Day 266 - Turkish Delight

Trip Start Nov 07, 2010
Trip End Jan 01, 2012

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Where I stayed
Stray Cat Hostel

Flag of Turkey  , Istanbul,
Saturday, July 30, 2011

Istanbul is my kind of city. Unbelievable beauty around every corner, the mouth watering scent of cafés and restaurants lining the wide cobblestone boulevards, friendly locals and a brilliantly efficient metro system - they all combine to make this city exotic and accessible at the same time.  I find myself wandering the clean modern streets and getting lost in thought at the comparisons between Europe and Asia.  Everything is such a 180° from the last nine months, going from the developing world to one of the centers of western civilization.  From the language barrier and ease of travel, to the local customs and high cost of living, it all comes far too easily.  The cuisine has also been a drastic change from what I'd become accustomed to, traveling through SE Asia and India.  Rice, dal and rotis gave way to baguettes, olives and cheeses.  I went from a purely vegetarian diet to one that includes doners, gyros and kebabs.  Street stalls and back alley grub huts turned to terraced eateries and cozy café patios.  It’s a welcome change, but one I’m still not quite used to and I find myself yearning for the steaming cup of chai and heaping thali plate found on any nameless street corner in Calcutta.  I also realize the faint longing for that feeling of being an outsider, a stranger in a strange land, watched and wondered over with ponderous eyes and curious smiles.  Instead of being an outcast, a single pale form in a sea of brown faces, we blend in like any other person.  What once was irritating and borderline intrusive in the blatant stares and peering glances over your shoulder has become part of daily life, and I almost miss the complete lack of boundaries and personal space that was so commonplace in India.  It’s going to take some getting used to, but I feel that this gradual shift back into the western world is a good stepping stone for my imminent return to the states.  In the meantime, I still savor the sights and smells of everything this place has to offer.  For the past couple days our band of four has struck out into the depths of the city, exploring every nook and cranny for hidden gems and obscure eats.  We toured the largest basilica in the world and saw the massive illuminated domes of Hagia Sophia, got lost in the endless maze of shops and stalls at the Grand Bazaar, overloaded our senses wandering the fragrant and colorful spice markets and sat sipping warm apple tea, rapt in conversation and puffing on a hookah into the wee hours of the morning.  Every day and each rambling step through this scenic city brings me that much closer to its people and culture.  Embracing the Turkish way of life and just sitting back and watching the flow of people stream past in a seamless rush of colors and faces.  This place is abuzz with the constant hum of movement and sound.  Sitting down with a strong cup of Turkish coffee and a book, I close my eyes and let the tide of humanity wash over me.  It tingles every sense and seems to come from everywhere and nowhere all at once.  People watching is one of my favorite pastimes, and there’s never a lack of opportunities to do it while traveling.  You can really get a feel for a city just by observing random strangers walking the streets.  Istanbul is much more fashion conscious than I’ve become accustomed to.  With a strong consumer culture, the women are stunning in designer heels and tight silky dresses, while the men all seem to take their cue from western labels, most looking like the typical poster boy for Ed Hardy or Abercrombie & Fitch.  Some fashions are stuck in the past; the kids wearing bright colors and clothes that look straight out of the eighties, and older couples locking arms and shuffling down the street in simple button-up shirts and cardigan sweaters.  You can see the generation gap from a mile away and it speaks of the effect a global economy has had on youth culture around the world.  Take any one of them and transplant them to New York, LA or Chicago and they would fit right in on a Saturday night out on the town.  This too is a huge change from what I’ve grown to love and embrace in developing countries.  The almost complete lack of attachment to brands and frivolous spending.  In a place where you don’t know where your next meal will come from, much less whose name you’re wearing, the focus shifts from the material to the spiritual.  Your relationships and interactions with people are deeper and less surface based, and you come away with a higher value for humanity and less concern about how you appear to others.  I’ve taken that lesson to heart, but the dissonance that I’ve felt as I wean my way back to western culture is a daily struggle.  To remember what you’ve learned and the experiences that changed you along this winding road called life, and not get lost in the habit of routine or complacency of modern comforts will be one of the hardest things to maintain as I return to the shores of my home and the people and places I love.  I feel that the call of adventure will always itch at the back of my mind though, yet hope to continue living in that spirit no matter where I am or what I’m doing.  Only time will tell, but if I can master myself in the face of an ever changing and diverse world, then nothing can stop me from living that dream for the rest of my days.

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Craig Martin on

Wow, the pictures are always so stunning and I absolutley love, love, love thee manner in which you write--it is as if I am there.....and those colored lights and hanging lamps!!! I saw a few that would look nice in my place:)

Aunt Carol on

Hey Everett,
Amazing photos and commentary. I never wanted to visit Turkey until now. Continuing to pray for traveling mercies for you and your companions.
Love, Aunt Carol

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