As I sit here staring at the empty white wordpress box, I’m sighing a breath of relief that this post, unlike all the other things I’ve written this weekend, is going to be in English. But at this point that’s almost a disadvantage, since my English is now a rare breed of translated Spanglish, or so says my Mom. Constructions and sentences come out in passive forms with subjects following verbs, etc. So pardon the jarbled English as I attempt to recount to y’all the Spring Break experience.
We started in Istanbul, one of the greatest cities I’ve ever been to. I had zero expectations, zero previous knowledge (except that it was vaguely important in the history of the Western world and that it was once called Constantinople) and therefore it never stopped surprising me. We arrived at night and embarked on my favorite traveling activity: taking a taxi into the city to our hostel. As I’m sure I’ve mentioned, there is nothing more exciting than being in a city you don’t know, with the promise of discovering it over the next however many days, speeding along in the backseat of a cramped taxi, essentially putting your life in the driver’s hands. After said taxi ride we were plopped in front of our hostel, on a very touristy but vibrant street that consisted only of cafes whose top floors were occupied by hostels and their terrace bars. We checked in with Turkey’s version of Joey Fatone (his interpretation of his looks, not ours) who worked at our hostel and headed out in search of an appropriate first-night-in-Istanbul activity.
One of my favorite things about the city (and I imagine the custom is similar in all parts of Turkey) is the hospitality (I’m sure it helped that we were three young American girls); after the first round of drinks or hookah, the rest seem to show up without even asking, and never show up on a bill. This was the case, for example, with our new friend H., who would hear us mention baklava and run to the bakery next door to get us some, napkins included. Or when coming up short on change for your turkish coffee, the man behind the counter would simply smile and say “my gift to you!”. The catch phrase of the trip, therefore, quickly became “your wish is my command”.
Other than bopping around from cafe to cafe, hookah bar to hookah bar, baklava bakery to baklava bakery, we did see some of the city. Our first full day was spent touring the famous mosques that were conveniently located right behind our hostel: the Blue Mosque (Sultanahmet Camii) and the Hagia Sofia (Ayasofya). The first has a much more authentic and sacred feel, requiring visitors to remove their shoes and for women to cover their heads before entering. It is beautifully decorated with mosaics and painted ceilings, and as you walk under the low, sinuous lighting, red floral carpet crushes beneath your toes and you really do feel you’re in some distant land. We did not spend more than a few minutes ambling about the place, attempting to catch snippets of other tour guides’ explanations of the mosque’s importance, before making our way across the street to the Hagia Sofia. We decided it was time, after not fully understanding what the Blue Mosque was all about (except being exceptionally pretty), to hire ourselves a tour guide. That’s when we met Dede (Turkish for grandfather, the name he requested we give him), whose dentures were so loose and whose spit was so abundant that we didn’t fully absorb what he was saying about the mosque originally being a church, hence the iconic mosaics and Greek Orthodox floor plan. We escaped his clutches and, considering I don’t remember what happened next, I’m assuming we broke for lunch. The second theme of Istanbul, if not hospitality, was food. We were never short of stuffed peppers, dolmas, hummus and a wonderful cross between a flour tortilla, Indian naan and pita, the likes of which will never be found outside of Turkey.
That afternoon we spent mostly tooling around the city and searching for Topkapi Palace, the home of the Ottoman sultans for their 400+ year reign (thank you, Wikipedia). It was also lovely, with great landscaping (with famous Turkish tulips dotting it’s many flower beds) and lots of incredible treasures (jewels, thrones, etc.), but it was sadly another one of those sites that we were too in need of a siesta to really appreciate. I think at one point we proposed stretching out on the sultan’s lawn to take a power nap to give us some pep for the rest of the tour that awaited us. (Siestas have become that crucial in our lives). After many pictures with mosaics and flowers were taken, we went back to the center of our Turkish universe, Akbıyık Caddesi (Abiyik Street) where we went for supper down the street from the hostel, drinks a few buildings down, and hookah at the hostel.
The next day was spent on a full-day Bosphorous boat tour (the Bosphorous being the strait that divides Istanbul, causing it to reside in both Europe and Asia).
We cruised along the river seeing both the European and Asian side of the city, had lunch, went to a mosaic museum housed in an old Greek Orthodox church, visited the Spice Market (a more local-friendly version of the Grand Bazaar, where all the Istanbul-ers get their teas, spices and tacky silk scarves) and ended the day relaxing on a sunny terrace in Asia, sipping diet cokes with our new Italian friend L. Copy and paste the evening activity from above and that’s what we did that night.
Our final day was great for food, bad for wallets. We set out to conquer the entire Grand Bazaar, the most intense shopping experience since Ben Yehuda Street in Jerusalem. Everything is bought after a ten minute haggling session, with each member of the group having her own style: I said nothing, as my wallet had been stretched to the limit, while E. speculated, consulted with us, and then purchased (only to later find her adorable Turkish glazed bowls were made with lead paint, a troubling issue she tried to explain to the salesman which he could not understand. “EATING FROM THESE COULD KILL ME” also fell flat), and P. got angry, an emotion I have never before seen her express. Our final night in Istanbul was spent, to no surprise, in the hostel bar, making and saying goodbye to new friends, with little sleep gained before our 7am shuttle to the airport.
Probably a complete 360° from Istanbul. The island is tiny, with a few adorable towns dotted here and there along the main road, all of which we passed on our way from the airport (even smaller than C’ville’s, if you can imagine that) to the “villa” we were to stay in in the northern town of Oía. But to keep us in check, the Universe, after having sent us such luck during our time in the near-Far East, had us dropped off at Villa Abyssanto, a name which it does not bother me to slander. We had no idea we were headed not to a cliff-side Grecian hideaway but to a grassy plain at the northern tip of the island, on a road more deserted than my own in the U.S. on which lived local yokels and their adorable dogs, without any street lights or sidewalk, on which we were expected to walk for 1km to reach the quaint but pequeñito pueblo of Oía. These three princesses were not going to have that.
As soon as we could, we booked a room in the nearby town and capital of the island, Fira, and after having argued and asked for a ride from the not-so-kind man at Villa Abyssanto, settled into our new Greek getaway location. Although the island is just as lovely as all those stock photos seen online and really was the site of the filming of Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, it was a bit too touristy for me. I missed the cultural stimulation of a big city, standing in line for museums and the prime peoplewatching.
Some of the highlights from Greece, however, included moussaka, climbing a volcano, baked feta, riding a donkey up the stairs from the Old Port of Fira, and tanning on a black sand beach. Even if I was Spring Break-ed/tourist-ed out by the end of it (the climax of trip being a 12-hour plane, train and automobile ride home to Valencia), I know those highlights might never be completed again in this lifetime.