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.

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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.

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(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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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شكرا Yahya! / thank you Yahya! (Sorry for being out of focus)

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