Wednesday, September 3, 2014

istanbul: a bi-continental birthday with my boys

okay, okay. i know. this blog is embarrassingly far behind… i got so busy with traveling (without my laptop, no less) that it sort of just fell down the priority list. then i got home, and i was too overwhelmed to sit and blog… and then, all of a sudden, it’s been over 4 months since my last post. yikes. in an effort to not leave this year’s documentation in limbo (like i did three years ago after my semester abroad), i’m going to try to catch up. slowly. i’m fully aware that you, as my faithful readers, might have completely lost interest by now. but if any of you hates incompletion like i do, and if you have been wondering how my adventures ended, then you’re in luck. just pretend like the forthcoming entries were published 4 months ago.

when last we left our friend jill… i had just finished school. the previous post outlines how i felt leaving my little village, but shares basically nothing about what my next steps were. the curiosity must have been killing you! essentially, the week after work was one slow transition from normalcy to exploration. i spent a few days packing up and cleaning my apartment, stowed my big bag and a few boxes in the attic of the café, and took off with my backpack. since i lived so far from basically everything, even getting started on my traveling took a few days! i spent one evening in bordeaux with my friend emma and her little group, enjoying some rare and precious (and slightly alcohol-blurred) moments together. the next night, i had the absolute joy of spending some time with my dear friend devon in paris, and then i started the multi-step process of getting to istanbul the following afternoon!

this year had many, many plans with many cool people… but few had me more excited than my birthday week in istanbul with two of my absolute best friends. months beforehand, i had convinced two of my closest high school friends, ben and sam, to come explore the city with me for a week in april. step one of getting there involved a 7 hour layover in amsterdam with one of the boys! sam arrived just before i did; we stored our bags in the luggage lockers and took the train into the city for a few hours. it really is a cool place – different from any city i’ve ever visited. i loved the canals and the slightly off-kilter architecture. the clichés were all there, which was interesting. definitely challenges the concept of propriety! after walking for a while, taking some photos, and grabbing a bite to eat, we returned to schiphol airport for our flight to istanbul. a few short hours later (in the middle of the night), we touched down in turkey! getting through border control was a breeze, as we’d already procured our visas online, so it wasn’t long before we were meeting our third musketeer at the airport starbucks. ben had arrived about an hour before us, having come from visiting friends in london. it was so surreal to all be together again, feeling so normal in such new place! we settled in for a little airport camping until the shuttles into the city started running. (in other news, two velvety chairs pushed together makes a fairly decent bed!) around 6am, we caught the first bus into town and made our way to the hostel. unfortunately for us, we weren’t allowed to get into the room until 2pm, which gave us 7 very sleepy hours to kill… we did get to leave our bags though. we passed the morning by grabbing breakfast along the bosphorus and then taking a nap in a park near taksim square. once we got into the room and had a proper nap, the real fun began!

we had one full week together in the city, which called for a little strategizing – there is so much to see! i tried to stay flexible (occasionally a challenge for me) while still ensuring that we covered good ground each day. in typical me fashion, there was a lot of walking involved.. my travel style has evolved into simply picking a neighborhood and trying to see as much of it as possible before moving on to the next one. this strategy actually worked well for us, because we didn’t have too many specific items on our “must-do” list… generally, we just picked a few sights to see, and explored the surrounding area until it was time to move on!

one of my main reasons for wanting to visit istanbul is the history of the place – it may not stand up to the likes of jericho or damascus, but still… the site has been continuously inhabited for almost 3,000 years and that is nothing to shake a stick at! thanks to centuries upon centuries of the influence of various people groups, the culture in istanbul is incredibly vibrant and unique. i particularly loved the architecture – there is a distinct islamic vibe, evidenced by countless mosques, beautiful mosaic work, and arabesque and geometric patterns everywhere. my favourite building that we visited was the sultanahmet blue mosque – an enormous place of worship, filled with light and colour. i also loved the hagia sophia, which is situated just across from the blue mosque. we visited both of those places on my birthday, which made for a very happy history-lover. :)

one of the more surprising elements, however, was the prevalence of water-related activities... or, at least, the necessity of ferries. not including our handful of ferry rides back and forth across the strait, we took two separate boat trips during our week. our first trip was a tour up the bosphorus, bringing us to a village on the shores of the black sea. since it was on the eastern side of the river, it was technically my first visit to the asian continent! (hey, the line has to be drawn somewhere, and i crossed it!) we hiked up a big hill to the castle ruins perched high above the harbor, appreciating the views of the black sea and the bosphorus from the top. our second boat tour came on our last full day, when we took the hour-long ferry to the island of heybeliada – one of a group of islands called the “prince’s islands” in the sea of marmara. the islands are awesome – there are no cars to speak of, and locals get around on bikes or in horse-drawn carriages. seriously. we rented bikes for a few hours and rode around the whole island before grabbing a delicious dinner on the boardwalk. it was certainly a workout, but worth it for the gorgeous views. heybeliada is also famous for having some prime examples of the unique architecture in the area. coming from europe, i was so used to the yellow and gray stone so often used for homes – in istanbul, there were some really gorgeous wooden houses, almost reminiscent of a home in the french quarter of new orleans. i loved taking pictures of the old homes – they have so much character.

in addition to being an exceptionally historical place, istanbul is known for its lively nightlife… which we definitely witnessed. there were no all-nighters (much to ben’s chagrin), but we went out most nights, to a different bar (and even a club, once) to see what all the hype was about. different bars impressed me for varying reasons; some had great drinks and food, others had awesome entertainment and a neat atmosphere, and still others impressed me with their sheer awfulness… but regardless, we had loads of fun meeting people and spending time together. i do not miss that beer though… ugh. if i ever have an efes beer again in my life, it will be too soon. i will say, though… despite all the great nightlife in the city, my favourite evening was the one we spent on the asian side, watching the sun set over the old city. the minarets of the hagia sophia and the blue mosque gave the skyline a delicate silhouette against the dramatically fiery sunset, and the lights of the city twinkled in the water... it was magical.

the best part of the trip was, without a doubt, the friend time. seeing my boys after such a long separation was a blast! we enjoyed discovering new foods together (and also finding that nyc-themed café next to our hostel), walking through the back streets of various neighborhoods, and soaking up the culture in the streets and markets. honestly, we just goofed around a lot and reveled in the fact that three kids from franklin were halfway across the world together, living the adventurer’s dream. the cherry on top of that sentimental sundae was that i got to spend some time with one of my first-ever couchsurfing friends, alex! she was one of the flatmates in the place where i stayed in london, back in 2011. we kept in touch via facebook over the last 3 years, so i already knew that she’d relocated to istanbul over a year ago. when i decided that i’d be going to turkey, she was my first thought! we saw her several times throughout our week stay, and then i got to stay at her flat once the boys left. it was absolutely lovely.

this post seems disjointed… i tried to go for an overall review, as opposed to a day-by-day recounting. suffice it to say, i loved visiting such a wonderful city with such awesome company. and that’s enough about that. :) if you’d like to see a few pictures (also uploaded embarrassingly late), feel free to click here! next up is greece – stay tuned!

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