, but i was still pretty full from desserts. They had seen a restaurant called ottoman kitchen that they wanted to try, so we headed that way. Wissan had wanted to stay longer at the Hammas so she decided to pass on dinner.
Our waiter was a red headed Turkish man, which I have a heeling is pretty unique, when I asked him to take a photo of our group, he jokingly took one of himself first… Which is awesome, because now I have proof of his existence. We all had a lot to talk about, since we’d been having many of the same adventures in istanbul. Dinner was good, but a little pricey. We wanted to stay near the hotel, which means we were in the heart of the tourism district.
Afterwards, Vedat and Sutki wanted to go to out in Taksim. The girls headed back to the hostel, but we then realized that on a Sunday it was unlikely anything would be open. We asked a turkish man, and he said that Sunday was actually the biggest night to go out. Skeptical, we asked another person a few blocks later and they confirmed that everything would be shut down on a Sunday.
I am pretty tired, so it isn’t such a bad thing to get to bed earlier. I need to figure out what to do tomorrow. There’s a part of me that wants to go back to the Hagia Sophia if I can’t find a good Bosphoros cruise, but I want to see as many new things as I can. We will see what it brings.