(a return to last year's format, since there seems to be some demand, at least from Stingy, Crash, and DC Nahm)
ps. sorry for bumping Doodd's post down so far, please check it if you have not already seen banana hands.
After waking from another fitful night of jetlag sleep, I go to the Pastanesi (patisserie) across the street and get some tea and bread and read a little bit. We have a short Turkish lesson after this, and then a walking tour up to a neighborhood called Etiler, which is very affluent and cosmopolitan. There's a Starbucks, too. And a Mexican restaurant called El Torito that is, according to our professor, where everyone who's anyone goes. It looks like El Rodeo.
A short note about walking tours: it's important to distance oneself from the large herd of American girls (there are 16 students on this trip, 13 of which are girls) because the amount of attention bestowed upon our group by the eyes of Istanbul is really unsettling.
After the tour everyone heads back to the dorm to fancy up for an exclusive dinner at an exclusive restaurant on a rooftop, overlooking the Bosphorus. The restaurant is for members of the police force and their families only, so we're surrounded by cops, basically; our program coordinator, who is a Duke alumnus, is married to a Turk, the son of a police captain, which is how we get our access. There are 4 weddings going on in the building as well; at one point when I go downstairs to the restroom, one bride and groom are dancing to "Everything I Do (I Do it for You)" by Brian Adams while two enormous smoke bombs go off next to them, basically obscuring them from view.
The meal takes 4 hours, and I get introduced to raki (pronounced ruh-kuh), the Turkish national liquor. It tastes like licorice and is unbelievably strong, but it's really good. I get seabass with the head still on. Everyone in the program gets pretty tipsy as the wine and raki and beer just keep coming. It's a good experience to get to know everyone. Some photos:
Fireworks on the Bosphorus past the heads of Turkish cops, who all look like they should be on some sort of crime-buddy TV show from the 80s.
Our professor, who is Turkish, reading my fortune from my coffee grounds. Apparently a Turkish custom; after finishing one's cup of Turkish coffee, which is 25 percent sludge, you turn the cup upside down on the tiny plate and wait for the cup to cool, then read the grounds. He saw a figure reaching the top of a mountain with more mountains off in the distance.
After dinner some of us walk back to the dorm, which takes 45 minutes, but we go by the bridge to Asia and one of the Ottoman fortresses, then up the steepest hill I've ever seen, which is the only way to get back to our dorm from the shore:
The Ottoman fortress. There are one of these on each side of the Bosphorus; the Ottomans were able to control the water this way, by stretching enormous chains across, preventing anyone from getting through.
Rules of Istanbul learned:
1. Always ask for a menu.
2. Don't underestimate the power of the sun.
After class we go to get bus passes and then to the largest mall in Europe. I'm not that psyched about going to a mall, but I have to exchange money and it IS the largest mall in Europe. At the food court, me and my suitemate get kebabs while we are laughed at by the entire staff of the kebab place because can't speak Turkish.
The outside of the mall--there's a fucking roller coaster inside.
The inside. I think it was 6 floors, with metal detectors at every entrance.
Afterwards we walk to Taksim, a neighborhood much like Manhattan which really isn't that interesting. Plus, the sun is unbelievably strong, and after about an hour of walking I'm close to sunstroke. Even with water, I realize it's probably a good idea to stay out of the sun during the hottest hours, because once I get home I'm wiped out for the next 6 hours.
Still hot. But tomorrow we go to the Spice Bazaar, the Grand Bazaar, the underground CIsterns, and the Turkish baths, where we will have to get butt naked (not a co-ed activity). And then, on Thursday, I'm off to Moscow, for a return to Lost in Russia for 4 days. I'll leave you with a view of my walk everyday to class on Bogazici campus.