Things I love about Istanbul

The Views

Like San Francisco, Istanbul lounges out over seven hills. It spreads along the Bosphorus and Golden Horn and gives plenty of opportunities to catch breath-taking views of ships coming in to dock, birds swooping over the water, the scenic bridges, and the ripe domes dotting its skyline. Walking around the city inevitably has you trekking on its uphills and downhills, allowing you to see the city from all different angles. You might be really sore the next day, but making your way up the hills to catch the views is definitely worth it.
Kaymak and Honey

Someone yesterday mentioned how fatty kaymak and honey is, poofing out their cheeks and stretching out their arms to symbolize the reaches of your stomach if you overindulge. It was as if they had dared to mention the unmentionable, like speaking Voldermort's name in Harry Potter. This Turkish treat is so incredibly delicious, just one bite is like a speed train to 7th heaven. It should be enjoyed without guilt or images of belly rolls.

The hidden layers of the city
If you look closely, you'll see a portrait of the Virgin Mary. This was a well, whose waters were believed to cure blindness.

Istanbul has many architectural layers, left from the various empires that took it as their capital. Although some Byzantine structures, like Chora Church, the Cisterns, and the Hagia Sophia, are in plain sight, others are a little more obscure and take a little investigation and exploration off the beaten path to find. One of my colleagues has researched some of these hidden nooks- underground dungeons and temples, hidden along the old city wall or under shops in the old city, and has passed on some of those locations to my other colleague Andy, who took Jeremy and I on a small tour of some of the Byzantine backstreets. With Andy as our guide, we entered a couple carpet shops, whose owners had discovered Byzantine structures underneath. One was a cistern-turned-gallery and the other was a temple with a small well. The well had a portrait of the Virgin Mary and its waters were believed to cure blindness. None of these structures are listed in guides and it feels thrilling to go through an unassuming carpet shop into these underground buildings, that are hundreds of years old and have just been left to crumble underneath the new, living city- tombs for the once great Byzantine Empire.

The Night Life

Istanbul could give NY a run for its money as "the city that never sleeps". Being here makes me feel like I am getting a second chance at the 20s party life. Tunel and Taksim are like an bustling ecosystem of nightlife. First, there's the bottom layer- the darker and earthier basement bars and pubs. Then, there are the hundreds of people squeeze through the maze-like streets, lined with small restaurants, like ants on the rain forest floor. Look up and you'll see the dozens of rooftop patios, jam-packed with people in the upper reaches of the nightlife scene, foggin' up the windows and shakin' a leg. This is a city that makes use of every inch of space, and it's certainly no different for its nightlife. People stay out til the wee hours here and there's something for everyone. I've even found some non-smoking dance clubs recently, which have made me a lot more hopeful about taking full advantage of the night scene here.

Turkish Brunch

I'm going to sound like a broken record, but man is the kaymak and honey that is served at brunch delicious! Aside from that, Turkish breakfast/brunch, with its array of olives, cheese, tomatoes, and cucumbers, is incredibly fresh and an amazing start to the day.

Walking everywhere
Excited about signs of spring!

Being in car-less in  Istanbul is great- especially when you see the frequent and enormous traffic jams this city produces. I have loved walking everywhere and being able to notice the smaller details of each neighborhood, as well as taking in the amazing views the city has to offer. As I write this, I am still incredibly sore from an epic walk yesterday that took me from Cihangir to Besiktas to go to this amazing brunch spot with Sarah and Misty:, then from Besiktas to Ortakoy to pick up Jeremy, and then from Ortakoy to the Rumeli Fortress, near the 2nd bridge.We walked around the Fortress, which had stunning views of the Asian side, the bridge, and ships coming through the Bosphorus (which I've recently found out means "throat" in Turkish- the Turkish name is "Boğaz"). We walked back to Ortakoy, after making a stop at a local brewery called Taps. The sun was setting and we got to stroll and enjoy the range of views along the water. 
Walking back to Ortakoy
Local brewery we stopped into on our way back from Rumeli Fortress: beer other than Efes!

Learning Turkish

Stumbling around the Turkish language for the first 7 months, like a person trying to find their way around an unfamiliar house in a power outage, I am finally learning the language... formally. The first months, I just picked up bits and pieces from the environment and mainly just repeated the same phrases again and again, pulling in the reins as soon as the conversation got past the more controlled greeting phase.

One thing that is fun about learning Turkish is that right now, so many words sound and look so similar, which allows for some fun mistakes. During one of my first jewelry classes, overwhelmed by all the new words for tools I was learning, I accidentally called the sandpaper "zampara" instead of "zımpara." Just one little letter can make so much difference, I realized, when the entire class started laughing. It turns out that "zampara" means "playboy" or "fornicator" and through laughs, I got reminders not to go to the store and ask for a "zampara".

Also, the words for soup and socks are really similar. Soup is "çorba" and socks are "çorap". When I am in the lunch line at school asking for soup, I forget which is which and usually say "May I have some ço... mumble mumble?" Thankfully, I haven't had any life-changing situations, where I needed to recall the vocabulary for either. 

One last example is the word "kaynak" (solder), which is so close to my beloved "kaymak" (clotted cream). Although it's pretty random, I do happen to use it a lot during my jewelry classes and occasionally slip up and ask "More kaymak?" as I try to figure out how much solder I need to prepare for a piece. This hasn't produced as many giggles as "zampara", though, and my classmates love to remind me of the time I mixed up the two. 

This is nowhere near to a complete list, but after all the adjustments in the beginning months, I feel that I am finally over the hump and able to appreciate life in Istanbul. I am starting to understand what all the fuss is about- overwhelming crowds aside, this is truly a great city.

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