Monday, April 25, 2011

Sev Sen, Istanbul (should translate as: I love you, Istanbul)*

Some more observations from the land that is in different sources listed as a country located in Europe, Middle East and Asia. Which, coincidentally, translates to the country’s self-identification. Meaning that the country is having a hard time in identifying itself.

On my first trip to Istanbul, I did not realize how liberal it was. In some ways even more liberal than several bona fide European cities that I’ve been to. E.g. headscarfs are actually banned in higher institutions nationwide. However, some neighborhoods do remain conservative and  apparently things like killing your daughter/sister for losing her virginity before marriage is not unseen even in the present day and time. Although it appears the attitude to sex in general is pretty relaxed and everyone decides for themselves what rules to follow.

So far I have met incredibly generous and hospitable people and at the same time, in the street somebody will push you hard whilst trying to squeeze in between you and the wall and will not care to apologize. I have also made friends with several local vendors and supermarket employees. Most don’t speak a word of English and I can’t force myself to say those few words that I can master in Turkish and yet we somehow understand each other and they’re being genuinely sweet to me. [I know the numbers though, helps if you can’t see your total on the display.] And yet I’m absolutely stressed out by the yelling and hassling of sellers in some touristic places or at rush hour when you leave the ferry. This is why I’ll probably never go to the Grand Bazaar again after my November experience.

It’s an old and sad expression, “city/land of contrast(s)”. I make a face every time I see it on somebody’s blog and yet I can’t find a better phrase to describe this place. It’s unique. And what makes it even more unique are all the neighborhoods that this humungous city is comprised of (e.g. Bebek, the rich neighborhood between the two bridges connecting Europe and Asia, home to the best fruit and chocolate waffle in the city, Ortaköy with its kumpir, pictured below, the fancy Bagdat street in Kadiköy and so on).

Some food-related observations from the last two weeks:

  • Turks eat yogurt with meat. Also with a variety of vegetable dishes like deep-fried paprika. It’s not a desert and seems not to be a breakfast thing.
  • Tea is more of a breakfast drink, coffee is more of an afternoon beverage.
  • Olives are mainly preserved in olive oil and thus outside the fridge. 
  • Chain supermarkets in residential neighborhoods have self-imposed lunch breaks sometimes. They just close the door for half an hour, pretend they're not there and sometimes leave a note on the door. 


  • I said it before, but… traffic in Istanbul is really, really bad. Better walk between 7-10am and 5-8pm. Also it's pretty bad throughout Saturday. They are currently building a tunnel under the Bosphorus (my brain just collapsed) and a new subway connecting the two sides will launch in 2013.
  • On my first stay I had the illusion you could not only drive, but also walk on the Bosphorus bridge. Nuh-uh, missy. But they do close the bridge for traffic once a year for a marathon or a race and last time it happened, the bridge was swaying uncontrollably. But people kept on running.
  • Each crossing of the bridge by car costs 3 Lira.
  • Turkish MTV airs clips literally at least 20 hours a day. And many are watchable. In addition, I have become a fan of Sertab Erener and Atiye.
  • Tarkan is still very much a celebrity here and a very prolific one, too.
  • The world is small in Istanbul, just like in Berlin. At a recent couchsurfing event, I met an American I’d previously met in Berlin when I was living there and she first arrived. We met at another CS party. Umm… yeah.

In related news, my mother will visit me next weekend. She'll stay in a hotel in Sultanahmet and I, of course, will have to assume the role of a guide, listener and hand-holder. I'm already a damsel in distress about it as I have already received many a special request concerning the program. Which include but are not limited to: no long walks, preferably a guided bus tour, a lot of fish, fresh strawberry. And she needs to buy a new bed cover.

We'll see if I make it...

* - of course I had it wrong. :) I love you should read as -> seni seviyorum


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