Monday, October 29, 2012

A Trip for the Soul

My trip to Florence and Istanbul was absolutely a trip for the soul. I laughed more in one week than I have in a long, long time. I had wonderful conversations with not only LG and Kate but the many people of all backgrounds we met along the way. That being said, it was not a trip for the body. My soul may be refreshed but after hours of walking (uphill both ways), lots of pasta, a few bottles of wine, and not a lot of sleep.. its been an epic marathon! It was an unbelievable week but I'm so glad to be home in London.

First, I'll begin by sharing the motto of Istanbul because it pretty much sums up our entire trip.
"They call it chaos, we call it home."
Pitti Palace Gardens
Let me try to give a summary of our hectic and hilarious week.. Sunday morning I headed to the airport on the tube carrying a three packets of Kleenex and some heavy duty Mucinex. I woke up with a terrible cold so it was a loooong day of flying to Rome, meeting up with Kate, taking an hour bus, and then a two hour train ride into Florence. A total of 12 hours travelling and I was ready for bed! We met up with LG, Kate's brother and some Chi O girls (studying abroad in Florence) and headed for a delicious dinner and gelato, of course!

Monday was spent walking around and exploring. We wandered around to a few squares, got an awesome brunch (topped off with a spicy bloody mary!), and then explored the Palazzo Pitti gardens.

The view!
Tuesday we went to Santa Croce, via Mom's suggestion, and I saw Michelangelo's memorial! The church was so epic with its beautiful ceilings and gorgeous frescos by some of the great Renaissance masters. We also walked up to Palazzo Michelangelo to see the gorgeous view of the city. It was a hike but it was so worth it!

That night, we went to dinner with Kate's brother to a true Italian family restaurant. The tortellini was amazing!! After that we headed to the Lion's Fountain, a (semi) famous pub in Florence.. yes, we went to a British pub in Italy. The night then progressed into dancing to Wagon Wheel, which was played a couple times an hour, and meeting some more Americans who were living in Florence. We loved hanging with the Americans and dancing to some music that made us feel a bit like we were back at home.. or at least in college!

Our late night with friends (and my ongoing sickness - at this point I have no voice!) made for a pretty rough travel day on Wednesday. We spent the train ride back to Rome sleeping.. except for when a man tried to steal Laura Grace's bag and an Italian woman stood up for us and verbally attacked him. At one point, I may have cried as I chatted with a family of four sitting near us..."I miss my family!!" I said to the teenage boy and he responded with, "Well, you can have mine." ....Typical.

After the train ride which was pretty terrible, we then had an even worse bus experience. I'll spare the details but let's just say it wasn't pretty. LG and I saw our breakfasts again thanks to a smelly, crowded, hot, bumpy, curvy, evil bus ride. I rarely get car sick but this just pushed me over the limit, not to mention my runny nose, hacking cough, and pounding headache. After making it through what seemed like the bus ride from hell, we ended up in the airport security lines only to realize that we are going to be late for our flight. We pushed through the lines and jump in front of a group of about 30 Asian tourists, by just smiling and saying "sorry."

Finally, I look ahead and Kate has broken out into a full on sprint to our gate. LG and I, having just lost much of our energy due to the bus sickness, attempt to follow along in hot pursuit.. key word: attempt. Kate sprints ahead to hold the gate and after a five minute all out run, we get to the gate to see no one waiting in line or surrounding the gate. It is fifteen minutes before our flight supposedly leaves and the gate attendants told us we still had to wait for the bus to take us to the plane. (Thank goodness because it took me about 5 minutes to catch my breath from all the running and the laughing at how absurd the day had been.) Italians do not wear watches nor do they care about the concept of time. We wait for a bus, then wait on the bus for a driver, then ride the bus to the plane. Ten minutes after our plane is supposed to be in the air, we casually walk onto the plane and take a seat..... We later land in Istanbul and all give a huge sigh of relief! The day of travelling was torture but I wouldn't have survived without LG and Kate there to laugh with me.
In front of the Hagia Sofia
Thursday we were fortunate enough to take a tour with a hilarious tour guide, Aiden.. a forty something year old jokester who is super knowledgeable of Turkish history and monuments. We went to the Hagia Sofia and a few other mosques which was incredibly eye opening for me! Most of these mosques were originally churches but were transformed into mosques as Islamic people took over the area thousands of years ago. We went into the mosque where the first dome ever was built. Imagine that! The first dome in the whole world was built in this tiny church/mosque in Istanbul.. so cool. We also explored Topkapi, which was the palace of the sultan. Jewels, clothing, art, weapons and amazing views all were a part of this massive complex. Not to mention, the world's 4th largest diamond!

LG and Aiden, our fearless leader!
Aiden helped us experience the food on Istanbul as well... LG got a face full of pistachio Baklava even though she resisted due to her hatred of nuts and I ate a plateful of mashed potatoes. Chewy ice cream (aka dondurma) was also quite an experience. We all laughed the whole day and I felt like Aiden and I really enjoyed each others company due to our equally sarcastic humor. Let's just say, we bonded.

Aiden finished our day by suggesting we go to the Turkish baths. Back in the day, the baths were used for the sultan's many wives before they were going to see their man. Nowadays its more like a spa.. spa being a very light term. Here's my play by play: Go in, strip down and lay on a hot stone with about thirty other women. Pores are opening up. Large half naked woman comes to scrub you down, dirt comes off of your skin. Gross. Get freezing water and then hot water on you and get a five minute "massage". Stand up go to "hot tub", sit. Get out, go to "shower". Rinse off and feel "refreshed". You have now been treated like a princess and, by the way, you loved it. What an experience! It was hilarious and funny and I'm so glad we went. It was absolutely a new adventure for us....

Dinner afterwards was delicious and there we said goodbye to Aiden as he had to get home to his 7 month old twins! We finished up dinner and then headed to a hookah bar to get the true Turkish lifestyle! As we sat on the elaborate couches and watched the locals and tourists, it was truly an experience I will never forget. One conversation we had consisted of me speaking in Spanish, Kate speaking in Turkish, and our new friend speaking in English to all make sure we understood what was being said. It was funny and a bit awkward, as it was my first tri-lingual conversation, but I realized how cool it was to be in a place that was so welcoming and open to new people.

Like our new friend, everyone in Turkey welcomed us with open arms. Literally. The culture in Turkey is very different from back home but in this regard, I found so many similarities. We were frequently asked to come to people's stores, homes, or restaurants and every Turk we met was begging to teach us Turkish in exchange for an English lesson.  Everyone was kind and so curious about how and why we are in Istanbul. If I was confused or just looked plain scared (which I frequently was/did), they just smiled and tried their best to help me out. Not to mention the compliments the three of us received on a daily (if not hourly) basis. Good thing Kate speaks a bit of Turkish because it was quite the confidence booster. All in all, I liked Istanbul but I loved the Turks!

The Dead Sea
Friday we spent on a boat tour of the Bosporus. We docked in a small place two hours down the water and hiked to the top of a hill to look out over the Dead Sea. The Dead Sea! How sweet is that. Lunch was a full fish (head and tail and all!) that was delicious but a serious pain to eat. After a short nap on the boat ride home, we got another quick tour from Aiden's friend (again, Turkish hospitality!) and then went to dinner off the main street in Istanbul. After dinner, we met up with LG's friend and began celebrating Kate's 23rd birthday at midnight! A few hours later, we are leaving somewhere after dancing and celebrating and we run into a friend's older brother who is working in Istanbul. There are over 13 million people in the city and we end up talking to him! Such a small world. Anyways, this leads us to another place to chat and continue Kate's birthday celebration. It was an awesome night that, again, ended in dancing to Wagon Wheel a few times. What is it with that song?!

Friday night dinner
Saturday was a relaxing day, we moved into a 'fancy' hotel for Kate's birthday and it was so nice to sleep in a giant soft and good smelling bed! Sunday, I shopped a little around for Christmas presents and then heading to the airport around lunchtime. Had a long wait there and then a long flight home but was so happy when I finally got off the tube at Earl's Court and it was about 40 degrees and raining! That's my weather and I looooove it. Home sweet home.

So, if you've actually stuck with me this far.. well done and I'm surprise you don't have anything better to do. This may be the longest post I ever write but I just wanted to properly chronicle the week. I've skipped the cats, the insults, the mustaches, the dirty jokes, the "Turkish Jesus", and the Asia conversation so I'll actually have something to talk about when I get home. I hope y'all've got a better idea of my wild and wacky week in Italy and Turkey! I went into this trip by saying that it was my "try new things adventure" and it certainly lived up to that description. Thanks to LG and Kate who helped open my eyes and my mind (and sometimes held my hand) through all these new and exciting adventures, I wouldn't have traded this trip for anything.

Now, back in Londontown searching for internships and thesis topics, I have the wonderful and comical memories of my last week with dear friends to get my through the challenging weeks (work-wise) ahead! I've got 7 weeks in London until I head back to the South, my friends, and my family and I'm not going to waste a minute of it! So many adventures to come, I can't wait.

Cheers y'all, Lis

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