Sorry for the delay in posting, things here have been so hectic an busy that I have not had the chance to write much. Here is my entry about my first few weeks at school and in Istanbul. Enjoy!

What an incredible week and a half I have had! I have journeyed to Asia, began a hectic week at school, and visited one of the most charming fishing villages I have ever seen.

The Friday before school began, a group of exchange and Erasmus students decided to go to the Spice Bazaar in Sultanahamet, and then,  to take a ferry to the Asian side of Istanbul. We met in Sultanahmet early afternoon. We were a rather diverse group, representing the United States, France, Spain, Austria, and Germany! We were all hungry, and my French friend, Eloise, had a rather wonderful idea for lunch. On the edge of the water, in Sultanahmet, there were several, ridiculously gaudy boats bouncing in the waves, with signs advertising Balik Ekmek. Translated literally as ‘fish bread’, these fish sandwiches cost a mere four lira! To order you must choose a boat, walk up and order. They quickly assemble the sandwich made of fish, lettuce, and onions. Once you have been handed your Balik Ekmek, you then go sit at these small tables with stools which seemed to have been built for a hobbit! As our big group sat by the water, with waves splashing all around, we enjoyed our delicious lunch. The taste of fresh fish, and the view of the Bosphorous and Yeni Camii (New Mosque) made a perfect and interesting lunch.

After our bellies were full, we made our way to the Spice Bazaar, known in Turkish as the Misir, or Egyptian Bazaar. The covered pavilion was filled with booths carrying an array of spices, teas, and various Turkish candies. The smells of the various confections were wonderful! However, after seeing the hectic souqs of Fez and Marrakech, the Spice Bazaar in Istanbul appeared organized and tame in comparison. It was still an enjoyable experience and I managed to walk away with a gorgeous pashmina (I managed to bargain the price down from 20 lira to 15!).

After our adventure into the Bazaar, we decided we would go to Uskudar on the Asian side of Istanbul. The ferry cost a mere lira and a half! I never thought it would be so cheap to go from Europe to Asia! Our ferry took us to Haydarpaşa, an amazingly gorgeous train station built in 1872. Fr0m Haydarpaşa, Kate, Eloise, and I were not exactly sure how to make it to Uskudar, so we put my Turkish to the test and I asked a taxi driver. We were amazed that he gave us a free ride to the bus station bound for Uskudar! From the bus station we traveled to Uskudar. Our original plan had been to climb to the top of a hill in Uskudar known for its beautiful view of Istanbul. But alas, none of us knew how to get there. We settled with exploring. As we strolled along the streets, we stumbled upon a gorgeous mosque close to the pier, built in honor of the Valide Sultan (mother of the sultan), Emetullah Gülnuş. As we walked into the mosque, all three of us were unsure, since we were not Muslims, if we were allowed to enter. As we walked into the gardens of the mosque and up the stairs towards the entrance, a woman approached us. She pointed at our faces and muttered some words in Turkish. At first we thought maybe we could not enter the mosque, then we we figured maybe we needed to cover our shoulders. After many shoulder shrugs and laughter, we finally understood her words. As she pointed to our eyes she kept repeating,”Çok güzel”, which means very beautiful. What we thought had been a warning was actually a sweet compliment! We all smiled and thanked the woman. We preceded to the main part of the mosque which contained a gorgeous ablutions fountain in the center. It was late afternoon so the light caught the intricate carving and iron work in the fountain beautifully. We lingered a few minutes and watched as a few worshipers came in to wash there hands and feet. After seeing the mosque, with the sun setting, we decided it was time to head back to Europe. The last two days of summer vacation were relaxed, as I awaited the start of school eagerly.

The first week was a bit of a mess. I had four classes but ended up having to change two. I had originally enrolled in the second level of Turkish since I was already knew basic grammar, but I was shocked to discover that Beginning Turkish II was taught almost entirely in Turkish! So after speaking with the professor, I decided that I would benefit more from Beginning Turkish I. I feel a bit defeated for having to be in the first level, considering I worked very hard over the summer to acquire some of the language. However, I know I will learn more and be stronger in my Turkish ability with this course. My favorite class, unexpectedly, was my Islamic Art and Architecture course. The professor is wonderful and reminds me of many OU professors. I am really lucky that I will not have any classes on Friday, which will be perfect for weekends I decide to travel.

On Thursday, actually my ‘Friday’, a group of exchange and Turkish students rented a boat to take an evening cruise along the Bosphorous. The Bosphorous by night is breathtaking! The lights of the bridges lit up the Bosphorous beautifully as we sailed by.

The next day, on Friday, Eloise and I decided to go to northern Istanbul to the black sea. The small little town we went to is known as Rumeli Feneri. It was so beautiful and calm sitting by the black sea, undisturbed by the traffic and busyness of central Istanbul. Eloise had read that it was famous for its fish, so when we stepped off the bus we began wondering on the streets in search of fish. We stumbled upon this nice little restaurant overlooking the black sea and all the local fishing boats. We decided to order Balik Iskender or Fish Iskender. It was incredible! A mix of fish, tomatoes, thinly sliced potatos, and Turkish yogurt made for one perfect meal. After we finished and sipped some tea, we decided to wonder to the old fortress on the northern part of town. The fortress was incredible, built onto the rocky cliff overlooking the wavy black sea. Eloise and I explored and climbed up into the fort, stopping to sit and watch small fishing boats pass by. Rumeli Feneri was wonerful, I hope in the spring semester to go back when the weather is warmer, it would be the perfect place for a picnic! As the late afternoon approached, we headed back into the hustle and bustle of Istanbul.


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