My weekend stuffed with turkey kicks off with a college fair at Anatolia College, which is the high school connected with ACT. Interested study abroad students were asked to volunteer, representing their school and chat with high school students who would like to pursue higher education in the states. It felt great representing UND amongst all the other universities, and informing the students what UND has to offer! The president of the University and his wife stopped by and thanked each one of us for our efforts.
Thanksgiving was a unique get-together I will never forget. It wasn’t the same, being away from family, but it was my first time celebrating with my new family of study abroad friends here in Greece. ACT threw us a Thanksgiving potluck, it was a ton of fun. Everyone brought a dish to share and he school provided us with turkey, stuffing, Greek wine, pop or “soda” as many of my east coast friends here call it, and techno music for dinner. Afterwards, I Skyped with family back home as they were celebrating and it was great to, “be there.” My Grandma, Aunts, Uncles, and Cousins couldn’t believe how I could be halfway across the world and chat live over video, it still amazes me too. I am most definitely thankful for Skype and facebook this year, as I have been able to keep in touch with family and friends back in the states for FREE!
The gobble continues as a group of friends got together and organized a turkey bowl touch football game on the football (or soccer) field. We even got the Athletic Director Stepan to play. Some nicknames players came up with were, “knight train,” “cheetah (Stepan’s name),” “thebomb.com,” “iceman,” “notorious V.I.C.,” and “nocturnal emission.” My team ended up loosing but it was a great time.
Thanksgiving dinner isn’t complete without the dessert! Five friends and I traveled to Istanbul, Turkey for the weekend. We decided to take the night bus instead of the train since we heard such good things about it. It was a 10 hour long bus ride and what a treat. Each seat was leather complete with a satellite tv, movies and music. A guy even came around with coffee, tea and pop. However, sleeping on a seat—yeah, it’s not the most comfortable. We shared our favorite sleeping position with one another to try and get the best one, Ha.
Arriving in Istanbul at 9am was a beautiful sight to see. Random huge flags are scattered throughout the city, and the Turkish homes and apartment buildings have a different feel from Greek buildings. Arriving at the bus station we were bombarded with taxi drivers and hundreds of other tourists trying to find a way to get to their hotel. Luckily, one of us made friends with a guy from Toronto who is well traveled and spoke Turkish, so we followed him to our hostel. This is where I realized how the magic of networking comes in handy, BIG time.
This was my first time staying at a hostel, it was right within walking distance of everything. The hostel was very affordable and a nice place to stay. Total cost was 16 Lira per-person or about 8 Euro/10 USD. We only had two days to see as much of Istanbul that we could so our schedule was jam packed. Our first area of exploring was walking around a quaint park. Next we headed to the Hagia Sophia, which was originally a Christian cathedral, then converted into a mosque in 1453, and now a museum. They kept much of the Christian mosaics in tact and it’s the only mosque in the world with both Christian and Muslim symbols, really cool to see (check out my vid on YouTube). They also had a wishing wall where you put your thumb in and rub in a circle, we were sure to wait in line to make a wish.
Walking around I felt Istanbul was much cleaner compared to Greece, there is hardly any graffiti or trash around. However, many of the streets are made of cobblestone, so watch out as it’s easy to trip. There are random audio speakers outside and every few hours guys come on and start singing for the Muslim prayer time. It was very different and really cool to experience for the first time.
The Sultan Ahmed Mosque, also called The Blue Mosque, was another interesting place to check out. This mosque in particular allows both tourists and an area for Muslims to pray. Out of respect we were directed to take our shoes off, women were encouraged to wear a scarf with a long skirt, and men slacks. Many tourists didn’t have proper clothing on inside because they didn’t know before arriving, but were still allowed in.
Outside of the Blue Mosque everyone bought gifts and souvenirs at the Arasta Bazaar. We found out the Grand Bazaar and Spice Bazaar were closed for four days due to Turkish holiday. These two have thousands of little shops and great deals, however, we were still able to find good deals at the other Bazaar’s.
Friends told us that a Turkish Bath is a must, so we decided, “when in Turkey.” The Turkish bath was pretty much like a spa, the girls and guys were separated. My friend Mike and I had no idea what we were getting into. They have you strip down, put a towel on, and leave you in a huge stinky steam room that looks like a cave with skylights for about 20 minutes. There was a random guy passed out snoring and some other guy washing himself.
We were then directed to go into the sauna, after about 15 minutes we went back out into the steam room and had no idea what to do. Then, two old guys in towels with big bellies greeted us with a bucket and some type of exfoliating body washing pad. Mike and I sat across from one another and were cracking up with the spa guys the entire time. The gentlemen who was washing me used warm water from a porcelain bin out of the wall and while singing a Turkish song, hurled the water over me. You could see your skin coming off as they scrubbed you down, it was pretty cool. Next was the massage, this was my first time having this done as well and after a while it was great.
Afterwards we were wrapped in towels head-to-toe and sat in the lobby where we had apple tea and waited for the girls. We later found out the girls had a similar experience except we were able to keep our towels. Apparently the old ladies who scrubbed them down took off each of their towels right away to get them comfortable. They said at first it was really awkward, but after awhile you didn’t even care. What a unique expierence!
Dinner that night was at a traditional Turkish restaurant. Each of the establishments try to lure you in by offering free apple tea’s and discounts. We had some Americans tell us this was their favorite place and ended up making friends with them. Our waiter was quite the aspiring magician and made the night a memorable one with fun magic tricks. Our new friends we made, Matt and Fizz, who both met one another in Istanbul (Networking again), let us know which sites to see.
Our second and final day I started out with a Turkish breakfast consisting of an omelet with vegetables and bread, and fruit salad–which was nice because it was the first time I had eaten similar to home. However, what you see outside a restaurant is not always what you get. The waffles some of my friends ordered looked nothing like the delicious picture outside. After breakfast we ran into Matt and Fizz and they offered to take us to see the Galata Tower. We took the tram and subway system which was very swift and clean.
Built in 1348, The Galata Tower stands as the cultural symbol of Istanbul and has the best view of the city. I couldn’t believe how big and beautiful Istanbul was (almost 12 million citizens!). From the tower we were able to overlook the bay, across from us were the mosques, and to the left was Asia… yeah, Asia! Istanbul is on both European and Asian continents. I have never been on one continent before and able to see the other, so cool.
We only have two weeks of classes left! Where has the time gone?
I’m going to leave you with one of my favorite quotes I see on billboards around town. “The more you look at the world, the more you recognize what really matters to people.” –HSBC
Untill next time…