Saturday, May 18, 2013

The Best Day, The Worst Day and The Longest Post Ever

With this blog I'll continue and conclude my Turkish experience but with more of a twist as it also documents one of the best days of my life, right beside the worst day of my life. There's the set up folks, so here it goes.

So, where were we? Oh yes, Saturday night was fairly uneventful - ignoring Carly's most ridiculous thing I've ever been a part of that I want to remember forever but also forget at the same time. But I'm gonna be damn sure I NEVER let her forget it. I digress...

The next day we woke up with plans to go to Istanbul Modern and this was really a highlight of the trip. The museum was smaller than London's Tate Modern but had a very similar feel: white walls, a fairly industrial building next to a body of water, lots of artwork that I couldn't try to understand if my life depended on it. The best part was the galleries focused on Turkish art becuase I am fairly unknowledgable in this subject. The Istanbul Modern visit gave my best day ever exciting but also intelligent start.

Obviously lunchtime, the group split up and I headed off with my favorite Sewannee couple to attempt to find a lost debit card. Unfortunately, the search was not fruitful but the lunch that proceded it absolutely was. We nommed on Gazpacho, pesto pasta and an amazing white wine while overlooking the Bosphorus. Relishing my position as the third wheel, I just sat back and soaked up the 70 degree weather and pure sunshine as we talked about life. (Yes, actually "life". Epic.) Lunch was followed by a lounge at the local Hukah bar and more conversations about the world. Now, I'm not sure if it was the vitamin D I was soaking in, the delicious food settling in my stomach, or the ambiance of the Hukah bar but I then and there decided this was, by far, one of the best days of my life. I couldn't wipe the smile off my face and when we finally departed from paradise by the Bosphoros and piled into a cab, I could feel the day just getting better and better.

Returning to the hotel around 4 for a short nap, I was awoken by one of my favorite people in the world. Kate decided to make a short trip to Istanbul on her way home to the center of Turkey and I couldn't be more excited to see her. She bounded in the room in typical Kate fashion and we immediately began catching up. We covered our usual topics, found a few new ones and laughed a lot. I was in Heaven.

Time for dinner and we trekked out of the hotel in search of a yummy and perfect last night dinner. Kate and I passed a familiar door and remembered that it is the amazing rooftop bar/restaurant that our tour guide showed us on our last visit. It must be fate. Man, this day just couldn't get better.

We took the lift to the fifth floor and found the gorgeously decorated and amazing smelling restaurant with a view that would have knocked my socks off (had I been wearing them). The roof showed the whole scene of the Bosphorus, the bridge connecting Asian and European Istanbul, and the sunset which was (of course) setting in pinks and oranges just as we chose to take pictures. Like I said, on a roll. I really can't express that enough.

We grabbed some drinks at the bar, the waiters ushered us to a table and I've still got this Cheshire grin on my face. I'm at the head of the table, so I see the people who have really shaped my experience whilst I've been in London this year. (Yes, there are a few more faces that I wish I had seen but then I think I would have internally combusted from joy.)  Each of these folks has been to integral to my Lisa-in-London and I'm so grateful for their role in my life and my role in theirs. We laughed, ate, drank, teased each other, took in the unbelievable view and just enjoyed the moment together. The wine was great and the food was even better. I had mushroom, cheese and zucchini pasta in a creamy dill sauce. (You don't even know it yet, but that was totally more foreshadowing what is to come...back.... up.....)

After dinner, we found a bar to continue the laughter and telling about stupid Youtube stories (love ya, Lillz). Turkish men Hukah-ing all around us and us silly Americans right up in the middle of it, singing Kenny Chesney and Tim McGraw, loving life. And with one cab ride and a goodnight from everyone, the best perfect day was over.

If this was a movie, the music would get a lot faster and more high pitched right now... and then end with DUN DUN DUNNNNN.

Monday morning was a brutal wake up. I thought I may have had one glass of wine to many, but oh no I should only be so lucky. Kate and I stayed in bed til the maid kicked us out right before checkout time and we said goodbye. The worst day ever began with a goodbye, obviously. Kate is leaving Turkey in just a few weeks and I know it will be at least four months until I see her again. In classic Kate fashion, she handled our hug goodbye graceful with me bawling on her shoulder. I'm a crier, what can I say? So my stomach still felt like rocks and now I've just left a best friend. What next?!

As we rode to the airport, I thought I was going to throw-up and then someone did throw up. Thank GOD for sturdy Ziploc bags. I kept my cool until we got through the airport doors and up to a seat and table for my head to rest on. Bad day goes to worst very quickly... Sparing you some gruesome details, I returned from being sick in the bathroom to finally tell the girls that I am actually not okay. Before I could finish the sentence, Carly looks up and says "Whoa you look bad" and I knew we had a problem. Kate then helped me back into the bathroom where I sat on the floor and awaited death.

Okay, just kidding I just wanted to lighten the mood a bit. So I can't move or talk and  I feel like that kid in Honey, I Shrunk the Kids who just really needed to eat a banana. A nice Turkish lady takes interest and I hear the words ambulance and doctor and Kate respond "ENGLISH PLEASE!" I ask Kate, in my usual dramatic form, "please don't let me die here" and while I'm partially unresponsive I remember thinking, "God I can only imagine how dirty this floor is." (That's the Gloria Jean in me for sure).

Suddenly, I'm confronted with George Clooney! A really tan George Clooney..okay, so his name was Dr Nail but he was hot. He asked me if I was on drugs, if I was always this pale (at the time, I thought this was hilarious) and -to make sure I kept looking at him- if he was very handsome. So handsome doctor gets me to this little cart thing, Carly jumps in, Charlotte (our awesome professor) jumps in, I asked her if I needed a seatbelt... and then we drove inside ten feet to the airport hospital. Effective.

Once in the hospital, the story gets much less exciting so I'll hurry up with this rambling mess. Dr Nail brings me 'his special cocktail', a yellow IV which helps me feel better almost immediately. Charlotte had texted about the whole ordeal to our department head at Richmond and she sort of chuckles as she recieves a text back from him. She had explained everything and said I was in the hospital and he responded with a quintessentially British: "Wow! What an unfortunate experience." We all laughed..

Thirty minutes later he alerts me that I am still not able to fly, Charlotte books us a new flight and a hotel for the night in her amazing-ness. The rest of the group needs to leave for the flight and I make Carly stay with me overnight. Sip of soup is had, a sip of water is not repelled and we head off to the new hotel for a good night's sleep since our flight is at8am the next day. The day has been a nightmare but at least it is over. Right?

Circa 10pm, Carly wakes me up with a message from Kate that... drumroll... our flat's been robbed. Long story short, the police had been called because our front window was busted through and they had found the place torn apart. Kate was at London Heathrow when she got the call so it took two hours of her travelling back on the Tube (and us laying in the dark praying aloud in Turkey). They stole my new MacBook, Carl's iPad and some MacBook chargers. The worst part was the damage though, while nothing was severely broken besides the window, they completely trashed the place. All alone, Kate had to clean up and set everything right. Couches and beds flipped, tables and drawers all over the floor and even roses torn apart. These dudes obviously have some serious anger problems. We're convinced that it is because they were so mad that all they found was one laptop... but who knows.

The final kick to the gut (and humorous relief) was that just as we moved in, I bought and installed a "BEWARE OF DOG" red sign to 'trick burglars' into thinking we had this massive beast dog and not to come near the flat. As I pulled back the shade to see the shattered window, what do I see but that stinkin' Beware of Dog sign. The shattered window was gone but that sign was still taped to the bottom of the glass. Irony at its finest.

It was not until Carly and I flew home, hugged Kate, saw our rooms and cleaned up did anything feel actually real. The whole 24 hours had been a complete and total surreal experience that I pray I never have to endure again. 

In closing (YAHOO, you think), I must say that as horrific as the worst day of my life was.. I know it happened for a reason. I've been having some anxiety issues lately and I told Kate (actually on the morning of the worst day ever) that I knew something bad was coming. Life had been all "too easy" lately and I could sense a storm-a-brewin'. Hell if I wasn't spot on, like the day! The whole debacle is something I wished had never happened but I know God was giving me a challenge to show me how great everything else in my life is. I was ripped from worrying about my job-in-question/apartment-in-question/location-in-question far away five months from now to living in the here and now. My perspective completely changed and, again, while it was truly the day from Hell, I am so blessed that I have my friends near (and far!) to help me through the trials that life throws at me.

Major respect for making it this far (hi momma) and reading about the best and the worst.. As dramatic as I write the whole event, in the end I am safe and my friends are safe. We are still recovering but we've decided if we could handle this nightmare experience, we can handle anything! Plus, if we can't do it at least our parents are (or will be soon) visiting so Momma and Daddy can take care of everything!! Ha, kidding....Sort of.

Cheers y'all, Lis

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Oh Istanbul, you sketchy chaotic beautiful fool.

(I sincerely apologize in advance for the lack of pictures and spelling mistakes but unfortunately I am having to write this via iPad due to the worst day of my life experiences that will be covered in another post... good foreshadowing there, eh?)

SO. Istanbul. Where to begin? You may know I previously ventured to Istanbul last semester, with friends and with little expectations other than Greek-style food. However, this time returning I knew exactly what I was getting into and I really couldn't wait to jump into the madness all over again! Sketchy Chaos should be Istanbul's city motto.... perhaps, the whole of Turkey's motto actually. 

A class trip that has been discussed for month finally came to fruition last week when we climbed aboard a four hour, bumpy flight to Istanbul with six classmates and a professor. After delays, Turkish visa madness, lack of Turkish money, and a hidden hotel, we finally snuggled into bed around 3am Thursday night.

Friday was the 'highlights' day, so we awoke early for the hotel's free breakfast - gotta loooove free breakfast - and headed out under Charlotte's (our professor) guidance. We hit the Hagia Sofia (aka Aya Sofya) first thing and again, I was struck by its massive size and unbelievable mosaics of both Islamic and Christian images and figures. We then headed across the gardens and fountains to the Blue Mosque, a sight I had missed on my last trip so I was thrilled to be able to visit. The line wrapped around the courtyard to the beautiful building but we eventually were escorted inside after removing our shoes and covering our heads with scarves. Inside, the smell of feet and the unreal amounts of people tempted one to ignore the beauty of the place but luckily I found a somewhat quiet spot to observe and take pictures. The walls, doors, ceiling and floors were breathtaking. Blues, reds and whites were used to make incredible designs throughout and there was not one aspect of the mosque that was not decorated. It was truly magnificent.... but then again, one can only take the smell of sweaty feet for so long before passing out, so we left.

We stopped for lunch on the street - Vegan wraps with spicy peppers (yummmm) and then went down into the Basilica Cistern. This is basically a big pool under water that the Romans built for their water supply. Seriously shocking how those crazy Romans did all this massive building/planning/etc without computers.... or a ruler... or a calculator... or like cell phones to call the guy to tell him he bought the wrong size column. Okay, sort of kidding but really, give it a think... Underground water supply? Geniuses. Maybe we'd all be that smart if we only wore togas.

After stopping at a restaurant for a drink and some well-deserved downtime, we shuffled off to find a taxi to drive us to the other side of town for a gallery tour and contemporary artist talk. (Seems simple enough, right?) After hailing 6 taxis, riding 2 blocks in one before getting kicked out and no one speaking English enough to understand our broken Turkish or even read the handwritten address, we walked about half a mile, sucked it up and rode the slammed packed tram, then walked another half a mile to find the gallery. My dear friend Kate (who lives now in Turkey) always says, "Nothing is easy in Turkey!" and truly is it not. Just makes me even more grateful for London black cabbies who are the lifeblood of my city.

After finding the fairly mysterious gallery, sweating/tired/dehydrated and oh, did I mention? Only half of our group... (the others somehow left before us in a cab only to arrive 30 minutes after us)... we had a lovely chat with the manager and an artist who both work in the Turkish art scene. They enlightened us on a few of the similarities and differences of Turkey's contemporary art world. The art was very interesting and I loved learning that all of Turkish art is privately funded. No government funding at all... compared to over 50% in the UK and somewhere around 20-30% in the USA. So artists, museums, galleries, any art function must support itself with generous donors and contributors. Perhaps we should take a page from their book and reach a little deeper in our pockets to support the arts in our own communities.. oh, what do I know.. just a silly grad student after all!

Dinner and Turkish ice cream (chewy and so delicious, imagine a thick milkshake that doesn't melt) followed the gallery visit and then we crashed into bed before we could even consider a night out.

Saturday was the most beautiful day, sunshine and 65 degrees! A Bosphorus boat tour was in store for us and I loved being on the water and staring out onto the Asian side of the city. I can't express how uniquely gorgeous Istanbul is, it really is like no where else I've been. You are confronted with perfectly massive mansions with pools for a few minutes as you pass and then suddenly, a fortress that has stood for hundreds - if not thousands - of years looms over you from a hill. The juxtaposition between old and new is what makes the city so approachable but also so respectable.

After the boat, lunch and drinks prepared us for the madness that is the Spice Markets and the Grand Bazaar. Small roles lined with beautiful cloth, glassware, pottery, pistachios, Turkish delights, teas, spices, and Turkish men calling you "Kitty" or "Beautiful" the whole walk down.. hey, I couldn't complain! I ended up stimulating the Turkish economy quite a bit but man, it is just so easy to do when everything is so cheap! Or at least it feels cheap as I'm bad at math and couldn't really master the whole conversion rate thing. Whoops.

I loved talking to the men and sometimes boys working because they were all so curious about us and why we were in Istanbul. Most of them were smoking Winston cigarettes (awesome) so that was a pretty easy way to make a start to a conversation. One guy running his own stall chatted with me quite a bit while the other girls were shopping about and I quickly learned he was not a Turk but instead, from Syria. He was about my age (asked me to come home with him and met his mother so we could get married but unfortunately, she doesn't speak English so I told him it would probably not work out). Long story short and a bit lost in translation, I gathered that he had to flee from Syria just ten months ago. His whole family was scattered across Turkey, other parts of Europe and even Australia. They owed 18 shops in Syria and every shop had been completely destroyed. His words were, "Burnt to the ground". He now has started completely new in Istanbul with one shop by himself because most of his male family members moved somewhere else. I know what you might be thinking: wow, he was really just pulling on my heartstrings.. but 1. I didn't buy anything at his store, we just talked and 2. I could tell he was completely serious. The way he told the story of how he got here and was trying to sustain himself completely shook me.

I'm not sure if I'll make any social commentary on any of this but more just notice my own ignorance. I know Syria has some massive issues at the moment, I know the USA and the UK have strong opinions about it but I'm really just wondering if anyone is thinking about the individual people. The families, kids, young adults, old people, etc who are being displaced and ripped from their homes. In global conflicts, it is easy to compartmentalize and just think of the 'masses' but chatting with my shop friend really reminded me to think of the small picture, not just the big picture by playing the "numbers game."

I'll finish here for now but up next, the best and worst days of my life consecutively! Turkey ain't over yet, my friends.

Cheers (thank you) and Tekkashuradem (thank you), Lis

Thursday, May 9, 2013

"Come On Chelsea"

Last night, a dream came true. I sat in Stamford Bridge and watched Chelsea play football. I had a pint, a pie and yelled my head off as we tried to defeat Tottenham. Chants of "We hate Tottenham" (simple, but effective) echoed through the stadium alongside a few other suggestive and inappropriate anthems that I'll omit.. you get the point. Ever since 2010 when I lived in London in the Kens and Chelsea borough, I've loved this team. Someone asked me why at the game last night and I am sure it was a just me jumping on the bandwagon at first but now, it has grown to be something more. The Lampard jersey I've had since EuroTour summer of 2010 worked well last night, it was like a perfect culmination of my London experience.
20 year old Lisa could never have dreamed that 23 year old Lisa would be studying, living and kickin' ass in London! When I first bought that jersey, it was such a unattainable dream to live in London.. such a far fetched idea that I knew I would not be able to achieve - let alone emotionally handle -  as I love Winston waayy too much. So while I'll stop using this Chelsea game as a metaphor for past and present (only I could make that absurd connection..), I'll leave you with a few pictures from one of the best nights ever at Stamford Bridge.

Cheers and Chelsea y'all, Lis