İstanbul

Well, I made it back to İstanbul.

Leaving aside the question of my travel arrangements, and the stuff I did in New York (like going to Vermont for the first time ever… okay, that’s not technically something I did *in* New York, but you get the point), until later posts (I know I sometimes promise later posts but fail to deliver… sorry), I’ll… okay, I lost track of where this sentence was going.

Once, I told y’all a fun little anecdote about my layover in İstanbul on my way from New York to Tbilisi. In that post, I mentioned that I planned to take a week’s vacation in İstanbul at some point, maybe in spring.

I failed to go in spring, but I made it in summer – only a month late, really – and I’m currently on day… I’ve lost track… of five. It’s a great feeling when you lose track of what day it is, when time just sort of passes unattended, when you’re really and truly on vacation.

On the other hand, I’ve been feeling slightly anxious about what awaits me in Georgia since I left, and I’m looking forward to getting back and resolving all of those vague fears. I want to get back to work, to normal life (whatever that is) – I’m beginning to think that a month may be too long for a vacation.

Anyway. I got here on Tuesday morning, and my computer now tells me it’s Friday morning, which means it’s the end of my third day here. On Monday, I spent the morning going to my alma mater to pick up my diploma (which I officially earned September 1st, 2010, at which time I had already made it to Georgia) and drop off some fliers for TLG at the Career Development Services office. On my way home, I sold my PS2 and the games for it – a little melancholy, but the cash will be helpful and it’s not like I have time for video games in my life – and picked up my laundry. Then I checked the internet and discovered that my plane ticket had finally arrived and that I would indeed be flying to Turkey that afternoon. I called a fabulous friend and confirmed that I would indeed be needing that ride to the airport, and he came to pick me up along with another excellent friend who promised to manage my great book giveaway. I packed five boxes of books and two suitcases into his car and off we went.

The plane ride was the worst transatlantic flight I’ve taken so far, and one of the worst ever. Probably because of the last-minute nature of my ticket-booking, I ended up with a B seat – that is, in between two complete strangers, something I’ve never had to endure on a plane before. They were polite enough, I guess, but they were both just annoying and fidgety enough that any time I managed to nod off just a little bit one of them would elbow me or nudge me or brush against me and wake me back up, for like seven hours. Also, one of them smelled relatively bad. The food on Turkish airlines continues to disappoint me.

On the upside, I had a short but pleasant conversation with a Georgian woman who had been sitting behind me on the plane with her husband and son; she asked me a question about bringing liquor into Tbilisi, which I guess she assumed was my final destination because she probably heard me mutter “ვაიმე” about fifty times after one of my neighbors nudged me out of sleep or something else irritating or startling occurred.

Speaking of startling, during our final descent, I felt a jolt in the airplane that felt almost like touching down, but I didn’t think we were that low yet. I had been listening to the “Pop Hits” in-flight radio station in an effort to keep myself from nodding off and getting woken up and then subsequently annoyed; after exhausting Lady Gaga, Ke$ha, and Rihanna I was listening to Britney Spears’ Singles album when the jolt occurred. My thoughts were as follows:

“What was that? Are we on the ground? It doesn’t feel like we’re on the ground. Are we going to die? Am I going to die listening to Britney Spears? I guess that would be okay…”

That’s right, folks, the flight was so bad that listening to Britney Spears, dying, and doing both of those things at the same time all seemed better by comparison. Ah, well, at least it wasn’t AirTran.

Instead of taxiing to one of those ramp things, the plane pulled into a giant lot and we had to walk down runway stairs, which was cool. A bus took us to the terminal. Getting my visa was incredibly simple; getting through passport control was easy; baggage took forever to come but then there was no customs at all. My wonderful, awesome, amazing hosts in Turkey – a friend from High School and her mom – met me right outside the baggage claim.

So now I’m staying at their villa in Zekeriyaköy, which is beautiful and currently in the final stages of renovation. Highlights from my stay include a walk along the Bosphorus, massive quantities of Turkish Coffee, the Black Sea beach at Kilyos, a tour of the Blue Mosque, Aya Sofya, and Topkapı Palace Museum, and meals at various restaurants with excellent Turkish food and amazing views of the city and the water. I’ll post pictures.

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But by far the most thrilling new experience I’ve had in İstanbul was finding out that, ironically, I actually *am* allergic to seafood! I often tell people that I am allergic to seafood because I don’t want to try it because it grosses me out. Despite this lie I have actually tried seafood on a small number of occasions – I’ve eaten salmon at least twice, and some sort of Korean squid stuff once – but I’ve never really liked food from the ocean or been able to force myself to eat more than a very tiny amount before becoming overwhelmed with feelings of revulsion and irrational fear. Even writing about it now makes me feel vaguely nauseous.

Since I’ve been working on conquering my fears, however, and on trying new things, I thought that I might as well at least try a tiny bit of seafood, since we were at this seafood restaurant overlooking the Black Sea and I had been assured that this would be some of the finest seafood I could find. I’m thinking it was the fried calamari that did it, although I also tried some sort of sea bass (in addition to the meatballs that had been specially prepared for me by the chef at the behest of my hosts because everyone knows of my distaste for seafood). As soon as I ate it – one small ring was all I managed to force down – I got this weird heartburn, which I chalked up to it being fried and also to having eaten some other spicy stuff as an appetizer. After a bit, my eyes started burning, as if from some kind of allergy attack. I assumed that it was salt water or suntan lotion in my eyes – we had been at the beach earlier – and I went to rinse my eyes out, which helped a bunch. A short time later – on the car ride home – I started feeling a little trouble breathing, but I’m asthmatic, so I took my inhaler and didn’t think anything of it. Then I started feeling nauseous, but I didn’t put any of these symptoms together and I assumed that it was just the greasy food I’d eaten.

When I got home I noticed that my heart was racing so that I could feel my pulse in my head, and that finally clued me in that something was wrong. I tested my swallowing ability, and I discovered that there was a little catch in my throat indicating slight swelling. That was when I realized I was having an allergic reaction.

I immediately took two Benadryl (which I carry with me at all times) and started monitoring myself for worsening symptoms. I considered going to a hospital, but nothing seemed severe. I remembered that hives were common with allergy attacks, and checked my skin – and indeed, I had hives all over my arms, legs, and back. Very exciting stuff.

I did more internet research, again strongly considered going to an emergency room or a doctor of some kind, but eventually decided that if I had been going to experience anaphylaxis it would have happened already, and that all a doctor would do would be to give me Benadryl and maybe something to help with breathing – both of which I’d already taken – and that I was probably going to be fine. Then I threw up, and then I felt much better.

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So that was terrifying and interesting and certainly an experience that I’m glad to have had but would be even gladder not to repeat. And now I have an excuse to avoid seafood, which is hilarious because now that I actually have a reason to be afraid that eating seafood might actually kill me, I have a perverse desire to try different kinds of seafood due to the allure of the forbidden or dangerous.

Overall, I think İstanbul is an incredibly beautiful city – I love love love water, and you can apparently jump into the Bosphorus and just swim right through the middle of the city, and people actually do this, and I want to do it too – and there’s obviously a lot going on here – but in some ways it is just too Western and New Yorkish for me. I know I’ve gotten the tourist treatment – I’ve gone to the fancy private beach, the nice restaurants and cafes, and the main attractions of the city – and that I haven’t lived the real İstanbul life – but there’s something about the crowds, the traffic, the stores, the way people drive, the massive urban sprawl, and the general atmosphere that reminds me a little too much of NYC for comfort. Being here actually makes me miss Tbilisi, with its comforting mountains on the horizon, its signs in Mkhedruli letters, its close but welcoming streets, its walkability and casual atmosphere… here I am, a megalopolis-born kid pining for the simple life in a modest city of only 1.5 million.

İstanbul has a distinct look – it’s spread out, it has all that beautiful waterfront, it has tons of really beautiful mosques (which, so far, are my favorite religious building in terms of architecture) – but its feel is that of a giant megacity, home of Starbucks and KFC and yellow cabs and a sort of megacity culture, which for me almost makes it generic. I wonder if I could be happy living here.

It makes me second-guess my very shallow, hedonistic desire to have a Starbucks in Tbilisi. I wonder, if we did get one, if I would even go, or if, instead, I would quietly resent the encroachment of the West and the American Way. A paradigm of which I myself am a member.

There’s a paradox. How can Georgia advance without Tbilisi starting to feel the way New York feels, or İstanbul feels? Toronto and Munich were better, I think – more relaxed, happier places, I feel. Is it simply size, or is there a cultural element as well, something Turks and New Yorkers share that Bavarians and Canadians and Georgians lack, or vice versa?

Well, it’s late, and this entry is huge. I’ll have more thoughts on İstanbul over the next few days, undoubtedly, and I’ll try to share them in another post before I leave. Until then, I’ll take you back to Constantinople 1953:


Video: Istanbul – The Four Lads

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5 Responses to İstanbul

  1. Istanbul is beautiful and HUGE! Don’t let anyone tell you that it’s less than 20 million people, because it’s 20 million. Beware of the scrooge taxi drivers.

    Visit Kadıköy and Ortaköy. Ortaköy is a photographer’s dream. The Moda neighborhood in Kadikoy great. Üsküdar is cool. However, Kadıköy has some nice, cheap, non-touristy restaurants where the locals hang out.

    If you have time, you should really go to the Princes’ islands near the Asian side. It’s a 30 min ferry ride from the Asian side, at Bostancı. 1 hour from the European side. Have fun!

  2. pasumonok says:

    i am so jealous!
    so, it is friday morning, i was partying all night, i decided to read ur blog while drinking tea and it just made me feel worse:-)
    i want a month-long vacation! i wanna be in turkey! damn it, can i be a tlg teacher and live with my host husband?
    i don’t want 2 sit in the office…
    doners…orange burgers on istiklal…lamb cooked in a pit…
    bosphorus…
    cobblestones, spice bazaar, turkish delight…
    turkish coffee!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    have u seen the carpet store featured in history channel’s “cities of the underground”?

    • panoptical says:

      Wait, you were partying all night on a Thursday? I don’t think you’re allowed to do that and then be jealous of people on vacation 🙂

      I’m sure TLG would take you. I’ll put in a good word.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Dude. You don’t know jack. Any American airline across a major body of water is a hundred times worse than any other international carrier. Turkish Airlines ain’t no Emirates or Singapore Airlines but it is miles, no pun intended, ahead of United, Delta, US Airways, or as you stated, Air Tran.

    Good to hear you didn’t die. Keep up the good work and stay away from shellfish.

    • panoptical says:

      I’ve always liked Delta, although the longest flight I’ve done with them was about two hours. For trans-Atlantic flights, Lufthansa has been a terrific experience and far better than Turkish Airlines.

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