Turkish Delight

Trip Start Mar 30, 2010
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Trip End Dec 13, 2012


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Where I stayed
Alsacak

Flag of Turkey  ,
Tuesday, September 28, 2010


    Flying into Izmir  was interesting.  I remember thinking to myself....what the hell am I doing going to Turkey?  I know to many people, the country itself is not high on their list of places to see.  For me though, I have always been fascinated by the road less traveled.  It started over a year ago when I joined a pen pal website looking to make friends for my trip.  I received a message from a girl named Ceyda (pronounced Jeyda, don't worry i made the same mistake).  After a few delayed emails back and forth, we chatted more and she told me more and more about her town of Izmir.  It caught my attention.  I began to look it up on the Internet and found myself wanting to see it in person more and more.  When in South Africa and booking the next few flights, I decided to make Izmir one of the stops.   But when I arrived here, I was completely gassed.  I was super tired.  I had burnt myself out the night before from when I missed my flight in Munich, here I was...finally in Asia.  In a three week period, I had gone from Africa, to Europe, to North America, BACK to Europe, and into Asia.  When someone pointed out that I was in Asia, I got all happy.  Even though it isn't really "Asia Asia" like China, It still counted.  I can officially say I have been on every continent of planet earth except Antarctica.  That one I am working on....
   Upon arriving, I was rather shocked.  All the pictures I have seen of Turkey were more from Istanbul, so I was expecting old buildings and lots of mosques since it is a Muslim country.  It was quite the opposite actually.  Very modern buildings and it had a very European feel to it.  The city itself lies surrounded by mountains on the edge of the Aegean sea.  Streets lined with palm trees, I never would have guessed it was in Turkey if you dropped me here.  My cab driver that took me from the airport to the city center never had the RPM's on the car less than 4000, even when sitting at a red light, so we made excellent timing.  Ceyda met me close to her work to take me to an apartment she had helped organize for me.  The apartment itself was rather big for what I needed, but it ended up being a crash pad for her and her friends since it had an extra room, and was located right in the middle of Alsancak, the city's center.  First night there, we went to go and meet her friends down by the long water front where many of the bars and restaurants are located.  They were all very welcoming , they even got me a small memento in my first hours of getting there.  It's a small blue bead with a white center, which is called an evil eye.  It is supposed to keep bad people and thoughts away from you.  A very nice opening gesture.  I was also rather surprised at home many of Ceyda's friends knew English, and quite well too.  It made it very easy to communicate with them, instead of being the quiet guy in the corner.  One thing that doesn't change anywhere in the world, is the need for a late night snack after a few drinks with friends.  But the food does change.  Here you can find tons of people selling fresh mussels from the sea here, filled with rice and spices.  If you don't like seafood... you are missing out big time.  I was addicted to these things and found myself going out in the wee early hours of the morning to find someone standing on a street corner selling a bag of mussels and a lemon.  Soooo damn good.
   My second day in Izmir, I was in for a special treat.  Ceyda's friend was getting married, and had invited me to come to the wedding with her.  I wasn't sure how this was all going to work, but I was definitely looking forward to seeing how things are done over here.  After a mad dash of getting ready, we made it to the ceremony just in the nick of time.  As we walked into a larger room filled with hundreds of people, the brides and grooms parents were saying a few words over the microphone.  It was not held at a church, but more of a big hall like building, where they signed what I believe is the marriage license, then all the guests get in line to congratulate them both and their families.  I kept turning to Ceyda and asking how to say "congratulations" in Turkish.  I would repeat it over and over again, and forget again within 2 Min's.  After asking 8 or more times, it was our turn to do the meet and greet.  The bride Ece looked beautiful, and had a glowing smile on her face.  She smiled and did the traditional kiss on both cheeks, and her new husband, Sertac was very pleased to meet me.  And after all my trouble trying to remember the words....he spoke perfect English.  All that panicking for nothing!   After the ceremony, the bride headed outside to throw her bouquet of flowers.   Ceyda ended up catching th flowers!!  I was happy for her.  Then people came over to pat me on the shoulder as a if it was a sign.  We had a good laugh about it.  Now....it was time to head to the festivities.  This was a really nice, because we arrived before many of the other guests and got to meet the bride and groom one on one, instead of surrounded by hoards of people.  They were college friends of Ceyda's and were just as eager to meet me as I was to meet the ultra friendly people who invited me to their wedding without even knowing me.  The night was filled with fireworks, great food, lots of music and traditional dancing, where people come and throw money at the bride and groom.  It was a fantastic time.  I even got to try Turkish Raki, which is a VERY strong alcoholic drink(something like 45%), which is clear at first, but when you add water and ice to it, it goes a cloudy murky white.  At first I wasn't a big fan, but with some nice cheese, it went down quite smooth.  At one point of the evening, I went up to the dance floor to watch some of the dancing up close.  Now for me it wasn't too much of a shock, being Armenian, I have seen old traditional dances like this before.  Ceyda and her friends were trying to get me to try it out....I figured...why the hell not?!  I tried and they were all clapping (and laughing) but they all seemed to think it was funny and good that I was even trying.  Sertac the groom even pulled me into the middle of the circle where there was a drummer and the whole wedding party.  Definitely a crazy and memorable moment.  I had no idea what I was doing, but it didn't seem to matter.   It was a great night, and I felt very lucky to be a part of Ece and Sertac's special day.  Thank you both for allowing me to join.  Although, this was not to be the last time I would be thanking the newly weds.  More to come on them....
   Getting around Izmir was quite fun actually.  I loved taking the ferries there.  There were always fast, efficient and a great way to view the city.  I quickly got used to the ferry routes, got my transit card and could go anywhere in the city I needed.  While wondering around the city, I saw all kinds of strange sites.  About one block from my apartment, anytime after 11, the transvestite prostitutes would come out, off in the distance you could hear the music blaring from the bar district.  One of my personal favorite stories, was one day I walked down to the water front.  As I exited my flat, there was a man yelling down the street.  He wasn't angry, quite the opposite.  He looked as though he was drunk and telling a joke as he was walking away from someone with a big grin on his face.  He was chewing bread and crumbs were falling out of his mouth as he was rambling.  I could see that our paths were going to cross.  He looked at me and said something to me in Turkish with a smirk on his face...I just smiled back and thought if I spoke English with him, he would leave me alone not being able to communicate.  Wrong!  "Ahhhh English!!!" he yelled.  "Euro euro money money," and I just told him I had none.  He would take three of four paces ahead of me.....and his pants would fall down to his ankles.  He looked down at his pants on the ground...then at me... and laughed.  This happened 4 or 5 times.  It's kinda hard to not crack a smile when this whole thing is going on.  But people are starting to look as a guy with his pants around his ankle, running like a 3 year old to the bathroom, is following me down the street.  Eventually he realized he wasn't getting any money from me, and smiled and said goodbye.  It's funny the memorable moments I have....
      One day I was walking down the street with Ceyda  and there was a precession of cars honking their horns.  I thought it was maybe a wedding or something.  The car that they were all following though, was a convertible, with a young boy, around 12 years old, dressed up in fancy outfit and people sitting on either side of him playing the clarinet.  Ceyda explained to me that it was circumcision party.  That would explain why the poor little fella wasn't smiling.  He simply had a blank face and looked like he would rather be anywhere but there at that moment.  I realized that it is apart of Turkish tradition, but I think the little guy has suffered enough, let alone to drive around town on the back of a convertible, horns honking telling the world...I had my penis cut!!  Traditions are traditions I guess.
    My travel plans are always changing, sometimes minute to minute.  One idea I had come up with was to look for a job while I was in Turkey to teach English, and wait the winter out in Europe so that I could see it in the spring.  Ceyda helped me look for possible positions, and even went as far to email many of them for me.  Since she too had recently left her job, we decided to go to Istanbul to look for jobs, for the both of us since this is where many big companies and school are located.  It was to be a long trip there, 9 hours on a bus.  As we went to the bus station to get our tickets...I stopped.  Now everywhere you go, there is always language differences that are really funny.  The name of the bus company had me giggling to myself.  The name of the company is Kamil cok.  It's pronounced Kamil coach, but that wasn't how I read it.  I know I know...it's juvenile, but it became a running joke for the rest of my time there.  Are we taking the Kamil cok to Istanbul???
  When we came back from Istanbul, I was stuck without a place to stay because the manager of the apartment I had rented had overbooked himself.  Luckily, Ece and Sertac, the bride and groom of the wedding we attended were SUPER gracious and offered to let us stay with them until the whole ordeal got sorted out.  And not only did they do that, but they had a big party one night, with the Turkish police showing up because we were making too much noise.  All of there friends were amazingly warm.  We joked around, drank beer and raki, took tons of photos, and ate.  The morning after the party, they wanted to prepare me a traditional Turkish breakfast.  What a spread it was too.  So many options to try.  This is one thing about Turkey.  The food I had here is honestly second to none.  I have tasted many great culinary dishes all over the world, but it would usually be one or two tasty things.  Here, EVERYTHING is great.  Perhaps it's because many of the food are very similar to what I grew up with being Armenian.  Ece and Sertac also had us all back over for a dinner before I left.  Every time I left their place, I was loosening my belt.  Thank you both of you for everything, you guys were fantastic and a real pleasure to even meet.
    All in all, I didn't do too much sightseeing in Izmir.  For me it was more about the friends that I made here.  It was truly an unforgettable experience, and I can easily say that Izmir is one city I know I will be back to someday.  Thank you  Ceyda, because without your help, I would have been lost, confused and never enjoyed Turkey the way I did.  I feel really lucky  to have even met you and your fantastic friends.  I hope that you get to Holland and that our paths will cross again Tatlim.   Thank you also to your family for being so warm and inviting me to dinner and helping me when I had no place to stay.  I am forever grateful.  
  Now even though I came back to Izmir after my Istanbul visit, I figured writing one big entry for here would be easier than breaking into parts.  I hope you enjoyed.  Sorry for slacking on the blog entries.  My new goal is to get back on top of it and write more regularly.  Thanks for your patience and for following.  More stories soon....
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