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Our Life in Istanbul

June 15, 2011

By Nicole

In March George and I made the big move to Istanbul. After months of mulling through our options we decided Turkey would be a relatively inexpensive–yet exciting–place to work on our dissertations. After sadly leaving my job at PPIC, I am happy to say that this is the first time since, well, ever that I am devoting my time solely to school. No work for me! Only dissertations!  But really, it’s time for us to get these suckers done. So I had to put my workaholic attitude aside for a spring and summer.  Although George has lived abroad before, this is my first time living outside of the United States, and will be the longest time I have lived outside of California. Needless to say, Turkey has been quite an experience so far.

We arrived on March 23 with way too much luggage, without a place to live. So, our excess baggage was particularly problematic as we bounced around several shoe box-sized hostels. The first two hostels were pretty much unlivable, even for a couple of days. This motivated us to diligently look for an apartment.

Still, the process was trying, and took a couple of weeks. We finally hit the jackpot and found an apartment in the Taksim Square area of Beyoglu in the New City. Ironically, it was right across the street from one of the hostels we stayed in so it seemed meant to be. Before we were able to move into the apartment, we found a hostel in the backpacker area of the “Old City” near the major historical sites. We spent several days there celebrating our arrival in Istanbul–and having a nice place to live–over hookah and Efes beer; as a result are now VIPs at the Sultan hostel.  (We also saw all the major historical sites.)

The apartment itself is perfectly setup for us: it is large, has two large desks and a king-sized velvet chair for George to use, has a dining room, and comes with lots of funky art on the walls.  Best of all, it is located just off the main pedestrian thoroughfare in Istanbul’s new city, Istiklal Caddesi. We are surrounded by a thriving bar and restaurant scene, and are put to sleep each night to the sound of thumping techno beats. We love it! Unfortunately we will only be living here for a couple more weeks, at which point we will be off to Southeastern Turkey.

For those of you who have never been here, Istanbul is a city of about 13 million people. It spans two continents across the divide between Europe and Asia. The divide runs from the Mediterranean Sea through the Dardanelles, the Sea of Marmara, and the Bosporus, ending in the Black Sea. Istanbul straddles the Bosporus, giving it both a European and Asian side. The European side is itself split in two by the Golden Horn, an inlet that separates the “Old City” and the “New City.” The Old City is where all of the ancient Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman ruins are, and is the main tourist area of Istanbul. The New City is much more cosmopolitan and modern, and is the center of Istanbul’s nightlife, dining, art, and shopping.

Turkey is about 98% Muslim, but is one of the most liberal Muslim countries in the world. Many women in Istanbul wear head scarves, and in some areas full black cloaks are won. But one of the first things I noticed about the city is how diverse it is. There are many different ethnic groups that live in Turkey and quite a range of religiosity; we have run into some pockets of the city where all of the women are covered and in other places it feels like walking in Union Square.

Anyhow, the language barrier has not been too much of a problem for us because most people we have encountered know some English. And we have learned enough Turkish to get by. I’d say the worst things we’ve had to deal with in Istanbul are: terrible traffic, smog, sexism and the impossibility of exercising outside (I will comment on this later), it is not pedestrian friendly, and we have to live on bottled water.

But despite some small setbacks, George and I have both grown to love Istanbul. The people are very friendly. The Turkish food is great. The views from the terraces are phenomenal: Istanbul has a gorgeous skyline and from rooftops you can see the Bosporus Strait, the Sea of Marmara, the Golden Horn, and the many  gorgeous mosques at 360 degrees. Istanbul is very vibrant and exciting, and we each learn something new everyday. We both recognize how fortunate we are to live here even for this short time.

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