As my flight landed a few days ago at Ataturk International Airport, a large smile came across my face. I had finally reached the destination I had been waiting for since January. It was surreal and exciting as I exited the plane and made my way towards customs. An old friend of mine, Derya, a Turkish girl who had lived with my family several years ago, met me at the international arrival gate. It was a heartfelt reunion as we embraced after not seeing each other for over five years! We waited at the airport for a few hours since Daniel and I flew to Istanbul separately. Leaving the airport, we boarded a bus bound for Taksim square , a popular destination for tourists and party goers. As the bus drove through the city, I was overwhelmed with the realization that this massive city would be my home for the next year. Daniel and Derya did their best to point out all the neighborhoods, though being at night and my first time in the city, I was extremely disoriented.

Once we reached Taksim, Derya headed to the Beşiktaş neighborhood while Daniel and I caught a cab for Rumeli Hisarustu, a mostly student neighborhood near Boğaziçi University. Later that evening, after settling in to my new neighborhood, Daniel and I headed to Taksim for a dinner of traditional Turkish kebap (roasted meat, usually lamb or beef). Although it was not my first time to try Turkish food, eating kebap in Taksim was heavenly! While I usually consider myself an adventurous eater, there was one part of the meal that night I did not enjoy. Daniel had ordered what is known a Ayran, a Turkish drink made from water and yogurt. I was initially wary of tasting it but Daniel assured me that is was delicious. Upon my first sip, I immediately thrust the cup back into Daniel’s hands. I am normally not so quick to judge a new food or drink, but this concoction tasted like watery sour milk. I think Ayran will be perhaps the one Turkish delicacy I avoid.

After eating some wonderful kebap, we headed to a small pedestrian street in Taksim filled with bars and small cafes. We sat at a bar which overlooked the busyness of the path. I learned the Turkish expressions for ordering the different sizes of the Turkish brewed Efes beer. Otuzüçluk, 33 CL, was the smallest size to order, followed by Ellilik, 50 CL, and Yetmişlik, 70 CL. After enjoying an Ellilik, I got a much needed night’s rest in my new home.

The next day, I went and explored the Boğaziçi campus. It is reminiscent of an east coast campus with old buildings and plenty of trees. From the main campus entrance there is a long walk down a hill with a wonderful view of the Bosphorous. The sight is absolutely breathtaking with small ferries and yachts scattered across the straight. After a short tour of my new campus, I took a quick bus and tram ride to the Galata Bridge, which crosses over the Golden Horn to Sultanahmet, the old part of Istanbul. As it is Bayram (Turkish word for holiday), Sultanahmet and the Galata Bridge were crowded with tourists and visitors from across Anatolia and other parts of the world. Crossing the Galata Bridge and overlooking the Golden Horn, I could see the great imperial architecture of the Byzantine and Ottoman Empires. To one direction there was the Haghia Sofia, a church turned mosque, and then to the other, lied Topkapi Palace, the Ottoman sultan’s residence. Walking along the cobblestone paths of Sultanahmet, there is an interesting mix of old and new. There are churches, mosques, and various other ruins and structures from past empires, then among the historic buildings, cars, trams, and buses pass by, not thinking twice of the contradiction. Strolling through the beautiful scenery, I bought Simit, a delectable Turkish pretzel-like pastry smothered in sesame seeds. While I loved wondering through the streets of old Istanbul, the uneven cobblestone began to wear on my feet quickly, so Daniel and I decided to head to Karaköy, a neighborhood famous for its Baklava. We ordered traditional pistachio and almond Baklava which came with a side of a type of homemade whipped cream. After my first bite, I instantly became addicted to the Turkish dessert. I had tried Baklava before in the states and had always enjoyed it, but the Baklava from the famous shop, Güllüoğlu, was love at first taste.

My first full day in Istanbul was quite overwhelming at times. Surrounded by a foreign language and unfamiliar neighborhoods, it was a bit intimidating and in some instances discouraging. I tried to stay upbeat, reminding myself to take things one step at a time, and that one day it will all become second nature. I am truly thrilled for the journey ahead of me, which I hope will open my eyes to fresh and exciting possibilities.


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