I find myself laboring a bit over how to talk about Turkey, which is odd, as anyone who knows me will tell you, I can talk for 10 hours about anything, and 40 hours about anything that involves Willard Smith. But Turkey…how to talk about such a unique and unexpected place briefly…not my forte. I think Turkey, if anything was a land of curiosities. So many of the great “world empires” have made their throne or center of commerce in Istanbul and that’s created a totally unique place. That, also lead to a ton of assumptions that, against our golden rule, I carried with myself into the experience. All to be broken, this is surely a place of the unexpected. I’m not going to write this one in crayon though, so I hope you can still understand the tiny black letters.
1.) Most Turks that we met only spoke Turkish. Wtf? How is that feasible, given the whole “crossroads” nature of its past and location. Even most all waiters at restaurants along the primary tourist strip only spoke Turkish. No Spanish, no French, no English. This place is one of the top 15 tourist destinations by number of actual visitors in the WORLD every year, but nah, not worth it. How American of them :). We still managed to make some really awesome friends there (3 of them spoke a combined total of 14 English words, 5 of which were numbers). Our entire friendship was based on the efficacy of Google Translate (which is horrible). GT works way better if you type broken English into it, we learned. I think my favorite perfectly translated phrase was on our second night in Istanbul when Ad and I were in the back of a car being driven / guided by 2 guys we just met. They kept driving and driving out of town, we had no idea where they were taking us and the translations were not making sense. So I just typed in “Your car is nice, I must pee now” And boom, we pulled up to a bar, wee-weed, regrouped, and headed back home to safety. If all else fails, make someone think you’re going to pee on their stuff, and everything will be made better.
Other than the basic greetings & banter that Ad and I learned in Turkish, every conversation occurred in slow-mo. It was like face to face text messaging, or better yet, an AOL IM chat room in real life. Our entire social world on a dial-up connection. I’d make a joke in my head, then type it in, and pass the phone around one by one in search of cascading giggles. You know how you sit there just waiting and you can see that someone’s typing a response (…). We had the real life version of actually watching them type. There was an awkward pause built into every single thing someone said, so in effect, there actually wasn’t ever an awkward pause. Next time you’re on a first date, I recommend typing all words and passing 1 phone back and forth, whilst not actually speaking. You’ll have so much more time to stop yourself from saying that real dumb thing you always say about how intuitive your cat is. Do it.
2.) Party - These Istanbulians go hard in the paintttt! The streets are alive until 6am-7am every night, it’s almost impossible to see Istiklal (the main tourist / shopping / bar club strip) street with less than 1,000 people on it. We had crazy good times with super weird non-English speaking friends that we made.
3.) About 90% of the restaurants made Turkish food only. I think there’s like 1 Mexican restaurant, and one Thai restaurant per like 19 million people. Again….what the heck is that about? We’ve been gone for a few weeks and I’m still shitting out whole Doner Kebaps. Also, they have a drink that’s just watery unsweetened yogurt…like sour yogurt, and it’s everywhere. Yeah, sounds terrible, and it is, but I like it a lot. Ayran = yogurt water and they freaking shower in that shit here.
4.) Modern - they have virtually every modern convenience, that you’d expect in any major city in the US.
5.) Religion - about 90% or so are Muslim, and we were there during Ramadan (Ramazan), which is a month-long religious observation. It includes fasting every day for the full day - people only eat or drink at like 9pm and then again at around 4am and nothing until the next 9pm. It’s a pretty intense observation, and I can imagine the power it has to center someone in their life. All of our friends there were pretty religious, so we had a great opportunity to learn a lot more about Islam, in a true sense, rather than the horrific portrayal that makes its way to most American eyes through the media. I think an important understanding that we’ve taken away from every destination so far is that all people are more or less the same - no matter your color, faith, cultural background, or anything else, everyone really just wants to put food on their table, have safety and provide for their family, and have fun socializing with others. When you boil it down, it’s crazy to see how much hate there still is out there at home and abroad towards others they know nothing about and don’t care to understand. Separation breeds contempt and familiarity breeds compassion.
Adrienne and I did walk away with some honorary Muslim names dawned upon us by our Turkish party buddies at 5am at the end of a long night out though :) They starting calling me Mohammed, and Adrienne, Fatima.
6.) History - Obviously the history of Istanbul and Turkey is very rich, and the government does an amazing job of holding onto that. Most places are perfectly preserved, with loads of information available. I’ll add though, that their history isn’t like, just people living in caves for 5000 years there (they do have that though), but Turkey has history ballin’ out of controlllll. The palaces are CRAZY ornate $$$$$$$. Want to impress your next Tinder date? Buy a palace along the Bosphorus river in Istanbul.
I think one of the coolest parts of this place was being inside of buildings that were like 1500 years old, and caves where people actually lived like 3000 years ago. They must have used mad super glue.
7.) Landscape - this is a huge country and the landscapes are as varied as the US; Mountains, Desert, Cliffside Coastlines, Urban Centers, Volcanos. I think Capadoccia was one of the most majestic places that we’ve ever been to. 3 volcanos erupting over like 10k years or something (blah blah “facts”) created this place with some of the most odd geographic formations that I could wrap my kebab-soaked brain around. For example, there’s a valley where all of the rocks just look like 80 foot-tall dicks coming up out of the ground. Full tilt chubbies too. Hundreds of em.
Ok, back to the sand, hookah, and shawerma of Cairo!