NO BUTTER ON MY ISTANBUL, PLEASE! (IT’S FINE JUST HOW IT IS)

       Let me first explain why you should always pack lightly. 1) So you can walk. 2) So you can fit in tight spaces. 3) So you don’t exhaust yourself walking the distances you will have to walk and hauling from the many places from which you will have to haul it. 4) So it’s easy to get up and go (finding things and putting things away quickly). 5) So you don’t have room to buy big and/or expensive things you don’t really need. No room, less inclination. 6) So you DO have room for the delightful smaller things you DO buy! 7) So you don’t have a hoard of dirty clothes after a week. Wear the same thing for more than a day! It won’t kill you. 8) So you aren’t an obstruction or an annoyance to the locals and other people who are also on that trail/metro/tram/funicular. 9) It gives you a better appearance overall and people’s judgment about you as a tourist is generally kinder and more accommodating. “Oh, let me wheel my massive suitcase into your café and smash the glass door and bump into every table on my way to my seat. Oh, and I’ll need an extra seat for my suitcase in this already crowded cafe. Yes, please, thank you. His name is Baggy.” You can’t always expect kind reciprocity under those conditions. Pack lightly! A backpack and, if you only have a normal backpack, one other small bag to carry will do. Get a nice travel backpack if you don’t have one already. Carrying a school-type backpack around all day hurts. Carrying even these things gets tiring. Imagine if you had more.

       My spring break has been just plain stinking WONDERFUL. I’ve been to Athens already and spent two full days and two half days there while staying with a very nice and accommodating host I found on couchsurfing. Because I stayed with a local, I got to experience Athens differently than before. My prior perception of Athens has been powerfully overlapped by this most recent one, and this is for the better. I love Athens even more. Yea, maybe Greece is bankrupt, but it’s still a vibrant, beautiful and friendly place. Here’s one thing in particular that struck me. Cyprus is NOT Greece. I don’t care how much Cypriots love Greece or how many of them say “Oh, yes, I am Greek”, they aren’t really. Cyprus has its own culture, and as wonderful as it is and as hard as it tried to copy Greece, it is different and, in MY opinion, not as preferable as real Greek culture. It’s the same as with northern Cyprus, the Turkish side. The “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus” is not Turkey. The people look different than their mother countries all over Cyprus. I can say this because I have seen real Turkish people, being that I’m currently sitting in a café in Istanbul. Lovely café in the middle of the Grand Bazaar, I must say. You can see my open computer on the table by the window. :]

       Istanbul. My first full day was full. I again hopped on the spontaneous train and made my way down to the seaside in Kabatash. I then hopped on a boat that said “To Prince’s Island”. I had no idea what this place way, but plenty of people seemed to want to go so I figured it couldn’t be too boring. Turns out it’s this absolutely lovely island of many in the Bosporus. It’s a great place for tourists to go and ride a cheaply rented (10 Turkish Lira! 5 dollars!) bike around for as long as you wish. There are long, steep roads you can bike up and up to get to the top of the island which is lush with trees. You can weave your way through the people along the lower, vibrant streets full with delectable Turkish foods and sweets and the creamiest, best ice cream I have ever had. Now, I spent this entire day with these three lovely young women, all near my age and on spring break just like me. They go to University in Turkey, they speak Turkish and two are from Turkey, the other is from Azerbaijan. Only one of them spoke English, so we generally got on at a more basic level but we had a great day regardless. It’s really amazing how much you can understand with non-verbal communication. On the dock waiting for the ferry we had exchanged a few words, but that was it until they decided to send the English speaker over to me on the ferry and ask if I was alone and if I’d like to travel with them. Of course, I said yes. Yet again I must emphasize the power of traveling alone. So we spent the entire day together having a great time biking, trying some foods and taking pictures around the island, and then dress shopping and tea drinking and Turkish food eating on the Asian side of Istanbul. We are vibrant young people. Here we are, having fun.

       I got to experience Turkey better than I ever expected through these girls. I had pictures Turkey as being so similar to that of Northern Cyprus. I know I’m in Istanbul and if there’s one place that is an exaggerated sense of Turkey in wealth, culture and history, it’s this place. My perception is skewed, but these three girls gave me a sense of the kind of people I can find in Turkey, and they are delightful people who care just as much about a nice dress for college graduation as you or I that can be found here. The people don’t reflect the big, mean Turkey that I have been hearing/learning about. In fact, I have not had a bad interaction with anybody so far while in Istanbul. I can confidently say they are friendly, intelligent, skilled, hard-working people here. They have their venerated figures, just like we do.

       Now to the best part. It leaves me always thirsty, ravenous and enraptured. It leaves me scrambling for more money, searching my pockets and searching for an ATM. It’s not just one thing. It’s the combination of the material goods and the cuisine here in Istanbul. Variety, I tell you, and Quality. I bought so much stuff today…and I don’t feel guilty at all. It was money very well spent. Honestly, the only way I could stop myself from buying more and more wonderful things was to just go all out and then shuffle my butt out of there. Where is there? The Bazaar! There are two you must visit while here, and you have to be a totally boring, shallow person to be uninterested in what they have. If you’re traveling and want to get something for anybody, just hop over to the bazaars in Istanbul and you’ll find something for everybody. They have a Grand Bazaar and a Spice Bazaar. MmmmMmmMmm!! The Grand Bazaar is a very fitting name for this truly Grand Bazaar, which is certainly better than any bazaar I have ever been to (Jerusalem included). The Spice Bazaar is exactly that: spices galore, as well as teas, nuts, and more of the most amazing sweets. I can’t begin to explain how many kinds of sweets they have as variations on Turkish delights. Hamana Hamana! Here are some photos to show you the scale.

This is the kind of city that just makes me want to buy everything. I haven’t told you or shown you everything; you have to come here for yourself and find out what other aspects have left me incredulous and ready for more.