Istanbul

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Spending a full 5 days in Istanbul, and in the same hostel,
really allowed my friend Temi and I to embrace Turkish culture. 

We had the pleasure of meeting Louise, whom we
affectionately referred to as “Always,” for a reason I don’t recall. 
As an 18-year-old Aussie, she had been traveling independently for the
last 4 months, with extended stays in Thailand, Italy, and Japan.  Despite her youth, she left me with
some resounding advice, “There’s a big difference between being a tourist and being
a traveler.”  I believe she was paraphrasing
the famous words of Gilbert Keith Chesterton:

The traveler sees what he sees, the tourist sees what he has come to see.

Luckily for Temi and I, we met Louise early on in our trip.  Additionally, our lack of a “laundry list” allowed us the freedom to put that advice to use immediately. 

Seeing as how we had seen both the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sofia our first full day, we were relatively open to going with the flow, so to speak.

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The second day was spent wandering through the city: literally.  We attempted to get lost, with the intention of finding ourselves far
removed from the Americanized, tourist-friendly part of the city.  We eventually succeeded, meeting a
group of gentlemen keeping their fitness up at an outdoor park, who kindly demonstrated how each machine worked, and posed for a picture. 
Growing weak from hunger, and refusing to enter an establishment with any English
on the menu, we finally stumbled upon a promising restaurant that was set in a
permanent heated tent.  Despite the
warning I received from fellow Americans, I insisted on trying Turkish
coffee.  Boy, was it horrible.  Not only was there actual sediment floating throughout the mixture, but a layer of quicksand was stuck to the bottom
of the mug.  Politely, I finished
it—but only by washing it down with the delicious kabob and fried eggs.

Our hump day, we formed an alliance with Louise and a
friendly British fellow named Tom to set foot on the Asian side of the city. 
Being the Istanbul veterans, they took us across the Bosphorus
(waterway between the Sea of Marmara and the Black Sea), via the ferry.  Upon landing, we enjoyed talented
street performers playing the bagpipes and a large drum-like tambourine.  We ate lunch at a popular Turkish
buffet, sampling various dishes that succeeded in tempting me to take much more food than I needed. 

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We continued through a local market, without seeing a single
tourist.  Amongst the spices, fresh
fruit, and vegetables, we stumbled upon an exotic fish seller, which
warranted a picture.  

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Next up was a juggling store.  Tom proved to be an experienced juggler, and demonstrated a
five-ball sequence in the confined floor space that the shop offered, much to
the amusement of the shopkeeper. 
Ashamed, I admitted that I could not even manage the basic 3-ball
juggle.  After watching me
struggle, he offered me advice as I continued to practice.  Over the next 15 minutes, he took a
genuine interest in instructing me and I saw marked improvement, to his
satisfaction.  Before leaving, he
presented me with a single hand-sewn ball, as a token of encouragement, to my
delight.

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                                                                                                                           A few hours later, upon our return to the European side, we
were welcomed into a tea shop by Cameron Diaz (no joke, I have his business card) and his son Toto.  Apparently, Louise and Tom were daily
“customers,” who danced for their tea, instead of paying.  Upon hearing this, I felt anxiety
creeping up, seeing as how I don’t particularly enjoy dancing.  However, after three or four rounds of
tea, complementary soup, pasta, and cake, and as 50’s swing was cranked up
by Toto, I felt obligated to join in the festivities,.  The six of us shook and twisted for the
better part of an hour, only breaking between songs for tea hydration.  Throughout our dance marathon, we wooed
prospective customers into the establishment to purchase Turkish delight by the
kilogram.  Exhausted, we exchanged
goodbyes, with promises to return the next day.

Other highlights included the Grand Bazaar, the world’s
oldest covered market (founded in 1841), and the Basilica Cistern, the city’s
largest water container dating back to the fifth century.  Interestingly, the bases of 2 of the 336 supporting pillars contain
Medusa’s face etched in the stone. 
One of her heads is upside down, while the other is flipped on its
side.  No historical documents
exist to explain their existence.

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Unfortunately, my adventures have come to an end, as I arrived back in the states just in time to spend Christmas with my family.  However, I will be posting about life in Holland as an on-campus student over the coming semester.  Stay tuned!

-Steven