Well I am now in the remarkable position of almost having finished my first semester of Erasmus life. The last few weeks have involved going to gigs, parties, sometimes sight seeing with visiting friends and parents and eating loads of Turkish food which I am seriously going to miss back in Edinburgh. Forget Kebab (which I should point out is called Kebap here which STILL makes me laugh) what you want on the way home from a night out is Börek, a kind of greasy pastry thing with cheese, potato or meat which is actually a lot tastier than I make it sound.
So in short it has been fun and it will be a severe shame when some of the people I most like spending time with will go home after Christmas and the kind of tedious friend making rigmarole will start all over again. Then again there is every chance equally as interesting people will turn up and I will have an opportunity to share some more cultural anecdotes with people from different countries; I really enjoy this such as when I tried to explain the concept of Pancake Day to my bemused Italian flatmate. I also have two Turkish flatmates which is a good thing as it has been only too easy to stay in an Erasmus bubble most of the time and they can explain interesting things about Turkey and also help in the process of any shopping transactions that incorporate haggling.
I had mid-term exams here which were remarkably less difficult than any exams I have taken in Edinburgh but it remains to be seen if being an Erasmus student will be excuse enough to get away with the seriously below-par papers I am in the process of writing, or winging – which is more the case.
I’m largely happy with the courses I am taking here because I would not be able to study the Balkans, or Byzantine history at home but studying is certainly a secondary concern to essentially all other aspects of being here which will leave me dangerously ill-prepared for 4th year no doubt.
Speaking of things that are better than working I definitely need to get my arse into gear concerning trips around Turkey; luckily I have next year and the Christmas holidays to indulge in some travelling. Comments like this have kind of been a feature of this blog but so far just being in Istanbul has entertained me a lot. Also having had visitors has been really nice but has been a little disruptive in terms of my plans to leave the city. My parents coming was quite funny though, they kept pointing things out that I had ceased to notice as rather different from home. For instance the fact that in Istanbul there is usually a man roaming around with a cart selling something you want to eat and when it rains loads of umbrella men appear all of a sudden to sell what I now view as a certain icon of Istanbul, the clear plastic 5 Lira umbrella, and of course the call to prayer, which I still notice but which stopped being remarkable about 11 weeks ago.
I didn’t mention one of the best ‘typical Istanbul’ experiences I had here, the trip to the hammam. I went with a friend to a local hammam rather than one in the central touristy part and thus ensued a really comic hour in the hands of a few naked Turkish ladies (well they had knickers on) who did their best to indicate to two very pale, slightly ginger and of course incredibly conspicuous English girls what we should be doing. This mainly involved sloshing lots of hot water over ourselves for at least 30 minutes before being thoroughly scrubbed by aforementioned naked Turkish ladies. If ever you require a bonding experience with a (good) friend of yours, this could well be it. The hammam was run by a woman I will describe as akin to a brothel madam (not naked), and I mean that only in a good way as she wafted about very glamorously and being very charming, and the sight of a half naked lady puffing away on a fag in the steam room is one that will make me laugh for a long time to come. The extra fun element of all this is that, of course, no men can come in and we can’t go in their bit. I have it from my male friends who went to the same hammam that the men get a considerably rougher massage but as for what kind of banter they have in there… it really is intriguing. I understand why all those male Orientalists were so fascinated by the idea of the hammam!