As the first city of the new adventure, Istanbul is just an incredible kick-off. While those eleven weeks fly, I learn about the city and adapt myself to get by it. From winter nosebleed to spring hay fever, from getting lost in mazes of alleyways to cruising across the Bosphorus on ferries, from menemen for breakfast to lahmacun after the gym, from çay to rakı, and from street cats to the people. What an experience!
The first two weeks in the Taksim area gives me a glimpse of the city. Frigid weather continues when I move to the Asian side. Late snowfalls are over just a day before the official spring on the equinox. I was underprepared for the cold but enduring rare snow in March in Istanbul is somehow cool. When spring blooms, the strait city glows. Sunsetting over the Bosporus with prayers from mosques echoing the shores is just spectacular.
This year Ramadan is also in April. I am fortunate to be in a Muslim country during the holy month. It really doesn’t affect everyday routines, not even booze. I have lived with a Muslim landlady and her fasting was more serious than I generally witness in Istanbul. Nonetheless, it concludes with the Eid al-Fitr or Ramazan Bayramı in the first week of May. The celebration explodes.
April also has significant events: Songkran, Easter, and ANZAC Day, which leads me to an out-of-town trip to Çanakkale. Bucket lists are considered checked.
Turkish cuisine is an excellent example of being at a geographical and cultural crossroads. You can see influences from the surrounding regions: Mediterranean, Italian, Middle East, Balkan, etc. It is so diverse to map out tribal connections through foods. I keep discovering good dishes. Local shops in Kozyatağı introduce me heaps of them. No craving for comfort Thai foods. It isn’t a city for you to try Asian or Mexican foods either. Çay (tea) is one of the first Turkish words I learnt in the city. It’s a major tea culture here. I write about it for Saranokchan Facebook Page in Thai.
Of course, there are some frustrations in the city. No place is perfect. And that’s the point of the adventure, right? For instance, despite superb public transportation, unstable Internet infrastructure is counterproductive. The city is clean but the recycling system relies on informal migrant workers.
The language is the key barrier. Since the Turkish language isn’t related to Indo-European languages, its Latin script is irrelevant. I planned to work on self-taught Turkish but that didn’t happen. Google Translate and Maps are the tools to get by. Luckily, the Airbnb host and I communicate in English. I gratefully get lots of takeaways from the yarns we have.
Ironically, one of the reasons why I left Bangkok—a cannabis break—isn’t quite achieved. I believe I had a withdrawal in the first week and it was out of the system by week two. Then, I get access to joints and have some shared puffs every week. But I don’t score it for myself. That would change the whole experience. I’m saving a story about weeds in the next city—Barcelona.
Right now, I’m in Barcelona and have been procrastinating this blog post for weeks. It is harder to articulate the experience in Istanbul than I thought. There is still a lot to discover in the city and Turkey itself. This certainly won’t be my last time in Istanbul.