See you later Istanbul…

In Turkey, when you part ways, it is not common to say ‘goodbye’ but rather, ‘see you later’. ‘Görüşmek’ in Turkish means ‘to meet’. Adding the ‘ürüz’ to the end changes the word to mean ‘we will meet soon’. How Turks bid each other farewell tell a lot about their culture and their outlook on life. My short time here has shown me that Turks enjoy the moment, and questions about the uncertain future are left to the future. Turks like the serendipitous nature of life, and like to leave all possibilities open. Saying ‘görüşürüz’ to my friends here has not been a heart-wrenching task, but rather a joyful ‘hello’ to the next phase. The Turks around me do not dwell on the time I will be away, but they smile and wholeheartedly wish me the best of luck. My friends do not know when they will seen again, but they smile at the possibility of a future meeting.

I have come to feel, that in our culture, we fear an uncertain future. We seek to plan almost every moment, and become filled with anxiety when an unknown factor enters the equation. Unknown possibilities often frighten us, especially when parting from loved ones. We ask ourselves, “When will we meet again?”, “Will we get to speak to each other frequently?”. “What if this or that?”. We are nearly paralyzed with these questions, unable to look forward positively to a future full of countless possibilities. This is why, in my time in Turkey, I have come to admire the Turkish outlook of life.

Instead of obsessing or dwelling on the future they leave it up to the cosmos. You will often hear Turks say, ‘inşallah’, when referring to the future. “God willing” they say. It is not so much a religious mantra, but an acknowledgment that not everything can be controlled. We are only capable of so much in this world, everything else must be left up to chance.

So, as I leave an amazing city, country, and people, I do not shed tears of sadness, but of joy. I smile, bittersweetly, at the end of one chapter and beginning of another. I am filled with excitement at the possibilities the future may hold. I hope to return to Turkey upon graduation in December, but as I have learned here, nothing can be certain in the future. I must keep my heart and mind open, and enjoy the unexpected twists and turns life may bring me. So, as I pack my bags and head back to the US, I smile and say,

İstanbul, görüşürüz inşallah…

After the end of every song, my Turkish friend Semih, without fail, would sit straight clapping and smiling as he said enthusiastically, “çok iyi ya!” “So good” he proclaimed! Semih, my tall, thin friend from Tokat, could not have described the notes and rhythms  of Erkan Oğur any better.

Last weekend, a student group at Bogazici, working in collaboration with a Turkish organization called ILKYAR, invited the famous Turkish folk musician Erkan Oğur to perform at a concert benefiting ILKYAR. The organization travels to schools all across Turkey with the aim of promoting a broader world view and to encourage education in very rural areas of Turkey (

Erkan Oğur grew up in Southeastern Turkey where he showed a keen interest in traditional and folk Turkish music. Oğur mostly performs ancient Turkish and folk music using such instruments as the ‘bağlama’ ( and ‘oud’ ( I was amazed at the age of some of the pieces performed. “This is a song from Urfa during the 15th century,” Esad would inform me. Then even more astounding was listening to the audience, in perfect harmony and unison, singing along with the melody. Wide-eyed and smiling, I was blown away by the lasting impact each song seemed to have. The melody, rhythm, and lyrics were ageless, spanning generations and from one empire to the next to the Turkish Republic. During intermission, my Turkish friends, who had first informed me of the concert, taught me a little piece of folk music trivia. When many of these pieces were written, copyright, as we know it, did not exist. So, the composers would sneakily work their name into the lyrics towards the end of the song. Moreover, they said when you hear the name it is an indication that the song was coming to the end.

Watching Erkan Oğur play is fascinating. His eyes appear half closed, as if he is in deep thought. Between notes, his hand floats back and forth above his bağlama. At one point I felt myself drifting off into a dream-like state, not out of boredom but in meditation. Each note was weighted, emotional, played from the heart. Erkan Oğur seems to have a way to pull each of the listeners into his trance. You cannot simply listen to the music he plays, you must experience it.

If you are interested in listening to Erkan Oğur renditions of Turkish folk music, my personal favorites are: ‘Pencereden Kar Geliyor’ (Snow Comes From the Window), ‘Dersimde Dört Dağ İçinde’ (Dersim is in Between Four Mountains), and ‘Zeynebim’ (My Zeynep).

The past few weekends in Turkey have been filled with exploring, cooking, and adventures. Despite a few cold days here and there, Spring is beginning to blossom. The days have been clear with a bright sun. I have heard Istanbul is incredible during Springtime when all the flowers begin to bloom. I cannot wait to have a picnic under blooming trees with the Bosphorous in the background.

On one particularly sunny Saturday afternoon, about a week or two ago, some friends and I, Daniel and Esad, decided we would visit the neighborhood of Uskudar, on the Asian side. We took the ferry across and since the weather was wonderful we sat outside, watching the waves and ships sail through the straight. The ride to Uskudar from Besiktas, a European neighborhood, is rather quick, maybe ten minutes at the most. We arrive in a bustling Uskudar and decided to walk to a hillside nargile cafe overlooking the Bosphorous and the European side. Walking north, along the mansion lined Bosphorous, Daniel, an Istanbul expert, pointed out all the mansions of the affluent Turkish families. We arrived at the cafe and sat with a beautiful view. We drank hot Turkish cay (tea) and smoked apple nargile. I have been working on my smoke rings, however it was slightly too windy to form them successfully.  As the sun began to lower we headed back to Europe.

That night for dinner, I decided to introduce a little bit of Texas culture to my Turkish friends. For a few days, I had been bragging about how delicious Tex-Mex was. So, we stopped by a large grocery store where I was able to find most of the ingredients to make chicken fajitas. I was so excited to begin cooking! I had to make a few substitutions since not all of the ingredients can be found in Turkey. For example, I was unable to find cilantro or lime for guacamole, so I used parsley and lemon instead. Esad was my assistant and was very eager to see how the dish was made. I grilled green and red bell pepper, spicy peppers (similar to a jalapeno but slightly different in taste), and made Turkish-adapted guacamole. After everything was prepared and the tortillas warmed up. It was time to show my Turkish friends how to properly eat fajitas. However, before it was time to roll them, I had to give a lesson on the proper pronunciation of the word ‘tortilla’. “Say it ‘tortiya’ not ‘tortila’. Everyone got a kick out of the seemingly unusual pronunciation. I showed everyone how to properly wrap a tortilla before we enjoyed a Tex-Mex classic. It was so exciting to share something unique about my home to my friends, who have been so helpful in introducing me to their culture. Everyone seemed to enjoy the mix of flavors in the fajitas. After we finished eating, they asked if there were any other cultural dishes I knew how to cook. I have a growing list now, including chicken-fried steak and iced tea.

The next weekend was equally lovely. Saturday morning a group of us gathered at Daniel’s apartment and made a huge Turkish breakfast. Esad made menemen (eggs mixed with cheese, green and red peppers and pastirma which is dried beef), we had an array of different Turkish cheeses, olives, and fresh bread from the bakery down the street. My favorite part of the whole meal was sharing the skillet of menemen. We set the huge skillet in the middle of the table and used the fresh bread to scoop out the eggs. We have prepared these large Turkish breakfasts on several occasions and the ‘communal’ eating really enhances the experience. We all talk and laugh as we truly share a meal together. After we finished our large meal we decided that it was the perfect weather for fishing.

With our fishing pole and bucket, our little ‘family’ as we like to call it, headed down the hill from our neighborhood to Arnavutkoy, which translates to ‘Albanian Village’. Arnavutkoy is a historical area along the Bosphorous filled with old wooden Ottoman houses. We spotted a bench near the water and set up. Esad taught me the very different manner of fishing in the Bosphorous. Using a large pole with three to four small shiny hooks, Esad would through the line into the water and move the rod side to side as he reeled it in. I had never seen anyone fish in such a manner! But, as I looked at fellow fisherman, they were using the same technique. Unfortunately we were unable to catch anything. It seems we were not there at the right time of day since I have been told the fish usually feed in the early morning or in the evening, before sunset.

We decided that since our fishing endeavor proved fruitless to go to Beyazit, a neighborhood named after Beyazit Camii, to smoke nargile. We went to Çorlulu Ali Pasha, an old medressa (Islamic religious school) located behind Beyazit. Next to the medressa is the covered-patio nargile cafe. In all of Istanbul, it is one of my favorite places to go and enjoy nargile. The cafe is lined with chairs and people sitting shoulder to shoulder ‘drinking’, as you would say in Turkish, their water pipe. Green apple and melon are popular flavors, but I personally love rose. We all sat around a small table sipping cay and smoking. I again practiced my smoke rings and they proved quite successful!

We will have our Spring Break in the next month and a small group of us will go to the Mediterranean region of Turkey. Our main destination will be the ancient Greek city of Olympos, famous for its beaches and Greek ruins. I cannot wait for the warm sun and swimming in the Mediterranean!

I hope everyone has had a wonderful Thanksgiving! Despite not eating Turkey, I had an enjoyable Thanksgiving. A group of us went to a nice restaurant and shared a nice meal together. We even went around the table saying what we are thankful for! It was great to share this not only with other Americans, but to introduce the holiday to some of our other exchange friends.

About a week ago we had a week off from school for what is known as Bayram (it is basically a general term for a religious holiday). This particular Bayram was in honor of family and friends who had passed away. Generally, everyone goes home and spends the week with their family. One of my exchange friends, Memik, a Turkish guy from Germany, invited me as well as two others, Julien, and Kyo, to spend the week with his extended in Gaziantep. Gaziantep is known for the role it played in World War I in preventing the French from taking over the region ( Gaziantep is a city of about one million located in southeastern Turkey, approximately thirty minutes north of Syria.  By bus it takes nearly eighteen hours from Istanbul. We opted to fly there instead which took a mere hour and a half! When we arrived in Gaziantep I knew we were in a different world. There was hardly any traffic noise, the sun was much brighter, and the air, since we were in a deserty area, much more dusty. Memik and his cousin met us at the airport, excited to introduce us to a new city and culture. As we drove towards the city center, I laughed when I saw a rather large bull standing in the bed of someone’s truck. Memik explained that it was customary on the first day of Bayram, which was the following day, to sacrifice and cook either a bull or sheep. In certain neighborhoods all over Gaziantep, you could see sheep being sold and carried home. It was quite the sight!

Gaziantep is famous for its cuisine. Ask any Turk and they will tell you that Gaziantep has the best kepab and Baklava in all of Turkey. We were all hungry, so Memik and his cousin took us to this small restaurant in the middle of a park. We were served chicken kepab wrapped in a thick bread called pide. It was incredible! I practically inhaled the sandwich. The rest of the day we wandered the city, the Gaziantep castle, and the old bazaar. In the bazaar we discovered an old Ottoman hotel that had been converted to a cafe. In the middle of the cafe there was a large platform covered in carpet with pillows and cushions set all around to act as seats. We came back that night and enjoyed some of the best nargile I had ever had!

The next day was the first day of Bayram and the city seemed like a ghost town compared to the previous day. Memik took us to his uncle’s countryside home where we spent the afternoon learning to play the Turkish domino game ‘okey’. That evening, Memik’s family invited us to share dinner with them for the first night of Bayram. It was such a treat to see at least three generations of Memik’s family gathered around! As we entered the house, we were greeted with great big smiles, hugs, and kisses. If I hadn’t known better I would have thought I was Memik’s long lost cousin! We all sat in the living room as the family gathered around, curious about us. Some of Memik’s family members had never met anyone from another country. I think it was a treat for me as well as the family. I practiced the little Turkish I knew and blushed whenever I could not understand something. Everyone was very patient, especially Memik’s mother, coming all the way from Germany. She spoke slowly and clearly. Speaking with her I felt like an expert in Turkish! As we waited for dinner the women in Memik’s family invited me into the kitchen to watch them make homemade çiğ köfte ( Traditionally, çiğ köfte is made with raw meat, however it is illegal to sell it with raw meat in shops and restaurants. So, the only way to eat authentic çiğ köfte is to have someone make it in their home. Well, I was lucky enough to do that. I watched Memik’s aunt mix, by hand, meat and spices in a large vat! All the women watched my face as I smiled and took pictures. Dinner was soon brought out: sheep, killed that day, and çiğ köfte. It was wonderful! As guests we were served first, then the oldest to the youngest man. It was interesting to see the more traditional and formal side of Turkish culture, especially within a family setting. We spent the rest of the evening chatting with Memik’s large family. They asked us about family life in our countries and we asked about their’s. At the end of the night we took a group picture. It was such a treat to be welcomed into a family with open arms and experience their traditions.

The next day in Gaziantep, was even better! We woke up early and enjoyed a typical Gaziantep breakfast of soup! I had never had soup for breakfast but it was a delicious surprise. After breakfast we headed out of Birecik and Halfetti. First was Birecik, a small town about an hour outside of Gaziantep. In Birecik I certainly felt like I was in the near east. It was dusty, crowded, and exhilarating. We climbed a cliff containing old castle ruins. The ruins were run down but an amazing site to see. Climbing the dusty cliff was quite a feat. It was steep and a few times I slipped. At the top we explored and admired the view. After, we made our way down, stopping at a freshwater fountain to clean off. The water was cool and incredibly clear- very refreshing after climbing in the heat. After Birecik we went to Halfetti, the birthplace of Memik’s grandparents and a small town along the Euphrates river. The small town looked majestic as we drove towards it, nestled perfectly along the Euphrates. Halfetti was partially flooded a few years before to support a new dam. Near the shore line you can see the tops of houses and even a mosque! In Halfetti we went to Memik’s grandfather’s childhood home which had been converted into a lovely restaurant by the Euphrates. After lunch came the highlight of the entire trip.

All of us boarded a small boat and began a tour of the timeless Euphrates. I could not stop smiling and I nearly cried at the thought of traveling along a river which has supported some of the most influential ancient civilizations. For me it was equivalent to seeing the pyramids of Egypt. Something I had studies since primary school, I never would have imagined that I would ever step foot into where ancient Mesopotamia once lied. The waters were clear and as I touched the water as we floated along I soaked in the experience. Towards the end of the boat trip we climbed up a large cliff to Rumkale, meaning Roman Castle in Turkish. It was  a fortress used by both Byzantines and Armenians. From the top, the Euphrates seemed to stretch on forever. We lingered for about an hour; none of us could stop taking pictures of this natural beauty.

After our journey of the Euphrates we headed back to Gaziantep. For dinner we ate something quite unsual, Paça Çorbası. It is a soup made from the brain and tongue of a sheep. I asked for only ‘normal’ meat in mine, but after admitting I liked the taste, Memik and his cousin confessed to me that I was enjoying tongue! I must confess that it was rather tasty.

The next day was relaxed and we went to the Mosiac Museum displaying mosaics from the ancient city, Zeugma, located near present day Gaziantep. The following morning, our last day, we enjoyed a large Turkish breakfast, complete with soup, fresh cheese, and olives, with Memik’s family.

I really enjoyed seeing another part of Turkey where life seemed much different than in Istanbul, however I realized that I was now beginning to consider Istanbul home! Coming back to the large, crowded city, was oddly relaxing and comforting. I was home.

Since school has started things have been quite hectic for me here. Lots of reading and lots of activities! There is one group on campus here at Bogazici, the Erasmus Student Network, which caters specifically to Erasmus and exchange students. During the first month of school they have organized several events for us, one being a weekend trip to the Black Sea region of Turkey. We went to the towns of Safranbolu (, famous for its saffron Turkish Delight and Ottoman architecture, and Amasra, an incredibly beautiful town along the Black Sea.  The trip was incredible! We ate lunch at the old Safranbolu caravansary and went to hear Turkish music at night, where I learned to dance the Halay, a traditional Turkish dance.  In Amasra, we wondered the small picturesque town which sits calmly along the Black Sea. We were lucky enough to take a boat ride which cost only 4 Liras! It was absolutely breathtaking. As I sat at the bow of the boat the sun gleamed and the waves crashed into the surrounding cliffs. Going back to chaotic Istanbul was slightly sad, I had loved the time in the peaceful Black Sea region!

A week later was Turkish Republic Day! It celebrates when Turkey became an independent republic under Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. As I wondered the city, I had never seen so many national flags displayed! Every shop, building, and school proudly displayed the red and white banner. That night, a group of us went to Besiktas to watch the yearly fireworks display. The fireworks are shot from four different locations along the Bosphorous. As we looked across the Bosphorous to Asia, we saw one of the most incredible firework shows any in our group had ever seen! Brilliant colors from all angles illuminated a clear sky. All of us were awestruck. It was truly wonderful to join in with Turkish people, as well as others from around the world, to celebrate their national holiday.

As I said earlier, ESN has been so great at organizing events for the exchange students. This past Thursday they held a traditional Fasil Night. A Fasil Night consists of mezes (Turkish h’ordeuvres),Raki ( and of course, lots of dancing. The night began with eating and sipping Raki, which I personally do not care for. It is an alcoholic beverage heavily flavored with anise. I have never been a fan of licorice so Raki, while ok in small doses, was not my favorite drink of the night. After we ate and sipped our Raki, we commenced dancing to traditional Turkish music. We all crowded together singing and dancing!  The night did not end until about 2am!

This next week is a Turkish religious holiday, or Bayram. We have the whole week off from school, so I will be traveling to Gaziantep and Urfa in southeastern Turkey, both cities famous for their cuisine. An exchange friend of mine has family there, so I, with two other exchange students from France and Japan, will stay and tour the city with their family. I cannot wait to see how people from the complete opposite side of Turkey live, and how it compares to life in Istanbul!

I will be sure and write about my next adventures soon! Görüşürüz!

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.

A few days ago, Eloise, Eva, and another exchange student from Hungary, went to the Princes’ Islands. This chain of Islands, the two largest being Buyukada and Heybeliada, is located in the Sea of Marmara, about a forty-five minute ferry ride from the European side of Istanbul. During the time of the Byzantine Empire, those exiled from the empire would be sent here. However, after seeing the beautiful and peaceful landscape of these islands, I hardly see living there as a punishment!

Early morning, we all met in Kabataş to board the ferry. We had all wanted to sit on the benches that lined the outside of the ship, but since those were the best seats in the house, they were filled quickly. The ride was bumpy and I was incredibly thankful not to have become seasick. We all agreed that we would stop first in the second to last island, Heybeliada. Cars are forbidden on Heybeliada, making it ideal for hiking and bike riding. As we stepped of f the boat and onto the dock, we noticed something peculiar in the sunlit water. These strange looking creatures appeared to be floating near the surface. They were Jellyfish! I had only seen jellyfish in pictures and at the aquarium, so to see them in the wild was rather exciting!

The small little town center was filled with cafes, bike shops, and quaint hotels. Without any cars, seeing men in their trousers and herringbone caps,  and walking along cobblestone streets, was like being transported into another time. It was a welcomed getaway to all the hustle and bustle of mainland Istanbul. Our group decided that we wanted to rent bikes and ride to a small beach on the opposite side of the island. I could not believe how inexpensive it was to rent a bike for the entire day. With a mere seven lira, about four dollars and sixty cents, I had a bike, complete with a basket. My only complaint was that the bike, the smallest they had, was just a little big for my petite size. When I sat on the seat my tip toes barely touched the ground!

Before we set out, we decided to stop at a lokanta (a small buffet-type restaurant) and ordered köfte (Turkish meatballs) sandwhiches to go. Ordering was quite interesting since the restaurant owners did not speak English, and the best phrase I could come up with was, “Üç köfte alabalirmiyim (I would like three kofte)….to go.” The last bit caused some eyebrows to raise, so, my friends and I tried to demonstrate leaving the restaurant. This led to more confusion as the owners encouraged us to sit down. Eventually, I mentioned bicycles which yielded an understanding. “Ahh, ‘paket’,” the owner realized. We all smiled. Despite the language barrier, we were able to communicate. It was amazing to see that a lack of a common language was only a small hindrance in communicating.

Food packed and map in hand, we set out in search of the beach. The ride across the island was beautiful and very tiring at times. Hill after hill, it seemed as if we would never arrive. Well, after getting a bit lost, we found our beach. We had to leave our bikes up on the hill since the beach was a rather steep walk down the cliff. The rocky beach was breathtaking. You could see yachts scattered across the Marmara, and the crystal blue waves hitting the rocks was beyond surreal. Before we dove into the cool waters of the Marmara, we enjoyed our köfte sandwiches. I had forgotten to wear my swimsuit underneath my clothes so I had to journey into the trees to find an appropriate dressing room. I recruited Eloise to hold a towel up. We both giggled as we saw others down on the beach and our friends waiting near by. I was terrified that someone would catch a glimpse of my behind! Dressed, and without incident, we all headed a bit more down the path to the water. The rocky climb down was a bit scary, because the wrong step could cause you to slip and fall onto a very rocky bottom.

Once we arrived safely, it was time, after a somewhat exhausting bike ride, to relax. The water was cold but refreshing. As the waves hit us we would lose our balance falling into the water. We sat the rest of the afternoon in the little cove, skipping rocks, floating in the cool water, and watching as the yachts sailed by, Buyukada in the background. After about three hours of lazing around, we decided to head back to the pier. We finished riding around the length of the island, and arrived at the pier, exhausted, and proud of our trek.

This time, as we boarded the ferry, we were lucky enough to score seats the on perimeter of the ferry. As the sun set, and the ocean sprayed our faces, were were awestruck by the beauty that surrounded us. Approaching the European side of Istanbul, the colors of sunset were the perfect backdrop for the end of an exciting day.
Look for my pictures of Princes’ Island on facebook! Also, for those of you interested in another perspective of Istanbul,  although the blog is in French, and to get a look at some fantastic pictures, check out my dear friend Eloise’s blog at

My first week and a half in Istanbul has been amazing, nerve racking, exciting, and overwhelming. As I adjust to this new environment I am faced with daily challenges but also wonderful opportunities to discover a new city and country.

My first weekend in Istanbul was rather eventful. On Saturday,after wondering through a small bazaar in Besiktas, Daniel, Derya, and I went to Taksim square to enjoy Turkish Coffee (similar to espresso). The place we went to was located on a tiny alley just off the main street, Istiklal. The small outdoor cafe had a rather unique name, “Even the Buffalo Won’t Sink”, due to the thickness of the coffee. I learned there are three ways to order Turkish Coffee, without sugar, with little, and then with a lot. I opted for the second option. Because of how strong the coffee is, you must take small sips, otherwise the taste can be bitter. After we had sipped all of our coffees, it was time to flip our cups over and have our fortunes read. As the cup cool, and the grounds fall down the side of the cup, your fortune is revealed. I had so much fun analyzing the coffee grounds to find some sort of meaning. Later that evening, after our coffee, it was time to head to another part of the city, to watch the basketball match. That night, Turkey was scheduled to play Serbia in the FIBA World Basketball Championship. Daniel and I went to another cafe, with his friend Saime, to enjoy çay and nargile while we watched the game. The cafe was filled with Turks ready to cheer for their country. It had to have been one of the most exciting matches I have ever watched. Turkey and Serbia were never more than a few points a part. As the game came to an end, and Turkey was behind, the tension was thick. Men were jumping up and yelling at the screen, waving their arms in frustration. But, within the last few moments, Turkey scored, winning the game and a spot in the final match against USA! The next day, Turkey would face the United States in the final match. At our table, many asked which country I would support. With Kevin Durant, representing Oklahoma and the USA, my answer was obvious. The next day, Saime, Daniel, and some others, all gathered at Daniel’s place to watch the game. I had had the suspicion that the U.S. would walk away victorious, but I was hoping for a closer game. The win was somewhat bittersweet since it would have been wonderful to see the festivities had Turkey won.

That same day, Sunday, Turkey also voted on a constitutional referendum. In 1980, there was a military coup which adopted a new constitution – put in place to prevent what the military saw as an undemocratic government. The constitutional referendum to be voted on, would grant the executive and legislative branches of Turkey more power, a lot of which they lost in 1980. Surprisingly, the referendum past with a rather significant margin. It was interesting to see all the signs and banners for and against the proposed changes.

After an exciting weekend, things slowed down. For the first time since arriving I felt homesick. I realized I was not just visiting, but that I would be living in this ‘strange’ city for one year! It was an overwhelming thought! Since my roommates work during the day, I spent my first few days in my new apartment alone. I knew this was not good for my morale, so one afternoon, I decided I would go to the store to buy shampoo, conditioner, and some other small items I needed. The idea seemed simple enough, but as I approached the shelf containing an assortment of shampoos and conditioners, I realized, I could not read nor understand Turkish. What I had planned on being a trip to relax my mind, only reminded me how far from home I was. Feeling defeated, I walked back to my apartment. I felt so relieved the next day, when Derya called offering to take me shopping. At the store, she taught me the various words I might see on a shampoo or soap bottle. I think the next time I need an item from the store, I will be fully prepared. That evening, I went with Derya, and her boyfriend Arda, to a small bar in Taksim square. As we walked in, I was shocked and overjoyed to see Texas license plates nailed to the wall. I think the bartender was somewhat baffled by my interest in what to him was a simple decoration. To top it off, as Derya, Arda, and I talked over Efes, a familiar tune came on. I started tapping my foot and then it hit me, it was Stevie Ray Vaughan playing! I never thought, that as I was sitting in Istanbul, Turkey, that I would hear the great blues musician, from Dallas, Texas! Again, I smiled and started rocking to the beat of  ‘Pride and Joy’. Whoever thought, that someone from the neighborhood of Oak Cliff ,would ever make it so far!

A few days later, on Friday, I had my orientation. As I walked to campus, which has an amazing view of the Bosphorous, it was wonderful to see so many exchange students, people who were going through the ups and downs, just like me. There, I met two girls, Eloise from France, and Eva from Spain. We instantly bonded. It was refreshing to make friends who were as fascinated and nervous as I was by this new experience. After our orientation, and a delicious Turkish dinner provided by the International Relations office, we headed to a bar with a lovely terrace, and a beautiful view of the Bosphorous. Surrounded by people from all over the world, we discussed our experiences so far in Istanbul. We all were similar, that while nervous, we were in awe of the amazing history, cultural richness, and liveliness of the city around us. Eva, Eloise, and I decided that in a few weeks we want to travel to Pamukkale, a small city in southwestern Turkey famous for its hot springs and calcium deposits.

I have been quite proud of myself in navigating the city. I have successfully taken several bus rides alone from my neighborhood to Besiktas and Taksim square. I have noticed that once I memorized the bus numbers it has not been so difficult to find my way around Istanbul. When I first arrived I was more than overwhelmed by the traffic, buses, and trains, but, transportation in Istanbul, in my opinion, is very ‘user friendly’ and bus drivers are always more than happy to point you in the right direction. The one curious thing I have noticed, is that hardly anyone speaks on the bus or train. Several people have told me that during peak hours, when the buses and trains are packed with people, it would be too unbearable to have everyone speak. So, out of habit, most people just sit in silence when commuting. Being a rather talkative person, this has been one thing I have yet to get used to…


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.

Finally, following nine days of traveling from the U.S. to Frankfurt to Morocco, I have landed safe and sound in Istanbul Turkey. The city is huge and a bit overwhelming at first, but I know in time I will become accustomed to the hustle and bustle.

My time spent in Morocco was incredible, each city showing different aspects of the Moroccan culture. Casablanca was busy, the streets seemed to have no order. To cross an intersection in a cab, or the street with your groceries required a leap of faith. There were many times I would grab Daniel’s arm and clench my teeth, hoping to make it across safely! We only spent one day in Casablanca before heading to Rabat, the capital of Morocco. While in Casablanca we toured the grand Hassan II mosque, one of the largest religious structures in the world. Approaching from a distance the minaret seemed not to be abnormally large, but as I walked closer it began to tower over me, as if I was an ant! The inside, being designed by King Hassan II’s best friend, a European architect, was reminiscent of the many great cathedrals in Italy. It was a curious mix of Islamic and European architecture complete with muqarnas ( and Milano glass chandeliers. Other than the Hassan II mosque there was not much to see of Casablanca. So after wondering the chaotic streets, Daniel and I set out for Rabat.

In Rabat, which is about an hour north of Casablanca, Lamyae El Hatimi, a friend and former exchange student at OU, met Daniel and I at the incredibly nice Rabat Ville train station. We headed to her downtown apartment, complete with a view of the main square. That evening, we were able to join her family for Iftar (breaking of the fast during the month of Ramadan). There was an incredible spread of food on the table, my personal favorites being Harira, a Moroccan soup, and Chbaqia, a sweet pastry with honey and sesame seeds. After a quite filling Iftar, which should not be confused with dinner, which comes around 1 A.M. during the month of Ramadan, Lamyae took Daniel and I to the Medina marketplace. It was extraordinarily busy! The streets of Rabat went from being completely empty during Iftar, to bustling with shoppers, cafer-goers, and children buying candy and toys. Time in Morocco seems to reverse during the day during Ramadan – the streets are somewhat calm in the day and crowded at night once the sun sets. The next day, after a much needed night’s rest, Daniel and I headed to the Chellah, the original Roman settlement in Rabat. The ruins were overgrown with lemon trees and flowers, but it only contributed to the beauty and mystique of the ancient city. We roamed around the grounds for hours discovering an orange tree, where we plucked a ripe orange and ate it along the path. At one point we got lost in a thicket of trees and cactus where we worried that perhaps we would not find our way out. Sun-kissed and sweaty, we left the Chellah and walked a few kilometers towards the Mausoleum of Mohammad V. King Mohammad V is credited with gaining independence for Morocco from France and is a much beloved figure. The mausoleum is one of two Islamic structures in all of Morocco that non-Muslims are permitted to enter. The large complex, uncompleted due to an earthquake, was large and very elaborate. Gaurds, dressed in traditional uniforms, stand watch at the tomb of the first king of an independent Morocco. Once the day drew to a close I was exhausted!

The next stop on our long journey across Morocco took us to the city of Fez, considered to be the spiritual and cultural center of Morocco. The three hour train ride dropped us at the ville nouvelle, where we commenced a long walk towards the Medina. Whenever we stopped to look at our map, we were approached by locals encouraging, then pleading, us to follow them to the Medina. “Come, my friend, I will take you there” was always the line so carefully delivered. When we would appear to ignore their pleas they promised that the guide was free of charge. Never did we yield though, for despite their beliefs, these two Americans were running on very little money. After a myriad of streets, alleys, and shopkeepers, we arrived tired and in one piece at the small hotel buried deep within the Medina. Hungry and thirsty, we left our hotel and headed to a quaint restaurant (literally, it was one small kitchen with tables outside). The food was fantastic! I ate chicken couscous, of course, in the traditional Moroccan style of scooping up the food with bits of bread. Following the massive yet delicious meal, Daniel and I drank Moroccan mint tea, which is wonderfully sweet. As Iftar approached the swarming streets of the Medina, where normally people walk shoulder to shoulder, died down and became eerily quiet. We took this opportunity to explore a bit. The streets, buildings, and shops all appear to be from a different age. Walking through the covered cobblestone paths you feel as if you were transported about two hundred years back. Many of the crafts and modes of transportation remain much the same. As we got lost in the souqs (markets) the next day, we saw mules carrying goods, leather shops tanning their leather in these massive vats of Pigeon dung and animal urine (an ancient technique), and artisans carving frames and other various trinkets by hand. Certainly, the way of life has not changed much, but that is what makes the Fez Medina so unique and special.

Our final destination, before departing for Istanbul, was Marrakech, a city located in central Morocco. Finding our way to the Medina in Marrakech proved much simpler than in Fez. The streets were a bit less complicated and the people not so pushy. The hotel we stayed in was beautiful, the center of the hotel, in true Moroccan architectural fashion, was open air with a fountain in the center. We were in a prime location, as the Djemaa El Fna (meaning “Assembly of the Dead” because it is where public executions used to take place) was about a two minute walk. At night the Djemma El Fna was crowded with snake charmers, henna artists, and food vendors. It is certainly a sight too see, and a place of confusion and frustration, as it can be easy to get lost among the crowd. The next morning, we journeyed deep into the souqs, where we willfully got lost among leather shops, patisseries, and vendors selling fresh fruit and vegetables. One shop, had wonderful handmade jewelery. I walked in, not expecting to bargain (bargaining is expected when in Morocco) nor buy anything, but, I found a pair of silver earrings with which I instantly fell in love. The shop owner told me the price would be 600 dirhams (around $75)! However, with my fine tuned bargaining skills, I managed to talk him down to 220 dirhams (approximately $28)! I was quite proud of my hard earned purchase! That evening, Daniel and I talked and people-watched over a Moroccan-brewed beer, Casablanca. The next day it was time to head back to Rabat where I would gather my other luggage and head for Istanbul.

After the five hour train ride from Marrakech, we arrived in Rabat, tired and hungry. Luckily, Iftar awaited us at the apartment of the El Hatimi family. The next day, Daniel and I decided to head to a quiet, yet windy, beach located about twenty minutes outside of Rabat. It was Daniel’s first time to swim in the Atlantic so it was rather exciting. The water was cold and choppy but refreshing after so many days of traversing Morocco. That night we departed for Casablanca, where early the next morning my flight would leave for Istanbul.

Now, I sit in Istanbul, the city divided by two continents. It is absolutely spectacular. In the next day or so, as I become settled, I will post about my first exciting few days.

Until then!

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