HAGHIA Istanbul!

There has been a lot of stuff going on in the last week, writing this is forcing me to think about all the points of interest I have come across and consider if they might be worth sharing.

Initially, I should explain that my term has yet to begin and that as such I have been on holiday for a week in Istanbul with three English friends which is not exactly the bast way to make new international pals or spend much time speaking Turkish. It is of course a nice opportunity to do some intensive sightseeing and, more importantly, pick out a preferred café from the many in my street. Here we can sit around reading our books and drinking sahlep (which is like rice pudding in a drinkable format) in an endearingly pretentious sort of way and I intend to keep this up for the next 10 months. We have even befriended a local, Ahmet, who comes and talks to us, making more or less sense at various satges of intoxication.
What I have seen of Istanbul I definitely like. I don’t think anyone could come here and avoid mentioning the size of the place, it demonstrates well how big Istanbul is that the recent heavy rainfall which caused deadly flooding in the suburbs was experienced by me, in the centre of town, as a relatively unusual downpour. It’s as bustling as you would imagine and charmingly non-swanky in many respects; I have just eaten some tasty shrimp in a resteraunt on the banks of the Golden Horn which was down a sort of alley filled with bins full of old fish and had a load of ducks and cats wandering about.

I am living in the trendy, very European feeling, district below Taksim square. I live next to Istiklal street, a very long high street complete with a “nostalgic” tram route and, currently, Ramazan lights as well as a full complement of European high street shops. Walking down it for the first time made my fears that I would have to be dressed conservatively for a year seem rather foolish. I’ve made a perhaps premature decision that Turkish girls my age are all much cooler and better dressed than me.
The novelty of crossing into Asia for lunch isn’t going to wear off fast and I don’t think heading across the Galata Bridge to be greeted by some of the most celebrated mosques in the world will become too trying. However I have made basically no headway into the Sprawl extending past the touristy parts of the city and I imagine it could be quite different. The University is based in a more shonky part of town (a fact it seems rather proud of ) so that is so far my sole excursion into the depths of the city. Bilgi University seems like an efficiently run sort of institution. It’s only 13 years old and privately run so it’s very shiny compared to Edinburgh. The Professors encourage us to come and have a chat with them in their office hours for fun, apparently they get bored if we don’t (this is not something I would have gleaned from the terse way my tutors at home treat the matter). There is a scarily efficacious Erasmus Student Network group that organises kitsch days out and parties etc. In these situations I think everything will be OK as long as I can override my natural tendancy to be surly when meeting new people. If I fail to ingratiate myself with any of the Erasmus students (last seen dancing on chairs to very bad dance music with no trace of irony) or the cool Turks I will have to consign myself to living alone in my flat with the cats that permeate all parts of the city watching strange Turkish sitcoms. (Written 12/09)

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