Friday, 3 February 2012

An Eastern Adventure

I am knackered. I have bags under my eyes that I’m surprised Easy Jet didn’t try and charge me for. I also have a knackered shoulder thanks to National Express thinking that their seats are in any way suitable for long-distance travel.

However, this was all in a good cause.

Istanbul baby!

It was absolutely fantastic – tiring, but sooooo worth it.

I know what you’re thinking, and you can stop right there! No, it had nothing to do with a man. I’ll  reiterate that because it seems nobody believes me, and in most people’s eyes, the only reason a girl would go to Istanbul in winter is to see a guy. Wrong! This girl goes to Istanbul in winter for fun girly weekend breaks, chicken kebabs, Efes and baklava. No men involved. However there was rather a lot of Efes involved, but that’s never a bad thing.

It was an overall really positive trip in a lot of ways, the main one being that I may have come to my senses in regards to the boy. Shock horror! Yes, I know, long overdue. I’m done. I think. I really don’t want to be done, but I’m done. Bottom line is, yeah I still have feelings, quite strong ones, but I deserve to be treated better. Done.

Are you convinced yet? Have I said the word ‘done’ enough times?

But really, I’m done. Honest I am.

So anyway, back to our little adventure.

Getting ready in Nottingham
For the many things I saw and learnt in those four days, one of the first was that student night in the middle of Nottingham is, erm, yeah, interesting. I come from a large town, so I thought I’d seen most things with regards to nights out, but bouncers in McDonalds? That’s a new one on me. I don’t fancy their job either, with some of the sights that attempted to cross the door for a Big Mac. Scary. In fact, they made Ronald McDonald look friendly.

In case you were wondering what the hell we were doing in a city in the Midlands, when I was meant to be heading east – meeting my mate en route. See, now you understand.

So then came the first trauma of a very long night and day - my first ever Easy Jet flight. Yeah, I was an Easy Jet virgin – and after attempting to get seated, I understood why. Oh my god, talk about cattle market. It’s a good job we’d loaded up on Krispy Kremes and Starbucks otherwise I might just have lost my rag with the pushing, shoving and general rudeness. And that was just the stewardesses. We eventually got seated and on our way; I think my stress levels dropped somewhere over Germany, and that was only thanks to my second donut of the day. Breakfast of champions.

The moment we landed in Turkey I felt like I’d come home. My friend agreed.

Don’t roll your eyes. It just felt right, and considering I’d never been to Istanbul before, you’ve got to admit that’s pretty weird. I can’t explain it, I just connect with the place for some reason, everything about it. Okay not everything, I did end up having a rather heated debate over the whole Turkish/Kurdish thing at one point, but it’s fine, we agreed to disagree. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to fully explain, or understand, why a country that five years ago, I had no interest at all in visiting, has managed to get me hook, line and sinker, completely in love with it. But I ain’t complaining.

So Istanbul.

Crossing from Asia to Europe
Istanbul is big. Huge in fact. That’s one big assed city. It was also one very cold, big assed city. But a wonderful, cold, big assed city all the same. We didn’t get lost either, well apart from in the Grand Bazaar but I’m assured that even the locals get lost in there, so you can’t really blame us for that.

And then it snowed.

Now I’ve learnt that in England, we are absolutely crap at snow. I’ve suspected this for a while, my ex-flatmate was Norwegian, well she is Norwegian still, but whenever it snowed she used to roll her eyes and mutter about how we used to stop everything and panic, when in Norway everything just carried on. She’s right, I’ve seen it with my own eyes now. Nobody batted an eyelid when massive white flakes started falling from the murky sky and people started sliding down the street, rather than walking. We were shrieking and muttering about cold, whilst trying not to fall over. Spot the Brit. But the snow added a certain something to it, I have to admit. Frostbite maybe, but it was pretty.

Beautiful Blue Mosque at night
We did the normal touristy things – Blue Mosque (beautiful and so serene, although the fashion look we were forced to adopt, headscarf, no shoes and dodgy blue wrap thing, because apparently leggings aren’t considered the thing to wear (even when covered by a dress), was not something Gok Wan would have approved of), Hagia Sofia (really took my breath away), Grand Bazaar (lost! Was just like Marmaris bazaar on acid basically), and Taksim square (busy!). We also did the normal touristy thing of getting conned.

The new fashion trend .. it'll catch on!
You’d think we’d know better, it’s far from the first time we’ve been to this country, but no, we fell for several scams, which thankfully we can laugh at now.

The first one was due to us being completely and utterly naive, there really is no other excuse for it, we should have known better. There we were, stood taking photos of Blue Mosque, trying not to turn blue ourselves due to the cold, when this tall, dark, handsome stranger comes over and starts asking us where we’re from, telling us that he talks to tourists to practice his English. Yeah, I know, looking back it’s obvious, his English was better than mine. Then he asks if we want to go to his shop for a drink because Turkish hospitality (we heard this phrase far too much from men over the course of the weekend) says that if you have a drink with someone, that means 40 years of friendship. I know, I know – gullible.

Yes, we went. Yes, we’re naive. Turns out his shop was a carpet shop.

Yeah, I’ll pause for you to laugh.

In our defence, it was a carpet shop with central heating, so all was not lost.

We got our cup of cay, but we also got the hard sell from his boss, after the dude who had collared us in the street, the one who wanted to be our friend for 40 years, had conveniently disappeared. Hmmm, ploy to get girls into the shop? Methinks so. Needless to say, we didn’t buy a carpet, I can’t say I have 500 quid going spare, and if I did, I wouldn’t be spending it on a carpet. We did however play him at his own game and pretend we were interested in purchasing one, making him get loads and loads of carpets out, us sitting there going ‘no, I don’t like that one’, ‘yeah that’s nice’, ‘oh have you got that in pink?’ Served him right.

We managed to escape eventually, after he made me take loads of photos of the carpets on my phone because we’d lied and said we’d call someone back home with a photo of one, as they may be interested, then return later.

Needless to say we didn’t.

Needless to say those photos are no longer on my phone either.

So then we headed out to Hagia Sofia, and found the Istanbul version of the famous Marmaris chat up line ‘let’s go for a walk on the beach’. Anyone who’s been to Marmaris will know that a ‘walk on the beach’, does not involve walking. Seems the Istanbul version of this is to hang around well known tourist spots, and randomly compliment English girls, telling them that it’s Turkish hospitality (that again) and do we want to meet him later in Taksim for a glass of wine. Er, no. What’s your name again?!

Shameless, I tell you.

Pleased with our day of sightseeing in the snow, we decided to head over to Taksim to meet a friend for some well-deserved Efes. Then came scam number 2, or 3 if you want to look at the wine thing another way - taxi on a meter. Normally I wouldn’t get in a taxi without agreeing a price first, but it was absolutely Baltic, snowing and there were no taxis to be seen apart from this particular one, which is odd considering on our last night, there were more taxis than ants on the pavement in summer. So in we get, being far too trusting again – bad move. A taxi that should have cost us 15 lira, ended up costing us nearer 30, thanks to him driving around in a rather large circle, hoping we wouldn’t notice. In the end we got our friend to speak to him on the phone and he practically threw us out earlier than he should, luckily we managed to find our way. Git.

The final scam (yes, we had one for every day we were there) was a little old man, who we thought we were helping out. Wrong again. Turns out the sweet, little old man, was a conman instead.

What would you do if an old, tottering man walked past you and dropped his shoe brush? You’d shout him back and pick it up for him, right? Well being well mannered girls, that’s what we did. And when the old man shouted after us and offered to shine our shoes for helping him, being typically British we bumbled a bit, saying ‘oh no need’ before he took the initiative and practically began shining our boots anyway. Nice old man he was, telling us about his children, who then became his starving children, who we then bought dinner for when he charged us 20 lira each. Shiny shoes though.

You live and learn.

Something I will never learn, it seems, is that me and alcohol do not go together well. Well, we go together well at the time, not so well a couple of hours later when I’m sat on the bathroom floor, groaning that I’m never drinking again. It was worth it though, we had a great night, and for the first time in ages I forgot all the crap (i.e. the crap with the boy) and just had a good time. I liked that feeling. I’m keeping hold of that feeling.

There are definitely some sights in Taksim of an evening though, at one stage I wasn’t sure if I was looking at a man or a woman, whatever it was, it was very convincing either way. It also seems that rocking up at a restaurant serving dessert at 3am is perfectly normal, as is eating Baklava and kunefe washed down with Efes at 3am. I have to say, it’s my kinda city.

I’ve yet to decide which I prefer – baklava or kunefe, but it’s a close call. It’s also what I’m blaming my 3lb weight gain on. Nothing to do with the Efes at all.

The next morning though, after groaning about never drinking again, I woke up with the hangover of all hangovers. We were not up for sightseeing, I didn’t really feel like I was up for keeping anything solid down either, but you’ll be pleased to know I managed it. So instead of going to Topkapi Palace like we’d intended, we meandered around, with the sole intention of finding Starbucks, and actually ending up down near the fish market and walking along the sea front. It was nice, and it blew away some of the hangover. It was on this walk we came across the shoe shine man. I blame the hangover, and the lack of Starbucks. The ironic thing about this is that when you’re not looking for Starbucks in Istanbul, you’ll find three; when you want one, there’s none to be found.

For some reason the hangover made us slightly more adventurous and we bravely tried the underground on our own. We didn’t get lost. How good is that? We were ridiculously proud of ourselves and took a few photos to prove it. Yeah, we’re sad, but it was fun. We also did the obligatory bit of shopping and found the most bargainous of bargains, a shop selling loads of costume jewellery for 3 lira each. We managed to bag ourselves 100 lira’s worth of jewellery for 15 lira. Now if that’s not a find, I don’t know what is. And it is in this shop that I decided I was definitely getting my nose pierced. I mean, you get a pack of 5 gorgeous nose studs for 3 lira, of course it’s a sign you must get a hole punched through your nose.

Look closely - needle!
Well, I thought it would be punched through, turns out it was stabbed through with a very large needle and left in for a while, whilst my mate took photos of me looking like something out of a tribe. Hideous. The guy doing the deed kept stopping to laugh at me, which didn’t fill me with much confidence – surely it’s perfectly normal for your lip to quiver when someone’s coming at you with a 10cm needle, with the intention of sticking it through your nose?! He’s lucky I didn’t punch him, it’s a bit of a reflex action in self-defence where needles are concerned. You wouldn’t think I’d got three tattoos.

But I was brave anyway, and I now have a cute pink, sparkly stud. What isn’t cute is the rather large hook on the end of it that I have to keep in for six weeks whilst it heals. Driving me mad already, but I’m assured it’ll be worth it when I can put a normal backed stud in. And I have five to choose from, remember.

Decisions, decisions.

There was far too much to see in four days, and the sheer size of the place made it practically impossible to see it all anyway, but what we did see was totally worth it. I remembered what I love about Turkey without the boy being involved, because I admit I was starting to think that he was the reason for it all. Thankfully I’ve remembered he isn’t, and I remembered how to party with my friends and have a great time in their company, without constantly feeling guilty, looking over my shoulder or feeling sad about who wasn’t there. 

I think maybe I found myself again in Istanbul. Crazy, I know, but this is the first time I’ve come home from Turkey in well over 12 months without feeling like my heart’s been ripped out all over again. I like coming home and not feeling like that, as much as I still didn’t want to leave, and as much as summer planning is well underway.

The other thing this trip has left me with is an addiction to Starbucks that I don’t think I’ll ever be cured from. We don’t have a Starbucks in our town; I have the shakes to prove it. Costa just ain’t the same.

So now I look like staying put for a few months, until summer decides to grace us with its presence and I can jet off again.


Summer – hadi hadi! Can't wait.

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