Greetings folks, I am currently writing from my current Couchsurfing host's apartment in the Gayrettepe neighborhood in Istanbul. The several flights came and went, and I've been hit hard by the jet lag. So far the only remedy I've found has been several Turkish coffees (those suckers are strong) and a little bit of water pipe at a cafe in Sultanahmet. The mix was a delightful experience, but alas, the good feelings only last so long, and I'll probably be crashing within the hour.
First thoughts of the journey so far:
Having my Dad and Cousin drop me off at the Chicago airport was harder than I had thought it would be. The night before was a great celebration of life: stupidly delicious comida mexicana, fantastic beers and cocktails throughout the night, awful "Thai" food, my first taste of the painful Malort, as well as plenty of laughs and chuckles. It was a great night that I'm sure I'll be thinking of while I am on my hike. I forgot all of the quirks that make the United States so enjoyable and why I love it so. When I think about it, leaving felt like a break up but without the longing or lust.
Because I flew through Skypicker, I ended up having to fly through three separate airliners. It's a great site for finding cheap flights, but I soon found out that I would have to work that that ultra cheap flight by checking my bag several times, walk through security several times, and stare hungrily as folks on the international flights chomp away at their meals, but hey, cheap is neat.
While in the JFK airport, I was lucky enough to meet a Scottish guitarist/singer by the name of Sean C. Kennedy. Sean's a fascinating bloke who has the proper voice, technical guitar chops and the looks for greatness. A Norwegian gentleman was able to convince Sean to play a short song in the airport, and I'm happy that he did. A little live music helps the time fly by (but the beer helped out as well). Check him out if you can. The Nord, Torbjørn, was kind enough to buy us all a round of drinks as well as an American meal, thereby providing my first taste of "trail magic". Much thanks to you good sir, that was very kind of you.
After boarding my flight from Oslo to Istanbul, exhaustion began to creep in. Unfortunately for me, that was when I decided to start practicing my basic Turkish phrases. Turkish, as I'm sure you can guess, is not the easiest language for an English speaker. Especially when that English speaker is running on fumes and has little to no control over the placement of his consonants and vowels. A simple 'thank you' in Turkish is 'teşekkür ederim' or, for us folk who haven't learned our basic Turkish, is 'teh-shek-uer eh-der-eem', soon became "shu-ker-ter-de-reem-tesh- uh... hold on... shu-ka-der-am?" I'm still struggling to make even the most basic sense of this language, so hopefully it'll come around by the time I start walking up the Black Sea.
Before I arrived at my host's apartment, Orhan informed me that he was not going to be in Istanbul until late Sunday night. Since I've shown up in his home I have had little to no successful communication with his mother's nurse. Judging by her confused stare, I'm sure I'm only speaking in gibberish, which is better than accidentally insulting her I suppose. It looks like this is going to be an interesting few days of charades and confusion.
The best company I've found in Istanbul is Orhan's three fuzzy cats. One of them, some name that escapes me, is missing several important bits and pieces to her eyes, has an awful cold, and can only create guttural purrs that sound like she's parroting Gollum. While she sounds like a little beast, she is one of the cutest and goofiest cats that I have ever seen. Even without her eyes and sense of balance, she still tries to tear through the house and play as much as she can.
The other two cats resemble jungle felines. One, a mammoth black Angora-like beast, is a silent couch hog. The other, an orange and black Angora-tabby is a medium sized squeak toy that demands your attention. Unfortunately neither of the other two cats care for the little Gollum, so they each keep me company in shifts. This is an interesting house indeed, but it is a warm and welcoming one.
Earlier today I had a chance to explore Sultanahmet for a bit. I was able to find my way down easily by using the metro and taxi, so I was able to be a bit of a tourist. I explored little shops, sat down for Turkish coffee and some peach water pipe to fight the jet lag, and saw the site of that atrocious attack that occurred earlier this year. The city has been able to cover up the scene by placing construction walls along parts of the buildings that were damaged, so I had to ask an employee at a cafe as to where the attacker made his move.
I was surprised that the authorities were able to mask the tragedy so well. If you didn't know that there was an attack, you'd never have suspected a thing was amiss. Walking by I couldn't help but be reminded that the world does keep going on as soon as you're gone. People and shops were bustling ten feet away from where ten people were murdered.
As senseless as the attack was, I do find comfort with one realization: the attacker didn't win. What was supposed to terrify tourists and locals did scare people for a few weeks, but the bombing didn't frighten the world for long. In the main plaza I heard multiple languages being spoke and saw persons of every color and age walk about with smiles and wonder at the beauty that surrounded them. Children were running, stray cats dogs were sleeping, police were armed with guns and coffee, local scammers and con artists were working their magic (they tried to get me twice), and it was good. It was really good.
Istanbul has made quite the impression on me. It's a fascinating city with an enticing culture that remembers history. I look forward to doing some more adventures, only this time I'd prefer to explore with a local so I won't have to butcher the Turkish language again.
Now, it's time to meet my host and fall asleep.