Day one in beautiful Istanbul Turkey is a bit difficult to remember. It seems so long ago. Most of the day was spent waiting to check into our hostel, the Tulip Guest House. We walked around our small touristy neighborhood inside the Sultanhmet district. It is very difficult to get a real feel for Istanbul in this neighborhood because everything has been catered to foreign tourists. As we walked around we spotted the Haggia Sofia and the Blue Mosque. Both were absolutely inspiring from the outside but we did not want to venture in until we met up with Darren. So we found a Starbucks and ordered Chi lattes. You have no idea how amazingly comforting it is to be inside a Starbucks after an 11 month hiatus. All I can say is that it was blissful and every last sip was well appreciated.
At about 2:30 we finally met up with Darren, my friend who lives in China. While planning my trip to Istanbul I began to get a little bit nervous about Ash and I travelling alone. The two of us seem to be targets to Armenian males, and I didn’t want this to be a problem in Istanbul. So at the suggestion of my sister I invited our friend Darren who has been living in China for the past few years. At first he was a bit tentative, and I wasn’t sure if he was going to come, but like my sister said, Darren can’t resist an adventure and he found his way all the way from China to Istanbul.
As Ashley and I were waiting for him to meet us at our hostel we decided to go get a bag of chips to fend off our starving bellies! Plus chips are very rare in Armenia, and even when you do find them they are disgusting knock offs. As I walked outside of my hostel I noticed an Orange sneaker peaking out from a bench. I couldn’t see anything but the sneaker. I peaked my head over the doorway and there was Darren sitting on the bench quietly waiting for us. Poor guy had been lost all morning trying to find us!! I was so happy to see him. The first person I have seen from my pre-Armenian life. It felt so good to get a hug from home!
It was about three and none of us had eaten so we decided to find a place to eat. Darren had gotten a recommendation from a Turkish foodie so we decided to find it. It was off to Taksim square, the strip mall in Istanbul. When we stepped out of the cab into the square Ash and I were in awe. First there were American stores everywhere! The Gap, Clinique, and even MAC! I immediately wanted to shop and to be honest I did. I have needed an eye cream from mac for awhile now but I know how expensive it is so I didn’t want to ask my family to buy it. Seeing it in Istanbul made me so unbelievably happy. I think no matter how long I am out of the country for, I will always love to shop! The other reason we were in awe was because of the sheer amount of people. Armenia is a small country with a tiny population. I never see crowds of people here. Even in Yerevan the biggest crowd is about 100 people. Well there were thousands of people in Taksim square. We could hardly walk it was so busy. Being around that many people after such a long period of isolation was a bit scary and jarring.
When we finally found our restaurant I was a little bit nervous because there were not many people inside. Darren handed the waiter a list of food that the man had wrote for us to order. Soon plate of levash, yougurt dip and cheese were coming out then lamb and rice and vegetables. The waiter also came to the table with a bottle of vodka and a bottle of mineral water. He poured the vodka first and then added water. I forget what the drink was called but it was basically a black licorice concoction that was delicious. Everything we ate was so good, and some of it was even similar to Armenian food. We stayed for a long time and the Turkish waiters seemed to love having us there.
After eating we made our way over to a coffee club/ hooka bar. We drank Turkish tea and smoked hookah. I have actually never really tried it before so it was a first for me and I have to say I don’t really think I feel the need to ever do it again. But I was in Turkey so I figured it was the appropriate place to see what it was about. The club that we were in was full of locals playing backgammon and chess and listening to Turkish pop music and drinking Turkish tea. It was a really awesome place and the music was fantastic, from that moment on Turkish music had a fan in me.
All in all our first day was pretty restful and uneventful except for the fact that we did witness a Kurdish protest raging down the center of the square, but even that seemed to be peaceful. We were back in our hostel beds by 9 pm and fast asleep until 4 am when the call to prayer was sounded. I woke up to speakers blaring out music and not really remembering where I was. Quickly I got up and started to dress and make my way outside, only to see that it was still pitch black. I was so disorientated!! The funny thing is no one else woke up!! Every morning around 4 am I was woken up by the prayers but no one else even stirred!!! By the last day of our trip I was waking up five minutes before the prayers ready and waiting for it. You would think as a non Muslim I would be annoyed by this, but I actually found it to be very lovely and a little enchanting. It reminded me each day to pray and to be thankful for what I have. It also left me in awe of the devotion of some Muslims. I can’t imagine getting a 4 am wake up call, showering and running for the nearest mosque just to return home to sleep for an hour and then go to work.