Above is a picture of perhaps the worst beach on this here planet Earth. More on that later - but it sits front and center because, to some extent, it visually represents the time period between my last post and now. Since Muslim Turks were celebrating Kurban Bayramı from September 24th through September 27th, Boğaziçi classes do not start until Monday, the 28th. Accordingly, I'm winding down a long, exciting, and completely unplanned vacation.
I took the morning and afternoon of the first Friday to myself. After sleeping in, I ordered a delicious Eggs Menemen (Turkish egg dish with tomatoes and peppers) at a nearby cafe. In the States, the same restaurant could easily charge twenty dollars for the dish, but with the current Lira/Dollar exchange rate, I payed just under six. I then went on a run up Nesbitiye Caddessi, a bustling Etiler avenue great for people-watching. Later, a group of us met up for dinner at Mutfack, a local restaurant that has become a staple in our circle.
The next night, we took a bus to central Beşiktaş, where we drank tea and played Tavla (Backgammon) for hours. This type of night, in which a group sits down to dinner (or just tea) for hours, is very common here. In many establishments, waiters will even bring free tea whenever they see an empty cup. It's a nice alternative to many stateside servers, who prod you to leave by placing a bill on your table accompanied by a disingenuous "I'll just leave this here for whenever you're ready".
On Sunday, we explored the Levent malls. I say malls, not mall, because there are three enormous malls in one city block. We didn't get very far within the huge complex because we were starving by the time we arrived. I had been eating almost entirely Turkish food until this night, when we decided to get some comfort food at Shake Shack. The Smokeshack burger and fries tasted as delicious as it does on Chestnut Street, but somehow it was one of the most expensive meals I've bought in Turkey!
A friend's family came to visit on Monday and generously took a large group of us out to dinner in Bebek. We sat in a fish restaurant on the water and picked on some delicious Meze (Turkish Tapas) while watching Asia twinkle from across the Bosphorus.
We set aside Wednesday to make travel plans for the semester. Five hours after meeting at a friend's apartment, we accomplished a few emails, three eaten bowls of ice cream, a grocery run, and zero travel plans. We knew we had failed, but there was no time to work, as the rest of our group arrived for the home-cooked dinner we had promised. We made bruschetta and spaghetti with sausage and a garlic cream sauce, and passed around some wine. It was relieving to finally eat in, as my dorm has no stove and I had been eating out for every meal. An impromptu sleepover and Blackjack with imaginary bets followed.
Thursday marked the beginning of the holiday, so the town was abnormally quiet. We got a Turkish breakfast at one of the only restaurants that was open, then trekked to one of our favorite (top secret) locations - Kitten Village. Kitten Village is a small plateau at the top of a long staircase where a dozen kittens and half as many cats live and are taken care of by some elusive Turkish angels. Needless to say, the four of us cuddled with kittens for the entire afternoon.
Since we had spent the majority of our free time in our immediate area (note - we are not allowed to leave the country until we get our residence permits), we decided to take a day trip to the Prince Islands in the Sea of Marmara.
The ferry to the islands, as part of Istanbul's comprehensive public transportation system, costed a Lira and a half - about fifty cents. However, we were almost trampled in the holiday crowd to board the ferry, and it stopped at every island, making us wait over two hours to get to our destination, Büyükada (literally meaning "Big Island").
When we arrived, we herded on to the main street, where thousands of local and international tourists were buying ice cream, street food, etc. The architecture was stunning - a grandiose, ottoman-inspired beach style with pastel colors. We bought bikes and rode up the street adjacent to the water in the direction of what we came for: the beach. Horse-drawn carriages, the only legal form of transportation on the island besides bikes, raced past us before we stopped at a park for some fresh Gözleme (a quick and filling dough/potato snack).
Now return to the first photo of the beach. It doesn't look so bad here - because you're seeing the entire fourteen square feet of sand this beach possesses. The rest of the beach (remember: beach!) is inexplicably covered in not grass, not wood, but ASTROTURF. The astroturf is in turn covered with dirty beach chairs that nobody sits on. Furthermore, the water is filled with trash, and you can only swim about forty feet out into the sea. Some enterprising islanders believed that this beautiful alcove they had "enhanced" warranted a thirty-Lira entrance fee. This was one of those experiences that was so bad it was good; we spent two hours in hysterics over how this ridiculous place could possibly exist. After the beach, we biked around the island and ate dinner with a view of the south side of Asian Istanbul.
On Saturday afternoon, we ventured again to Sultanahmet to check out the Spice Bazaar. To our dismay, it was still closed for the holiday. However, we made the most of our evening. While walking around and looking in shops, we stumbled upon Süleymaniye Mosque. This mosque was just as beautiful as the better-known Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia, and had even more beautiful views of both the Bosphorus and the Golden Horn.
Today, I had a filling Turkish breakfast and organized for classes tomorrow. I would usually feel somber and anxious on a vacation's Sunday, but that feeling is not present at this moment. Although the upcoming semester won't be the breezy limbo that these past two weeks were, it contains adventures and discoveries of even greater caliber.