Today was the PERFECT first day in Istanbul! I am so exhausted but just so excited for my stay here in Turkey!
This morning I left Germany and my wonderful “German family”. [I’ve been Au Pairing their 1 and 3 yr old sons.] It was SO hard to say goodbye to those two cuties! They have been my buds for the last few months and I will miss the laughs we shared. This morning as I was loading my suitcases out the door, eating breakfast, etc, Nelson would wave “goodbye” or sign “love you!” every time I entered or exited a room. It was so adorable and pulled on my heart strings! He and Betty dropped me off at the train. I handled my emotions just fine until they started running alongside the train to wave, then I got a little misty…
I flew into Istanbul; a city that goes on FOREVER! My favorite part was seeing the minarets that make the city so unique; tall, skinny, pointy towers where song-like prayers are announced on loud speakers 5 times a day. There are mosques every few blocks: kind of like Christian churches on the Bible belt, Hindu shrines in India, or stake centers in Utah 😉 I realized on the plane I’m arriving during the month of Ramadan which is a month-long fast where believers only eat after the sun sets. It’s the perfect time to get a real feel for the culture here!
I flew into Turkey and met the family I am staying with at the airport. They were so warm and friendly—I really want you guys to meet them on Skype! A month and a half doesn’t feel long now that I know the family a little more. 🙂 They have been the perfect hosts and have SO many plans for my stay here to show me Turkey. They are so proud of their nation and I have been learning so much about the history since I came (being the history buff that I am, I can’t get enough! The dad, Attilla, even lent me some of his history books!) They live in a beautiful home with an incredible view outside the city, with the blue water in the distance. [My room is wonderful—they have beautiful real flowers in a vase, chocolates on the table, white slippers, and every kind of toiletry I could possibly use—I feel so special. :)]
The Aegean Sea, the Sea of Marmara, and the Black Sea surround Istanbul. My “Turkish family” told me that Istanbul is a bridge between eastern and western cultures. The cuisine is vast because of how many times this area has “changed hands” in history. The Holy Roman Empire, the Byzantine Empire, the Ottoman Empire, etc. all participated in making Istanbul such a combination of every culture! Oh, and guess what!?! Istanbul has a population of 20 MILLION. Holy cow!!! And I thought Ho Chi Minh City of 7 million was huge. 😀
Anyways, after a swim in their pool and a traditional Turkish dinner [the food is amazing here!!! grape leaves and meat, handmade noodles and tomato sauce, infamous Turkish yogurt!] I was able to meet some of the extended family. Just picture “My Big Fat Greek Wedding”—everyone was so friendly and I got lots of kisses. 🙂 Funda’s mother was so sweet and reminded me of Fotoula’s mom so much! Everyone is SO welcoming here; they are wonderful hosts. I want to be like them when I have a home someday: truly make guests feel welcome and appreciated. Then Attilla, Funda, and Efe (their son) took me to downtown Istanbul.
We started driving right as it became sunset and the roads were EMPTY. Why? Because Istanbul’s 95% Muslim population had all finished their fasts and were eating. 🙂 The minarets lights turn on to show it’s sunset and then the festivities begin. As we drove downtown every restaraunt/roadside stand was packed with people. Everyone was eating and dancing, celebrating the end of another day of fasting (17 hours a day for a month is incredible!) Attilla does Ramadan as well, so he was telling me all about how happy everyone is at the end of the day and the worshipping they do during this month. It’s fascinating!
We parked and started walking, I couldn’t turn my head fast enough to see everything! It was hilarious because every time Attilla would see a Christian church, he would turn to me and say “Destiny! Church!” 🙂 Saw a mosque, a synagogue, and a church all on one street; quite a unity of religions here! There are so many people, all very happy and enjoying their nighttime of eating. Attilla informed me that many people eat until 4 in the morning, sleep a few hours, then wake up for work the next day. Wow, I respect their devotion!
Then Attilla and Funa surprised me by getting in a boat and taking me around the harbor!!! It was incredible with the lights, especially the Bosphorus Bridge. I had a total “I’M IN TURKEY!!!” moment standing on the deck, seeing the castles from the 1400s, looking at the neon lights, watching the minarets light up, passing the docks full of people celebrating, and looking at the nearly full moon reflecting off the water. If I could have flown you guys to Turkey, I would have done it in a heartbeat. I wanted my family here so bad to share in this incredible experience!!! I’ve also noticed that most of these moments happen while on the water 😉
After the perfect boat ride, it was 10:00 prayer time. There are announcers at the top of every minaret singing prayers, but to see everyone start worshipping was breath-taking and I couldn’t help smiling from happiness as I stood and observed their devotion. Wow, I am actually living in Turkey! I am going to learn so much about this faith, this culture, and myself in the next month and a half!!!