Written on the 14th of July
Turkey – we’re in Turkey! Today we landed in Istanbul, after a long, 11-hour flight. For some of us, I think more Spiderman Three was chosen over sleep (and then rewatched), but I think we all managed to get a few hours of z’s during the flight. When we had about ninety minutes to go, I looked out the window and saw the mountainous land of Eastern Turkey. It’s seemed so rugged and red; I know I’m from the Kimberley but this seemed even redder at the time, maybe because there wasn’t any bush or trees to break up the colour. The view kind of reminded me of a crumpled bed sheet!
Arriving: after we made our way through the visa and passport checkpoints, and we found our luggage (I made a mad dash to get one off the luggage belt as it rounded a corner, but I ended up getting dragged along with the luggage and into people! Eventually I was able to hoist it out to the ground!)
Our ride to the hotel took us next to the sea and beside part of an old wall – I think it was one built in Constantine’s empire to keep out unwanted guests – and then we drove into the streets. The streets are so narrow; you’d think it was really a wide pathway, not a road! He took us up and down, left and right, across the cobbled stone streets, where there are cheap barber shops and launder mats right next to spiffy motels and restaurants and the traditional McDonald’s and Subway’s. It’s not exactly eastern-looking, but it’s not western either.
We left our bags at the motel and went wandering through the streets, and found a place to buy a ‘snack’ of pizza, and water. The waiter was extremely generous and talkative, and helped Dad out with the map, and we showed him our brag album of where we come from! Apparently he knew we were Australians as soon as we opened our mouths – and we didn’t even say ‘G’day’!
You can’t drink any old water here in Turkey – it has to be bottled. It is really cheap though.
After that we wandered through this old part of the city. We went up to the Hagia Sophia, which was quite magnificent, but we didn’t go in today. We looked over the Golden Horn, a little estuary of the Bosporus (which was a bit smelly!) To get there we had to go through a small bazaar, which was stuffy and busy, but probably nothing like what the Grand Bazaar will be like! We saw a few big mosques and heard the traditional song of calling for prayer, which was quite beautiful melody-speaking but sad to see so many people feel the need to work for salvation. The waiter told us earlier that he goes to the mosque every 12 hours. It makes Jesus’ free, undeserved, unmerited grace, that much sweeter.
As we listened to the music, we were munching on corn cobs bought on the side of the street. Some were roasted, and were chewy and smelt like popcorn. Then there was the icecream! Lots of locals seemed to be going for McDonald’s icecream, but we wanted the real deal. We found a bald man with a huge, black handlebar moustache selling vanilla, chocolate, and pistachio icecream. As is traditional here, he quickly scooped up the icecream with his long, metal, flat scoop and in a movement that must be ‘all in the wrist’, he gave it to Mum. Then he started again and wacked three flavours on the cone and handed it to Nomi before she could protest that she didn’t want pistachio. As she looked at her cone, she found it empty and Daniel with the cone brimming with icecream – the man had grabbed two cones and did another tricky wrist movement to trick us!
I’m not sure if I like normal icecream or Turkish icecream better. The Turkish icecream reminds me of mozzarella cheese pizzas, where the cheese stretches like elastic. You don’t just lick your icecream, or bite into it and let it dissolve in your mouth – it is kind of syrupy in taste once it starts to melt, but until then it’s actually chewy!
Turkey is an interesting place. It’s full of history and people still seem to live a simple life, with their little shops, but it’s bustling with tourists from all over the world. There’s a constructions site opposite from our building and right next to an old building which would be demolished in Australia standards. It has snippets of western culture seeping in to an eastern-influenced culture, but even then Turkey’s not really eastern, but on its own. I’m not really sure why – maybe I’ll learn as I travel through the rest of Turkey – but I think I’m going to learn a lot. This morning I found it all a bit overwhelming, but I think I’m starting to enjoy the adventure of spending the next two weeks in this crossroads of cultures, history, and icecream.