Melanie Lux, travel blogger at Don't eat my Popcorn
Melanie Lux started the blog while she was studying abroad in Barcelona. Now she is back and started to write about her latest experiences including travels. Look forward to exciting stories, loads of creativity and many tips and tricks for traveling - Melanie has a lot to tell.
5 Things I liked about Istanbul
During the semester break in February my sister and I had the ingenious plan to fly to Istanbul to escape the cold and wintery weather in Austria (I know, I use that line a lot but believe me, winter in Vienna is not fun). And since Turkey is in the south and oriental it must be 30 degrees Celsius and clear blue skies all day long every day. Right? Right? Nope. Not even close. More like freezing temperatures and heavy snow storms that nipped even the remotest idea of extensive sightseeing in the bud. Snow in Istanbul you’re wondering? Yep, that’s what we thought as well, which is why we were completely taken unawares by the huge amount of snow. This became rather apparent in our selection of clothes and footwear (or more specifically their total lack of functionality regarding the weather conditions). We were told that this was the worst winter since 19-I-don’t-recall, but essentially the worst in a really long time. Thankfully the weather cleared a little towards the weekend, so it was possible to actually stay outside for some time and to not have to seek shelter in a café or restaurant every twenty minutes. Because trying to navigate around deep puddles of icy water (and eventually giving up and resigning to enduring the sharp pain that comes from frozen toes) can be slightly exhausting.
As if this wasn’t enough, we knew something was very off when they started playing Last Christmas in the shops while snowflakes were falling heavily from the sky.
Nonetheless I really liked the Turkish metropolis and here’s why:Content
- Immersing myself in an environment in which I don’t understand the language even in the slightest
- Eating kebab that actually tastes healthy
- Tea, tea, tea!
- Oh look, there’s a mosque! Such a rare sight!
- Exploring the surroundings
1. Immersing myself in an environment in which I don’t understand the language even in the slightest
Before coming to Istanbul I had almost exclusively traveled to countries and cities where the language spoken was either one that I knew or at least related to one (bragging not intended). Let’s say, I don’t speak Norwegian or Portuguese but they are pretty similar to German and Spanish respectively, so I somehow managed to communicate with the people anyway. When everything else failed I could always find someone who spoke some words of English.
Not so in Istanbul. Turkish is unlike any language I am familiar with, so this was a really new experience for me. I quickly realized upon trying to find the bus that would carry me from the airport to the city that no one –literally no one– speaks English, not young people, not even those who work at the airport. And the surprising, but still only little knowledge of German they have is usually limited to “Ich spreche ein bisschen Deutsch” (I speak a little bit of German), which they love to prove to you with a hilarious accent. No offense.
I have found that not understanding a word and failing to communicate on a regular basis definitely is a deeply humbling experience that puts things into perspective.
Where I come from dürüm, kebab and döner are the perfect food choices for you when you either a. are on your way home from a long night out partying and desperately looking for something greasy to eat in hopes of keeping the looming hangover at bay; or b. are too lazy to cook and too hungry to care about the healthiness of your meal.
This is exactly why I had no idea that kebab could actually taste healthy. All my life I had been under the wrong impression that what I was eating was actual Turkish food. Finding out that it was all a sham was definitely a turning point in my life. Now I can never look at Viennese kebab in the same way again.
So if you’re craving for a similarly mind-blowing experience or just a delicious kebab, either way I totally recommend you try Birlik Büfe close to Eminönü. Good luck pronouncing that last name, though. It took me a full five days to manage it (I think the emphasis lies on the first syllable but don’t take my word for it).
And for some traditional, either super greasy or sickening sweet Turkish food, try Balkan. The restaurant is rather well hidden in a side street called Hoca Paşa Sok, not far from the Birlik Büfe, and has a wide range of dishes. Also it’s ridiculously cheap. While you’re at it, you should have a bite of menemen, the Turkish version of scrambled eggs with tomatoes.
First off, nothing will ever replace coffee as my favorite drink – not gonna happen. But, tea comes as a close second (or maybe third after beer because let’s face it, I’m Bavarian). So I was quite excited by the amount of tea everywhere. It came in all flavors and possible variations, from apple to pomegranate to kiwi to…you get the point. Turkish tea is also very tasty, even though I’m not sure what the secret ingredient would be because it is basically strong black tea with some added hot water.
It’s true. If there’s one thing Istanbul has in abundance it is mosques. Which makes sense given that Turkey’s such a religious country. I have no idea what the fuss is about with Istanbul’s incredibly famous landmark, the Hagia Sophia, though. It looked rather underwhelming and in no way justified the high entrance fee. Way more beautiful and impressing was the Sultan Ahmed Mosque, commonly known as the Blue Mosque which is mostly, as the name might suggest, characterized by all the blue tiles adorning its interior. Having to remove our shoes before entering made the whole visit a highlight because tiptoeing on a warm, fluffy carpet was exactly what the doctor ordered for our frozen toes.
While the snow storm was raging on outside, we sought shelter in the Kapalı Çarşı, the Grand Bazaar that totally lives up to its name. It is enormous and invites you to get lost for hours, with intention or without. One piece of advice: Never ever buy anything in there! We had been warned that prices are three times as high as outside the Bazaar’s walls and still, I couldn’t help but purchase a “hand-crafted” magnet whose price I proudly managed to haggle down to less than half of what it originally cost. Imagine my indignation and disappointment when I found the exact same piece in a nearby souvenir shop for a lot less. So don’t!
After five full days in Istanbul we were craving for some fresh air and a change of scenery. So we took the ferry to the Prince Islands which are about an hour and a half away in order to escape the bustling city life and found a peace that seemed almost unreal. Cars are prohibited on the picturesque islands, which made the quietness almost palpable and the scenery even more stunning. Since the amount of tourists close to the landing stage was overwhelming, we headed off towards the hill on top of which a monastery could supposedly be found. Except we didn’t find it. Instead we came across residents pursuing their daily business and an enormous, century-old estate that definitely looked its age and whose spooky atmosphere totally gave me the creeps. Other than that we kind of got lost in the woods and were almost run over by some bolting wild horses. So to put it in a nutshell, it was a perfect day. No sarcasm here. Really.
On a side note and because we all love lists:
- Istanbul is the only city in the world that lies on two continents. How cool is that?
- Crossing the street is a very perilous issue. But traffic lights are overrated anyway.
- Life there has a different pace. Lengthy delays at the ferry station are nothing to be upset about but daily fare.
- Istanbul is paradise for souvenir shoppers. The amount of all the useless cheap crap you can get is unbelievable. I confess myself guilty.
So that’s it. Even though we weren’t very lucky considering the snow storm and all that, I really liked the city and its positive vibe. I think I’ll just have to come back in summer one day.