Istanbul (not Constantinople)

The countdown is on: I’m making my escape and flying to Istanbul on the first of February. I can see the glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel!

In order to take my mind off the grim reality of my present situation (getting up 3 hours before my preferred breakfast time; being a glorified babysitter; living in a dump; earning less than I would on benefits at home; that sort of thing), I have been determinedly replacing misery with enthusiasm by researching the country that is to suddenly be my home for the next few months, if all goes according to plan.

Of course, it very well may not go according to plan in the slightest, as I have never before embarked on a trip with so little certainty. The one exception would probably be that time my boyfriend and I broke up in Tallinn and I found myself on a night bus across the Baltic states, heartbroken and clueless, with my belongings in a bin liner, before waking up with next to no money in Lithuania and pleading with a stranger to build a bed for me so I didn’t have to sleep amongst rats. But these things happen, you know.

Even when I went to Korea, though I knew nothing and no one, I had signed a contract and gotten a visa and arranged for someone to meet me and take me to my apartment. In Turkey, I apparently have a job, but there is no contract (and no hint of one appearing), no one has told me what documents they need from me, and I have to find my own accommodation in a city about which I know nothing. Ha! It’s all very haphazard and laid-back. Or “dodgy”, as a less naive soul might put it. But I don’t care. I really don’t. If I stay in this place any longer it will have sucked the soul and sparkle right out of me. I’m taking a gamble, and if it all goes pear-shaped, well, I’m no worse off than I am now. LET’S DO THIS!

I know nothing about Turkey, except that Brits like to go to there on resort-style package holidays, and the capital is called Ankara. My lack of knowledge is probably shameful, but hey, you have to start somewhere. When I went to Korea, after all, I only knew that the capital was called Seoul and that there was some kind of problem with the North. Now, I have Korean friends, and can have a basic conversation in Korean (and read/write it!), draw a fairly accurate and detailed map, discuss the modern history of the peninsula, describe the culture, people, and traditions, and even cook a large number of the dishes I’d never heard of until I moved there (and I still crave kimchi and yukgaejang, by the way). Such is the beauty of travel. Perhaps I will fall in love with Turkey in the same way; perhaps it will just be a short ‘between jobs’ experience. But I’m going there enthusiastic, scared, excited, nervous, and willing as ever to just let life unfold as it does.

And here are some things I have discovered in the meantime:

– Istanbul was home to the world’s first ever coffee shop! From Wikipedia (which knows all):

The Ottoman chronicler İbrahim Peçevi reports in his writings (1642–49) about the opening of the first coffeehouse in Istanbul:

Until the year 962 [1555], in the High, God-Guarded city of Constantinople, as well as in Ottoman lands generally, coffee and coffee-houses did not exist. About that year, a fellow called Hakam from Aleppo and a wag called Shams from Damascus came to the city; they each opened a large shop in the district called Tahtakale, and began to purvey coffee.

This is a very cool factoid to a coffee-lover like me. Plus, I’m keen to sample lots of Turkish coffee! I’ve only had it once before, in a little basement restaurant in Seoul, but it was delightful. I can’t actually think of a better word, as antiquated as that one sounds. It was intense, rich, sweet (which is against my coffee rules, as I believe sugar in coffee to be a crime against humanity, but apparently it’s part of the process for Turkish coffee – and it works), and sort of… I dunno, silky. More, please!

– Part of Istanbul is in Asia, and part is in Europe   the only city in the world to straddle two continents. Depending on where I get a flat, it’s quite possible that I will end up working in Asia but living in Europe. I’m sorry, but that is nearly enough to make me turn down accommodation on the Asian side. Can’t stop, sorry darling, just popping over to Asia for work, can I meet you in Europe for drinks after dinner?

– Turkey has ruins and ruins and ruins galore, to rival even Rome! I am ridiculously happy about this. I love ruins. I love visiting historical places in general, but I have two favourite kinds: places related to World War II, and ancient ruins. I can’t get enough of either – and although I have spent a great deal of my travels exploring dozens (maybe nearer to triple figures now!) of WW2 museums, memorials, and sites in numerous countries, I have seen very few ancient ruins. My very brief trip to Aosta, in the north of Italy, only whetted my appetite for proud city walls and crumbling amphitheaters. One day (possibly this summer!), I am going to go and explore Italy for real, until I’ve had my fill of ruins and rubble.

It’s the feeling of history, for me. Standing there, right there, in the spot where you know gladiators fought to the death to the deafening roar of the crowds filling the long-deserted tiered seats. Seeing my footprints in the dusty earth and wondering whose footprints were there back then. Looking up at an imposing tower and imagining the scene as a prisoner was taken there, and the sounds of an angry mob. Touching the sun-baked stone of a wall thicker than my height, and picturing a mighty emperor in all his finery returning through its magnificent gateway to the cheers of his people. And knowing that I’m standing where all of this happened so long ago, so impossibly long ago, that my head can hardly make sense of it. It gives me the tingles. I can’t wait to go exploring!

– Agatha Christie wrote Murder on the Orient Express in Istanbul. Maybe inspiration for my elusive novel will finally strike…? ;)

Only 17 more sleeps (or 38 more classes!).

I think I can, I think I can, I think I can… I know I can, I know I can, I know I can…

 

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3 thoughts on “Istanbul (not Constantinople)

  1. Yes, you can! You can do anything for a few more weeks. And it sounds like Turkey is already casting its spell on you. Looking forward to hearing about it all and will keep fingers crossed!

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