This is too perfect & too short (sort of like me 😉
Its been on loop for the last two days – and I’m sure it’ll continue to be as I fly over Europe the next couple nights.
I visited a small village in Western Afghanistan yesterday, hope to write about the experience after I arrive at my final destination tomorrow.
Last night I had the strangest dream; I was staying at a hostel in Stockholm, Sweden – which was landlocked inside of Spain. Somehow, in my dream, I knew perfectly that Stockholm was the capital of Sweden. Admittedly, don’t know if I would’ve been able to recall that while conscious – don’t hate me Sweden, I swear most Americans know the name of your capitol.
I walked through the twisted hallways of my living quarters and the building, but each hallway twisted and flipped like an indefinite repetition of fractals (Google: fractals if ya aint up on it) so they were hard to navigate and get around. With me was my tall, pale, British friend with the THICK as molasses british accent I met in Istanbul. His voice was British NPR worthy, it was perfect.
We crawled and climbed our way out of the green-blue fractal caverns to the lobby of the hostel where I encountered my Cross-Cultural Literature TA from Madison – who for some reason was working the front counter. We exchanged quick hello’s and I was out the door to scope out Stockholm.
When I got outside the sun was setting and it was absolutely gorgeous. Fall weather, crisp leaves falling, golden rays of light piercing through thick foliage. I remember seeing a park bench and taking a quick snapshot of it with my digital camera. After taking the picture, I realized I had been here before.
Upon waking up and thinking about it, the exact picture I took in my dream …I realized I had actually taken. It was taken in Istanbul, when I was climbing the Buyuk Ada Island’s peak to see the old Basilica. I remember the exact scenery from the picture in my dream to a moment when I stopped to a picture while hiking. This was the picture…
Significance ? Or completely arbitrary neuron firing, resulting in some vague image recollection?
I like to think dreams spell out some sort of significance beyond a completely random assembly of images and ideas from days previous. Sometimes even the crazy ones. I think too many times we can’t comprehend what our own brains are telling us.
Is incredible. If there is a place on earth with any semblance to a small slice of heaven, I think it is Turkey. The people are friendly, the food is inexpensive and great, the bazaars are huge, the weather is nice, the history is rich, and the overall feel is very welcoming. It’s a confused country, where the tidal waves of east and west collide to produce their own little entity, intertwining the people of Islam with Western thoughts and trends. In the heart of the city, it’s rare to see any identifiable trace of any other culture. It all seems very proud, very Turkish. No chains either – well, except Starbucks.
Compliments to Sunny Huang for some of these shots, his turned out a lot better than mine
I stood outside of a Starbucks with a British friend from the hostel and explained to him,
“Man, if I get a cup of Starbucks right now, I’ll feel like a total American asshole”
“I guess that makes me an American asshole then?” says someone standing to my left. I look over and see this definitely American dude, with a cup of Starbucks in his hand. I couldn’t help but laugh a little.
“Uhhh, yeah… I guess it does!” I said to him half smiling, “Don’t worry, we’re in the same boat” I followed up since I noticed he was quite distraught by the comment.
I ended up seeing this guy later too (out at night), which was as funny an encounter as the first time.
The mosques are littered about the skyline, and they’re enormous. Even up close, they look like CGI, they’re enormous magnificent structures. The Blue Mosque is quite the architectural feat, I cant imagine the construction of such a building. Even more impressive (from the inside) is the Sulemaniye mosque, with it’s almost abstract modern decor. Stripes of pink/salmon line the arches surrounded by a sea of white. It’s creative. It also requires work to admire, as it sits atop a steep climb at the Eminonu metro stop. Each mosque’s interior looks similar, the exteriors vary to some degree. Standing outside the Blue mosque and staring at it, I couldn’t comprehend it. It literally looked like something out of Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings. The size and scale, the fog around the top. The high towering minarets and vast clusters of domes.
The style is pretty amazing. I feel like Turkish people got facial/hair down perfectly. I grabbed a jacket and three shirts from the Spice Bazaar. On a general level, the attention to fashion seems a bit elevated versus the US. Walking through the Spice Bazaar, I heard some of the most hilarious quotes,
“You look like you have just arrived in from Heaven”
“Where are you? You are here”
“What do you want? Take it, it’s free, everything is free”
Keep in mind these are salesmen that speak completely broken English, desperately trying to reel passers by into their stores to purchase their merchandise.
A great traveling lesson I learned in Turkey is with regards to haggling. Haggling prices has always been difficult for me, especially since there’s a language barrier to deal with. Here’s the golden way to figure out the price range you should be paying. When you buy from one person, shoot the breeze with them a bit, then say, “Hey so I was also thinking about grabbing a jacket, what do you think I should pay?” Since you’ve already bought something from them, and were somewhat friendly about it, they’re ALWAYS happy to impart their ‘expert’ local opinion to you, the gullible traveler. Every time I bought an item, I’d ask the seller about the price range for my next item in mind. It helped me get some incredible deals – or so I think.
If you are to visit Istanbul, the DO NOT miss items in my opinion are: The Galata Tower at sunset (if you stick around til the sun completely sinks, you watch the city light up in front of your eyes), the Prince’s Islands ferry to Buyuk Ada which has incredible nature/scenery and an old Turkish beach town feel, Sulemanye/Blue Mosques, The Spice Bazaar which is an endless puzzle you could get lost in for an entire day, and the Hagia Sophia and Topkapi palace only because they’re rich with history – but honestly not too spectacular of you’re unfamiliar with the region’s past. Istiklal street is PERFECT for night life. It’s a wide and quite long street, decorated with christmas lights this time of year, flooded with young people stopping in the dessert shops, restaurants, and cafes. At night, the bars, clubs, lounges, and other cafes come to life and don’t rest until 5 in the am. Needless to say, I spent three of my four nights out on Istiklal street investigating the nightlife. The Basilica Cistern is worth a quick look for a small price of 10 liras, which is an underground basilica half flooded with water and sea-life. The metro (as in any city) is worth a few rides to get a feel for the city and the people.
You must try the baklava and stop by the street vendors for their sweet Sahlep, which is a milk/honey drink with cinnamon that is absolutely delicious. The prices for their food items are typically very low, I like that. Same in Egypt. Even taking currency exchange into account, the prices are low without the sacrifice of nutritional quality. Also, Apple tea is unreal, it literally tastes like you’ve bitten into an apple on consumption. I bought a kilogram from the Spice Bazaar with intent to send it back home for the fam.
One of the many nights I went out for hookah with some of the hostel-mates, I was told about Cappadocia and Olympus (both of which are in Turkey). Olympus sounds absolutely amazing… with caves which you can swim in, secluded beaches along the Mediterranean, and hostels and rooms built up in the trees. Apparently there are only 2-3 places like this on earth, in Olympus you will find cracks in the ground where natural vapors rise from the earth. Somehow they are ignited upon release from the ground and create a small flame. And apparently they spring up from everywhere. Sounds unreal, doesnt it? Next time I’m in Turkey, Olympus will be a must.
Overall, the experience was absolutely amazing. Even more amazing was a break from 7 day workweeks and endless round-clock hours. Even more amazing were the evenings in Istanbul with Apple Tea and great company with hostel-mates from all over the world. Even more amazing were the unbelievable sights, smells, and vibes from a country saturated with culture.