Tag Archives: turkey

New Place, New People, Same Tradition

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Since the Irish do not celebrate Thanksgiving Day (obvi) Katrina and I decided to host one ourselves and have some of our friends over to join in on the festivities. The menu consisted of turkey, stuffing, gravy, mashed potatoes, corn bread, brussel sprouts, mac n cheese, a ridiculously sized cheese ball, hummus, pumpkin pie, berry crumble, vegan banana and chocolate cake, and copious amounts of libations.

Although adjusting to Ireland and school was difficult at first, these friends have definitely made it much easier and a lot more fun and that is what I am thankful for this year.

 

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Turkey

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So my trip to Turkey started off with me almost missing my flight from Belgrade. I kept on thinking the flight was at 4:55pm and it wasn’t until about 2pm, when I looked over my email, that I realized it was actually at 4:15pm. Without any hesitation I jumped up and started yelling to my aunt that we have to leave NOW. After a congested half hour drive through Fruška Gora’s one lane mountain roads, we finally made it to the highway and then to the airport exactly one hour before departure. Phew.

When I arrived in Istanbul I got my bearings and headed on the metro to the old historic part of the city, Sultanahmet, where our hostel was located. On my way to the hostel, I met a young Serbian man that was on my flight from Belgrade. As we kept talking, we discovered that we were staying at the same place which immediately made finding it that much easier.

I got to the hostel around 9pm and the girls and Aran were already there sitting on the rooftop terrace enjoying some traditional raki (Turkish liquor when mixed with water turns cloudy and tastes like black licorice). After settling in, we headed to dinner to celebrate Megan’s birthday and see the town a little bit. This is when we all learned how much Turkish men love blue eyes.

Day Two: Mosques and the Grand Bazaar

Day two started off with a short 5 minute walk to the Blue Mosque. To say this thing is big is an understatement. This was the first mosque I’ve ever been in so it was an interesting experience. We put our shawls on our heads, took off or shoes, and the ones that had bare legs were given skirts to put over themselves and headed inside. One of my favorite things about religious places is the wall art and there was no shortage here. I’m used to Orthodox churches that are covered with frescos of saints, apostles, and martyrs. The mosque walls were covered but with beautiful floral patterns in every shade of blue imaginable. The whole place gave off an air of calm and serenity even with the crowds of tourists everywhere.

The Hagia Sophia sits directly across from the Blue Mosque so naturally, this was our next stop. The thing that struck me the most about the Hagia Sophia is the sheer size of it. It was at one point the center of Christianity but i just never thought it would be THAT big. It was really interesting to see the mix of both religions present throughout the structure. There were frescoes of Jesus and St. John the Baptist right next to Islamic scriptures.

After leaving Aran and our new friend Srdjan, the girls and I decided to head back to the hostel and grab some lunch. When we got back to the hostel we ended up befriending a girl named Rebecca from Canada. We had some lunch and washed it down with apple tea (my newest obsession) and started off for the Grand Bazaar.

The Grand Bazaar was just as massive and congested as I imagined it would be. There was everything and anything available for a decent price if you could haggle for it. Here was when we first realized that all of the shop workers, which were male, used charm as their tactic of choice. We got called Spice Girls a countless number of times along with God only knows how many various celebrity names.

The rest of the day was just spent moseying which was followed by some dinner and more moseying.

Day Three: Baths and Birthdays

This day was our new friend Rebeca’s birthday so the only natural thing to do for your birthday would be go to a spa and we did just that. Just turn spa into Turkish bath. Entering into the location didn’t look very promising until we got inside of the women’s section. There were three floors of couches and different areas for pampering. The attendant gave us some bikini bottoms to put on and sent us upstairs to undress. When we got into the bath area there was a large circular heated marble plateau where a few women were already laying on. There was also a jacuzzi, mini heated pool, and areas for self bathing. Some of the girls decided to go for the full service and have an attendant bathe them but, as you all know I hate being touched, I decided to just bathe myself. We spent about an hour in the sauna of a room and then enjoyed some mud masks and finished it off with apple tea.

After the bath we made our way through the intertwining side streets of the city and ended up on the other end of the Golden Horn at the Spice Bazaar. The Spice Bazaar is just like the Grand Bazaar but not so…grand. We perused around and found a shop where we could buy some Turkish Delight and tea for a good price. After talking with the very nice store attendant (the only woman attendant that we saw) we learned that she was Romanian from Suceava. Talk about a small world!

Our last stop for the day was the Basilica Cistern. We did the most touristy thing we could think of here and that was to take a “Turkish” group picture. Aran dressed up as a Sultan and the girls dressed up as royalty. The best way to describe the cistern is to compare it to the dungeon in the Harry Potter movie when Harry battles the Basilisk.

By the time we got back to the hostel we had enough time to change and get ready to go out and celebrate Rebeca’s birthday. We went to Taksim which is known for it’s nightclubs and found a place for some more traditional Turkish food. After about an hour and a half and a large bottle of raki split between the seven of us, we started our search for a particular club of interest. An hour later, when we finally found it, it was closed. Bummer. We didn’t let our setback stop us at all. The rest of the night was spent bar hopping and trying out the local street food like muscles and Kokoreç aka sheep’s colon sandwiches which are actually extremely tasty!

Day Four: Asia

After a slow start due to the previous night’s late arrival, we got on a bus that was to take us to a boat for a Bospherus Straight tour. The tour lasted about 90 minutes and we got to see a lot of scenic buildings, great views, and learn many interesting facts about the city such as the fact that in Istanbul alone there are roughly 3,042 mosques, 120 churches, and 16 synagogues.

When the tour had finished we hopped off the bus at the harbor to grab some fish sandwiches. These aren’t your ordinary sandwiches. The fish is freshly caught and they are made on floating boats that act as kitchens. These boats aren’t very big so when one of the big ferries ports, they get thrown around in the current. I don’t know how those cooks manage to not get seasick everyday.

Our main goal for the day was to make it to Asia and we did just that. After a 15 minute ferry ride across the straight we reached another continent. Since Lindsay is part Japanese, we made sure to get our fair share of “motherland” comments in. After a short hour or so on the Asian side, we decided Europe was cooler and headed back.

Day four was a rough one so we took it easy that night and relaxed and went to bed early to prepare for  our last day in Istanbul.

Day Five: The Final Countdown

We were woken up to some awful weather that looked like it was sticking around but we powered through it and visited my most anticipated part of the trip; Topkapi Palace. The palace was turned into a museum a long time ago and holds some amazing historical treasures. What we thought was just going to be an hour long visit turned into about three hours. Some of the highlights we saw were Moses’ staff, Ștefan Cel Mare’s sword, and several artifacts that belonged to Muhammed the Prophet and his family. A fellow volunteer said it best when talking about the palace by saying that it is truly remarkable that someone so many years ago thought it was important to save items that represent the start of what was to become one of the world’s largest religions. Towards the end of our visit, as we were taking a group picture on a covered terrace overlooking the straight, a covered woman came up to me and asked me to take a picture with her. I was confused but then the 10 men she was with said I was a star. Um okay? After I took a picture with her, we asked her to take a picture with us and this is when the photo shoot started. Every single one of the men asked to take a picture with me and Aran managed to capture all of it. Who knew I would cause such a stir in the palace! We got to talking and I learned this group was from Iraq and was told that if I ever come to Iraq, I have a husband waiting for me. Super.

After leaving the palace we made our way back to the Grand Bazaar to pick up some knickknacks we had our eye on from our first trip and grab one last kebap and freshly squeezed cup of pomegranate juice before we packed up all of our belongings and said farewell to such a gorgeous city.

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La Sfârşitul Lumii

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La sfarsitul lumii means at the end of the world and that is exactly where I went to celebrate my Thanksgiving weekend. Kelly lives in a little village called Focuri which literally means fires. She is about 45km outside of Iasi, the second largest city in Romania. I left for my adventure immediately after school on Thursday. With my backpack in tow, I headed to the main corner where one picks up rides that are leaving the city. I found a ride within 10 minutes and headed to the train station in Ilva Mica. After waiting for about 40 minutes for the train to Pascani, I finally got on the train and then proceeded to defrost my body for the next hour or so. Nothing unusual came out of the train ride, random bunicas (grandmas) talking to me and inquiring where i’m going, why i’m going then finding out i’m not a native speaker which just opens the floodgates to even more follow up questions. Since I was not going to be able to make it to Kelly’s site in one travel day, my stop, 5.5 hours later was Pascani, the home of two very wonderful volunteers that would also be attending our Thanksgiving feast name Theron and Sarah.

The following morning, the three of us got up around 8 and headed for the train station to meet the others in Iasi. Our train arrived 1.5 hours later and we were greeted on the platform by Kelly and another volunteer Matt. Our first order of business was getting a little taste of America by patroning the McDonald’s that is right next to the train station. The rest of our time spent in Iasi was shopping at the ginormous grocery store that Carrefour has made at the edge of the city and being astonished that they actually carried sweet potatoes since no one knows what sweet potatoes are and they assume they are regular potatoes you just put sugar on. We caught the last bus out of Iasi at 5pm and headed to Focuri. After about half an hour on the bus, the asphalt stopped and we knew we had officially entered no man’s land. The last hour of the bus ride was spent bobbing up and down and trying to figure our exact location based on the minimal outside lighting.

Saturday rolled around and the last two members of our Thanksgiving Day Extravaganza arrived which brought our party’s total to 9 PCVs in a house that was built for far less and for hobbits under 5ft tall. Since the kitchen we were to use was a very cozy 6×6 foot space, and the stove could only accommodate about 1 item at a time, we had to start cooking fairly early. at 11am, we started off with the apple pie to get it out of the way. When we started our cooking, we did not anticipate that we would be cooking until 8pm ish. After the turkey had been taken out of the oven and the side dishes were underway, we were graced by the wonderful Thanksgiving Gods and the power went out on the whole street. Since we didn’t really have a choice and Kelly’s host’s oven/stove runs on gas, we continued cooking, mainly in the dark with the only light being from the flashlights on our cheap first generation Nokia phones. We managed to carve the Turkey, set the table, finish all the sides, and dish out the food all in the dark and we finally sat down to dinner around 8pm. Eating in the dark was definitely an interesting experience.

I don’t know if it was because of the lack of light, the fact that we all missed our friends and family back home, or the fact that we actually made delicious meals, but the food was extrodinary. Everything was made from absolute scratch and every bite tasted even better than the last. We went around the table and said what we are thankful for and I shared with the group that this was my first real American Thanksgiving. Being foreign and what not, my family doesn’t really celebrate Thanksgiving that much. The reason why we started eating a turkey for the holiday was because my dad would get them free from work. Every Thanksgiving that I have been to was never a dinner but more of a lunch, which to me, just didn’t seem quite authentic. On top of that, every single one had at least one Serbian dish that just didn’t fit the typical Thanksgiving menu.

Travelling a total of 24 hours within a 3 day span was quite exhausting but so worth it. I’m so happy I got to spend the holiday with such great people that have become my Romanian family.

 

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