This time I (E) decided to go to Porto, but with a long layover in Istanbul – a city that I’ve always wanted to visit. Since R was heading to San Diego for an electrochemistry conference at the same time, he couldn’t come with me… I mean… I sort of planned it this way because I had no desire to travel to the U.S. and why would I stay in Estonia when he’s gone? I got some cheap flight tickets to Porto, with a 28h layover in Istanbul. Since I’m a Middle East nerd, I kind of knew what to expect and was familiar with the culture in Turkey. But being there is a whole different story.
As soon as I got to the metro in the airport to travel towards Hagia Sophia, I noticed that people are staring at me, and the majority of them were men. Istanbul in general is very male-dominant. I didn’t see too many women during my time there. Long story short, on my way from Hagia Sophia to my hostel I got invited to 3 carpet shops, at least 5 restaurants, 3 fruit/candy shops (I decided to visit all of these, oops), 4 tea shops, and to smoke hookah and “have fun” with a young Turkish “charmer”. I have to mention that I wore the loosest clothing you can think of and my hair was braided. But I still felt really uncomfortable the entire time. They’re just very aggressive with their store-invitations.
(I wish I had a burka to wear to avoid all that “Hey blonde European girl come to my shop requests… I did have a hijab, or a head-scarf with me and as soon as I put it on I received almost no attention! yas!! I just wish I put it on earlier)
The Turkish “charmer” that I talked about before invited me to his restaurant, and since I said no to smoking hookah and “having fun” together I decided to go to “his” restaurant. Turned out that he was just working there and the restaurant actually belonged to another guy who spoke 5 or 6 languages and was very harsh with his other employees (I’m suspecting he was the owner). To leave all that aside, I had some really tasty food – all vegan, but super spicy and yummy. They also spoiled me with free tea and appetizers. The tea was the best I’ve ever had – really sweet apple tea. The whole thing cost me 30 TRY, which is about 10 EUR.
The highlight of my time in Istanbul was Hagia Sophia and meeting a really cool roommate in the hostel I stayed at.
Those of you who don’t know – Hagia Sophia has been both, a catholic church and also a mosque. In 1931 they secularized it and opened it as a museum for visitors. So you can spot there many elements from Islam, such as pretty “Allah” (the word) drawings and Jesus’ portraits. It was built in 537 AD, so I am pretty sure that it’s the oldest building I’ve ever visited.
This is the Blue Mosque which I didn’t get to visit, because it was closed already by the time I got out from Hagia Sophia.
I also decided to visit a spice/tea/fruit store and buy good tea and dried fruit. It was then when I made my first (and the best) bargain of my life, ha! I asked for fruit, tea etc for 20 TRY, but they managed to charge me 100 EUR in the end. And my reaction to that was “are you f’in kidding me???? I am not a rich white girl from Europe who has pockets full of money, I am from a poor Eastern European country!!” (it’s funny how I can make myself sound poor Eastern European and if needed then I’m a sophisticated individual from an European Silicon Valley which enjoys high economic growth in comparison to other former USSR states..mhahaha eeevilll). They were kind of speechless when I turned from this quiet, humble blonde girl to raging and accusing b*tch. I said I have 40 EUR, and this is the maximum (there was about 3kg of tea and 2 kg of dried fruit, and that’s expensive stuff.. although I asked for 100g of each). So we managed to make a deal for 50 EUR – still a lot more than I was hoping to spend in this store, but way better than 100 EUR. I thought I still paid too much, but then I met Yahya, my hostel roommate, who told me that 50EUR for all of that is a really good price.
I managed to get to my hostel by metro, and after 5 minutes I heard a knock on my door. I opened it and there was this tall Middle Eastern looking guy who asked if he may enter. And my question was “do you live here?” – obviously that turned out wrong and arrogant and he answered “yes”. I kind of apologized but remained suspicious because I was tired of “fighting” guys coming to talk to me or recruiting me to their stores. But I was dead wrong, because after I learned he’s from Libya, my Middle East nerd alter ego started talking immediately and I started asking questions and we immediately had a nice conversation about Libyan situation, war, U.S foreign policy, Arabic, and all other things that go with it. He said they’re going out to a pub with 2 American girls (I was not excited at all to meet them) and one Swiss guy and one German-Turkish guy.
So we all ended up in Irish pub drinking beer (besides Yahya, who doesn’t drink alcohol). That escalated quickly! American girls were nice like American girls usually are, so I was nice back to them, but I wasn’t really interested in hanging out with them. So I talked to Yahya instead and we had another good talk about Middle East, wars, women there, Turkey and all other relevant things. We headed back to the hostel early, because I was dead-tired. We spoke about 3 more hours and I also showed him Estonian singing festival (haha).
He is engaged to a Polish girl and they’re doing long-distance so I felt sorry for him, because I know how it sucks. I was so happy to meet him because he was the first male in Istanbul who wasn’t trying to initiate something or make weird remarks, comments/compliments. He’s also Muslim and very respectful to women. I also told him that it’s not too great to travel alone in Istanbul, and he as a gentleman obviously sent me to the airport which was 50mins by the train and also paid for the metro ticket because he had the card which gives you a discount. So refreshing to meet people like him after meeting bunch of assholes (sorry).
شكرا Yahya! / thank you Yahya! (Sorry for being out of focus)