If you’ve not heard by now, I’ve arrived safely in Istanbul. It’s been almost a week at this point, and I suppose if I want to keep my promise of shorter and more frequent posts, I’d better start writing something!
My flights were uneventful, airport navigation was easy, and I met my Couchsurfing friends Yagmur and Halil outside baggage claim, where they were holding a sign for “SARA” written in bright colors on their iPad. I couldn’t have had a friendlier welcome, and it was especially nice that they’d driven to pick me up, so navigating public transport with my luggage wasn’t an issue. On our way to their place, Yagmur told me all about tulips (a Turkish original, thankyouverymuch!) and her time studying in The States, and after about half an hour of crazy stops and starts in Istanbul’s wild traffic, we arrived at their building. The weekly farmers’ market was just down the hill, so we stopped there first to pick up some fresh produce before making two trips up to their 6th floor apartment (with no elevator) to get both the groceries and my luggage inside.
We kicked off our shoes at the entrance (a common practice here, and one that really does make a lot of sense. I mean, think about what the bottoms of your shoes have seen today) and Yagmur showed me my room. The apartment is a cute little place, perfect for the two of them, very clean and covered in beautiful rugs. Plus, the room they set up for me is my own, which is very comfortable and convenient, and lets me access their little rooftop balcony, where I can see a couple mosques and lots of bustling city life. And thanks to the generosity and hospitality of my hosts, I’ve already had lots of traditional Turkish meals here, most made by Yagmur herself.
Their apartment building is in a district called Kagithane, a busy, working class neighborhood built on and around a steep hill, though Yagmur assures me her town’s incline is nothing compared to others around the city. (Here’s a short and poorly written Wikipedia article about the area.) The streets here, like everywhere in Istanbul, are vibrant with people and Turkish character, jammed with cars and buses, and full of shops and restaurants. Aesthetically, this area isn’t quite as pretty or finished-looking as some others, but I feel safe, and I kind of like being in a place that’s more Turkish than Touristy.
Since arriving, I’ve gone out every day, sometimes with Yagmur along to show me around and help direct me, or even just to tag along during her own outings. And while I’ve seen a lot that I want to share with you, I haven’t actually brought my camera out with me yet. I do feel safe here, but my appearance (particularly in Kagithane) already seems to draw a certain amount of attention by itself, even without my camera. What’s more, I’m not quite as savvy with getting to and from certain places as I’d like to be. The public bus system here is pretty challenging (I plan on dedicating an entire post to it soon), and I don’t want to be wandering from stop to stop, staring confusedly at maps, and looking generally uncertain while I’m carting my camera around. I’ll break it out soon, though. You’ve all really gotta see this city!
In closing, a lot of people back home have been asking about my initial impressions here. Anyone who I’ve chatted with over the past week knows that my first few days in the city have actually proven quite challenging, mostly due to transport and language issues, in addition to the sheer immensity of the city which, for some reason, I wasn’t able to really fathom until seeing it for myself. Yagmur and Halil have been more helpful than they know in terms of helping me navigate this place, but they, understandably, cannot accompany me everywhere all the time, and they can only explain so much before it’s up to me to do some work myself. And I really better start learning, because I can’t afford to say, “Fuck it. Taxi!” forever.
In the meantime, my hosts will further help me spread my wings by helping me look for an apartment. Hopefully I’ll be settled somewhere nice by May, or sooner! Look forward to more posts soon, featuring outings, photos, and advice.
All my love!