Last week a few friends and I went to Olympos, a small area on the southern coast of Turkey in Antalya Province. We stayed in a hostel filled with fruit trees, lounged on the beach, and swam in the Mediterranean. It is a beautiful place and I know I’ll be back someday.
Istanbul has been fortunate enough to experience 9 days in a row of nothing but warm, sunny days.
I spent a day with friends, eating a kilo of strawberries from our local market and looking out over the Bosphorus.
My roommate made me this delicious cookie!
I had a day off from school for May Day, or Labor Day. This happened, but I was far away from the protests.
A friend and I took a day trip to the beach at Kilyos, located on the northern end of Istanbul on the Black Sea.
I visited Hannah and Ryan for a barbecue. This morning, we walked along the Bosphorus in Sariyer and saw a sailboat race.
Currently: hearing the celebrations for Galatasaray’s Champions Cup win – virtually every car driving by is honking its horn, there are fireworks going off in multiple places in the city, and I’m hearing a lot of chants… “bir, iki, üç, dört!” (one, two three, four – the number of goals Galatasaray scored in this particular game).
Dublin: got to see my friend Maura and the city she’s been living in, enjoyed the pub scene and a pint (or two) of Guinness, saw the Book of Kells in the Trinity College library, took a train to the coastal suburb of Howth, experienced just about every type of weather, wandered around St. Stephen’s Green, ate a burrito for the first time in about 4 months
Edinburgh: had my first real solo travel experience, almost cried when I saw the exchange rate of Turkish Lira to pounds, toured a haunted graveyard (where I saw Tom Riddle’s grave), tried on a few kilts, hiked Arthur’s Seat for a great view of the city, saw the cafe where J.K. Rowling wrote Harry Potter, enjoyed some more Guinness and whiskey, tried the tiniest bite of haggis, stayed in a fantastic hostel and met some great people from all over the world
A great trip, but it’s good to be home – and good to be able to call Istanbul home, at least for now.
In a last minute decision, I decided to join a group of my exchange student friends on a trip to Bursa, another city in Turkey. To those who are reading, prepare yourselves for a somewhat long post! We had a great couple of days and I have a lot of photos and stories to share.
To get to Bursa, we took a one and a half hour ferry ride from Istanbul (Kabataş, specifically) across the Sea of Marmara to the coastal city of Mudanya, and then took a bus to the central part of Bursa. Both journeys were great. It was so nice to see mountains and farmland; a pleasant change from Istanbul.
When we got to Bursa, we saw some major sights: the Green tomb, the Green Mosque, the Ulu Camii (Great Mosque), and the covered bazaar. We met a man from Bursa who owns a ceramics shop and also owns a company that was working on renovating the tiles in both the Green Tomb and the Green Mosque. He basically gave us an itinerary for the day of things we should do while in Bursa, which was so helpful and kind of him. We ended up following it almost exactly, and he helped us get a hotel for only 25 TL a person, which was great since there ended up being 14 of us. We also visited the Bursa museum, which was quite small and only 1.5 TL to get into. All the displays and write ups were in Turkish, but it was kind of fun to just walk through.
After walking around the city center, we went to a Turkish bath, called a hamam. This particular hamam is quite well known in Bursa and was built in 1522. There were separate buildings for men and women, so my friends and I split up to go our separate ways. I decided on the basic bath and a massage, which came to 33 TL – not bad compared to prices in Istanbul, let alone massages in the U.S. I really had no idea what to expect of this experience, so it was totally new. There’s a steam room with small wash tubs and showers where women bathe themselves, and can then choose to get a massage or go in a steam pool. It was definitely a local joint and we seemed to be the only tourists there, but after a bit of awkwardness it turned out to be a very nice, relaxing experience – definitely something I would do again.
In the evening, we checked into our hotel and then we were brought to a tiny cafe where some men and women were playing Turkish folk music. There were 17 of us students in this little room, plus about 10 locals. The music was great, and it was one of those moments that just filled me with joy. I truly felt welcomed here.
Then it was time for dinner…iskender kebap, which is a specialty in Bursa. It was so good. To quote a friend about an hour after dinner: “I keep burping up iskender…but it still tastes good”
After dinner, we were brought to a Sufi lodge in Bursa to watch the whirling dervishes. Sufism is a branch of Islam, and the whirling dervishes practice a form of moving meditation in their dance. I had studied whirling dervishes last year in a college course, and while I had hoped I could attend a performance in Istanbul at some point, I never thought I would actually get to see this in a real Sufi lodge. It was an awe-inspiring performance to say the least. Men were able to sit on the sides of the floor where the dervishes danced, while women had to sit on an upstairs platform – but it ended up better this way, because we had a great view and I got some photos at a great angle.
The next day, on a recommendation from our friend, we took a bus out of the city to attempt to find Cumalıkızık, a small Ottoman-style village outside of Bursa that is over 700 years old. We were told we could get a great breakfast there. The bus dropped us off and we ended up walking about 30 minutes through a very rural area. I was a bit skeptical at first, but we made it and I’m so glad we kept walking. The village was beautiful, and it sat right at the base of Mount Uludağ which was covered in snow and clouds. The houses from the original Ottoman era still remain, and I believe there was a big restoration project about 10 years ago. It is definitely a very traditional village, and while it does get tourists, it seems to have remained authentic. We got a delicious breakfast with eggs, olives, cucumbers and tomatoes, sarma (grape leaves) stuffed with rice and mint, butter, jam, and of course plenty of bread and tea. Photos do not do it justice; I think it might be the best meal I’ve ever eaten.
After some more wandering, we made our way back to the city center, and made it back to the ferry just in time – I was literally the last person they let on.
The past two days were the best so far during my time here in Turkey. I do love living in Istanbul, but it was great to get out of the city and experience a new one, as well as some of rural Turkey. We are so lucky to have experienced some really authentic aspects of Turkish culture. This has made me want to travel around Turkey even more, and now I’m thinking about where to go next. In other travel news, I booked my trip for spring break – Dublin to visit a friend who’s studying there, and probably Edinburgh, too!
On Sunday, a group of my exchange student friends and I went to the old city in Istanbul, planning to take an organized tour of all the major sites in the area. However, we couldn’t get our student Muzee cards, so instead we just decided to take our time and wander around Sultanahmet (the Blue Mosque), which is free to enter since it’s still a functioning mosque. The architecture and tile detailing inside were absolutely breathtaking.
It was nice to be able to take in Sultanahmet at our own pace rather than following a tour. We will definitely return to this area to see the the Aya Sophia, Topkapi Palace, and the Roman Cisterne, but I’m here until June so I don’t feel rushed.
On Tuesday morning, I went out to breakfast with a few friends to a cafe that is just a couple minutes walk from the university. It was probably the best breakfast I’d ever had – pişi (sort of like funnel cake, but less sweet) with jam, tomatoes, cucumbers, cheese, olives, and of course tea. We liked it so much that we went back on Wednesday and I got the same thing.
On Tuesday, I went to Kadikoy again with a group of friends. The weather was so gorgeous so we sat outside on the deck of the ferry during the ride across the river. We just wandered around, and then got a fish dinner – calamari, mussels, shrimp, and some kind of fried fish that I can’t remember the name of. I have never had such good seafood before, and now I’m not sure I can eat calamari in the US because this was so delicious! We went back to the European side at the perfect time, because the sun was setting just as we were taking the ferry back.
I’m definitely beginning to adjust to life here, which is good since I’ll be living here for another four months. I’ve found the best place to buy groceries, the cheapest restaurants nearby, and the best wine for 9 TL. Classes start on Monday, and I’ve got a good schedule picked out. I’m taking 2 sociology courses, Turkish language, and yoga. It will be nice to settle into a good routine and be a student again – 2 months off from school has been too long!
On Monday I left Hannah and Ryan’s house and moved into my dorm in Etiler. It’s nice, a little small, but I’ve been so busy this week that I’m rarely home. The dorm I’m living in is about a 10 minute walk from the south campus of Boğaziçi University, and the walk is really nice.
I’ve met a ton of other exchange students in the past few days. It’s kind of overwhelming and it feels like freshman year all over again! Last night I went to a big pub crawl in Hisarüstü with a lot of the other exchange students.
Today I went with a group of about 10 students to the Grand Bazaar in the old city. I didn’t buy anything, but I plan to go back later in the semester.
Something I’m really loving is the food here. In the area near the university there are a lot of different restaurants, some are more American style and a little pricey but there are a lot of really authentic and inexpensive options. We found a pide and lamacun restaurant where lamacun is only 2.50 TL, or about $1.40 in USD. I don’t have a stove in my dorm, but I’m able to go grocery shopping and stock up on fresh produce and bread and yogurt which is great, and inexpensive compared to home.
Yesterday, we took the metro down to Taksim and walked around for a few hours. It is definitely a more tourist-y area but there were a lot of great shops and restaurants, and the architecture was really beautiful.
The weather here last week was beautiful; it was over 50 degrees most days. This week has been cold and rainy, but compared to home I really can’t complain about the weather here.
Today, we took a ferry over to the Asian side of the city to Kadıköy. I’ve officially been to Asia now! It was cold so we only stayed for a little while, but while we were there we walked around and checked out the shops and markets.