I was super duper excited to get to Europe! Before this trip the only European country that I had been to was Italy so I was ready to get my Eurotrip on. I chose to go to Istanbul, Turkey first because it has incredible history and architecture including the Hagia Sophia, and because one of my good friends is from there and he told me it was awesome and that I had to go (and because it is the closest European country to Thailand, so it made logistical sense). And I am so glad that I listened.
Aside from the really pushy men (REALLY pushy) trying to sell you shit and/or marry you, the city was incredible. I really wish that I would have had some friends in this city with me though, because it seemed like a city that would be a friggin blast to party in. But being alone and a girl, I assume that going to a club and getting shitty by myself is just kind of asking for some sort of trouble.
I stayed in the really touristy part of Istanbul (which is where all of the hostels are) and that area is where the guys selling you things are the worst. But it’s also right next to the Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque, so you win some and you lose some. But let me just save you some time if you decide to go there and tell you the way to avoid guys sucking you in to 10-minute pointless conversations that you eventually wriggle out of gracelessly is to COMPLETELY ignore anyone that tries to talk to you while they are standing outside/near/around/within a reasonable distance from a store. Because they are just trying to get you to buy a rug or a lamp or some diamonds, and they will waste most of your morning if you even acknowledge that they exist. You might think I’m being dramatic … go ahead, think that, but you’re wrong. Now, the one hitch in this plan is that you come off like a total fucking bitch—and you feel like one too. And to be honest, you probably are just a little. But that’s not the point.
Why is it so hard to ignore these men when I managed to do it in every other country so seamlessly and perfected the Ice Out (trademarked by Annie Tucker Morgan) that I applied to activists and petitioners in San Fran? Well, I don’t really know. But I think it has something to do with the fact that they are really friendly to begin with, and start out by saying “Good morning/Good afternoon” and ask how you are or compliment something you’re wearing or some other nice thing that is pretty much straight up rude to ignore. And that’s how they draw you in.
Then they proceed to ask you what you’re doing in Istanbul or where you’re from and then they make up something that makes it seem like you have something in common, like an uncle or cousin that lives in the city you say you’re from, and then they turn the conversation to their shop. Then you try to get away by saying “Oh, I’m backpacking, I can’t buy any area rugs …” and they say “I can ship it to you, it’s very reasonable … you won’t find rugs like these anywhere else in the world” and then you sputter and say no thank you repeatedly and they walk with you as you try to walk away. Then you get a little alarmed thinking they might actually follow you until you buy something, and then they offer to walk you to wherever you are going, or to walk you back to your hostel, and then you start freaking out a bit. I feel like the statement about backpacking would be enough to let them know that they are wasting their time, but apparently not.
After trying to get away from one particularly pushy man who was trying to walk with me, I actually had to say, “Listen, I am going to walk this way, and you’re not going to come with me. I don’t want company, and I don’t want to buy anything from your shop. Please leave me alone.” and that barely worked. So after that, you just ignore, ignore, ignore. And they’ll make comments as you walk by without even acknowledging that they just attempted to talk to you or that they even exist … just keep on walking. And when you feel like a huge bitch, just tell yourself that they’re not really interested in being nice or making conversation with you, they just want to sell you something, and it makes you fell a tiny bit better. But this can only provide so much comfort, I suggest just embracing the fact that you really are a raging bitch.
But, aside from those men, I loved Istanbul. The skyline studded with the turrets from the Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque, New Mosque, and all the other mosques, the Topkapi Palace, the Bosphorus Bridge that connects Europe and Asia, the food, the Grand Bazaar, the Spice Market … it was all incredible. What I liked most about it was that when you go to Rome and see the Coliseum, it is like time has stopped there … it is an ancient ruin and is no longer a part of the city’s daily life. In Istanbul, many of the mosques are over 1,000 years old and they are still operating, people of Istanbul still worship in them, and they are still relevant in the modern life of Istanbul residents. I find that so crazy, considering we can’t even make sidewalks that last more that 10 years without crumbling away and the oldest buildings in the U.S. are like 250 years old.
Oh, and just a tiny side note. It is cold as FUCK in mid-March there. I knew it wasn’t going to be summer, but man was I not prepared to handle the cold. I literally wore (skip reading the end of this sentence if bad personal hygiene makes you all nauseous and judgy) the same clothes for the 5 days I was there … well, I changed my socks and undies. But I packed a pair of Under Armor cold weather running tights (that kept me warm while running the SF marathon), 2 long-sleeved t-shirts, a little pullover hoodie with 3/4 length sleeves, and a zip up hoodie … those are the only warm things I packed with the exception of jeans and my North Face jacket. And I wore all of it. At the same time. All 5 days. I alternated the white and the black long-sleeved tee on the top layer to give the illusion of cleanliness, but I’m not sure that was achieved. I was too fucking cold to care. And when I was outside freezing my ass off, and I would pass a man selling gloves or a scarf, I would think to myself, “No use wasting your money on something you’re going to use for 3 days … suck it up you big baby.” I shouldn’t have listened to myself, I’m a fucking moron sometimes. Clearly I don’t know what’s best for me because I was wandering around the Topkapi Palace (most of which is outside) for a few hours taking a bajillion pictures on my iPhone and then my iPhone stopped taking pictures. I thought … great, the cold is going to kill me and my superduper awesome travel companion slash camera slash life line too. Wrong. My fingers were just so cold that when I touched the screen, it no longer detected any heat. So I couldn’t push any buttons on my iPhone until I thawed. I think I could have spared a few bucks for a pair of gloves …
But, other than risking hypothermia I loved it. I definitely want to go back to Turkey and explore outside of Istanbul … but preferably when it is a tad warmer. I especially want to go to Ephesus … I didn’t have time to take a trip down to it, which is a shame since I was so close, but I have heard incredible things about in and I think that it is definitely something that I have to see. But Istanbul is a city that you can literally just wander around in for days and just be in awe of everything … which is pretty much what I did, so I ‘ll just show you some pictures!