Tuesday, August 18, 2015

My first day and a half in Turkey has been pretty tiring! My flight from Toronto to Istanbul arrived around 9:30 AM Istanbul time which was 1:30 AM Texas time, so needless to say it was a bit difficult to stay awake. But I made it to the apartment and was able to relax for an hour before my roommate moved it. Since we know each other we (thankfully) didn't have to go through the awkward, 'how are you? how was your flight? etc." She's been here for the last month and has already made some acquaintances, so her friend took us to one of the malls so we could grab some necessities. 

Today was technically the first day of the program, and we spent the morning meeting the director and everyone participating in the program, as well as an overview of the program and a couple cultural things. After lunch we took a walking tour of the area around our apartment, which includes Taksim and Sisli. Some students took the time to get phones and Turkish numbers, and we all bought cards to use on the Metro (the public transit system in Istanbul). After that we took a bus down to the Bosphorus Strait, and then rode over to the Asian side of Istanbul! We ate lunch at a delicious restaurant on the Asian side, and then headed back to the apartments.

Now that I'm writing about it, I realize that we accomplished quite a bit today. Crossing the Bosphorus was probably my favorite part. It's absolutely beautiful; the strait is lined with historic buildings, plenty of trees, and the water is as blue as can be. While you're on the ferry you have a fantastic view of one of the bridges, all the boats, and both sides of the city. It was also a lot cooler on the water, which was a very nice reprieve. 

We ate a late lunch that was very generously provided by the IES director. The first course consisted of fried dough stuffed with seasoned ground beef and onions; the second was rice and chicken cooked inside a flaky pastry that was then cut up and distributed. The third dish, pictured below, is called Iskender, and it's ridiculous. Flatbread is placed on the bottom, which is then covered with thinly cut grilled lamb, a tomato based sauced, a few grilled vegetables, and then topped with yogurt and butter. As a Southerner, the abundance of butter really resonated with me. As of right now, I'm digging Turkish food. 

One of the things that's surprised me about Istanbul is how green it is. So many cities in the U.S. are extremely monotone with a park here and there. While Istanbul is very urban, there are trees on almost every street and various kinds of bushes and shrubbery elsewhere. Another interesting addition are the minarets. One of the first things I noticed while we were driving from the airport to the apartments were how prominent the minarets are in the skyline. Even among the tall buildings in the cities they're pretty easy to notice, and they make great landmarks!

The European side is on the left, and the Asian side is on the right
Istanbul is certainly overwhelming, but not in a bad way. It's a lot to take in, and sometimes it's difficult to balance your desire to go out and explore, and to stay in and take some time for yourself. But as of right now, all is well, and I can't wait to experience more of Istanbul.

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