During our first week of orientation, we felt like we were back in college again, seeing as we were provided with all meals, transportation, and even dormitory accommodation.I don’t think they trusted us on our own just yet. 😛 Hah.In all honesty, this is a new country and environment for everyone, so that reduced our stress quite a lot. 🙂
That being said, we are all confident and independent people who, after a week, were now ready to explore the area on our own. 😀
All of us teachers spent the weekend spreading our wings, navigating the city and surrounding area. 😀To begin, we celebrated my 27th birthday in the district of Florya, Istanbul.
Starting off my birthday morning with a Turkish coffee or kahve. Florya is one of 32 districts in Istanbul.Sunset in Florya
To celebrate the big 2-7, we all went to Big Chefs at AquaFlorya near the Sea of Marmara.
Since this is a mainly Muslim country, I had concerns about liquor costs, since I had heard alcohol could be taxed around 70%, but these glasses of wine were surprisingly affordable at around $6. Cheers to that! 😀 We enjoyed wine and appetizers, while sharing ridiculous travel stories.
For example, when our Russian friend came to the States for the first time she was arrested for selling potatoes on the street, since she didn’t realize it was illegal without a permit.
Poor girl. At least she learned and laughs about it now.
Anyway, the wait staff was so impressed by such lovely ladies, full of giggles, that they brought us complimentary fruit trays. 😀It almost looks as if I’m holding his arm, but in fact, he has him own arms crossed.Lastly, we capped off the night with kunefe, a Turkish cheese pastry, topped with whipped cream and pistachios.On Sunday, four of us took the ferry to the Princes’ Islands, off the coast of Istanbul.
Navigation in Istanbul is surprisingly easy and affordable, even if you can’t speak the language.
To start, I bought an Istanbulkart at the kiosk outside the metro terminal. This rechargeable card guarantees a discount on all metro, bus and ferry rides.To navigate the city, I downloaded the application Trafi Turkiye, which is similar to Google Maps, but specifically for Turkey. The navigation app displays multiple options for public transportation, including times, fare prices, and constant traffic updates.
To get to the ferry, we took a metro-bus to the above-ground metro, and then took that metro to the ferry dock, which in total cost around $4.The metro was clean and the passengers were friendly, but I do feel like some occasional Febreeze sprays would have been appreciated, especially with everyone lifting their arm to grab the handrail. Bluck. From the ferry dock called Kabataş , we took the conventional ferry to the Prince Islands.
The ferry ride offered scenic views of the Bosphorus Strait that divides the city of Istanbul into two continents.
The Blue Mosque, Topkapi Palace, and Aya Sophia can be seen in the distance.
This cat appeared to be “doing rounds” as we saw him hop from ship to ship.
The Princes’ Islands
This chain of nine islands is located roughly 1.5 hours from Istanbul.During the Byzantine Empire, from 330-1453 AD, a time of religious crusades and reconquest for Constantinople, many noble princes and royalty were exiled to these islands, as well as, many Ottoman Sultans during the subsequent Ottoman Empire, hence the name Princes’ Islands.
Of the nine islands, only five islands are inhabited, and uniquely represent their historical inhabitants.
Ethnic minorities of Armenians, Turks, Greeks, and European Jews inhabited the different islands, which give each an individual character and atmosphere.
For example, this is Burgazada, with all the charm of a quaint fishing village.
This is Heybeliada, which appears more clean and modern. Of the nine islands, we chose to visit Büyükada(Big Island), which has charm reminiscent of the old south, with 19th century Victorian homes and horse-drawn carriages trotting down the cobblestone streets.The hills were steep, so be prepared for some buns of steel. 😉Despite the tranquil surroundings, this is still Istanbul, a city of crazy drivers, and the Turkish horsemen rode around the island in full gallop, while pedestrians slightly feared for their lives. Hah. I don’t know much Turkish, but I translated this to Die Cat. Hah. 😉 Felines beware!
Now Cats are everywhere in Istanbul, and the Princes’ Islands are no exception.Many of these animals appear tagged, and all appear well-fed.
I’m not aware if they are part of a spay/neuter initiative for stray animals, but I will see if I can find out more information at a later time. 🙂
Notable Landmarks on Büyükada
Rum Yetimhanesi (Greek Orphanage)
This structure was originally built as a luxury hotel in the 19th century; however, the Ottoman Sultan during that time refused to issue them a work permit, so it was sold to a Greek banker, who then donated the building as an orphanage.It operated for about 60 years, helping over 5,000 orphans, but during tensions with Cyprus, the dictator forcefully shut down the operation, and the building has since become dilapidated and unsafe.While the five of us walked the barren grounds, I felt as if I were part of some horror story. It gave off a very Texas Chainsaw Massacre vibe.
As I peered through the fence at the broken windows, I half-expected to see a baby doll on wooden chair, slowly rocking in the breeze. Creepy! As a side note, it was also recommended as a top sight on Tripadvisor, since at 100 meters long and 24 meters high, it is ranked as the second largest wooden structure in the world, next to Todaiji temple in Japan.
Hagios Giorgios Church (St. George Church)
This church has relatively simple beauty, but is perched atop one of the two summits on Büyükada, offering stunning views of both land and sea.
Incredible!While slowly making our way back down the mountain, we began to hear all-to-familiar techno club music from somewhere in the distance.We soon realized it was coming from the beach nearby, and since we were all sweaty from the hike, the beach was calling our name!
Aya Nikola Beach
The beach itself was very nice and sandy. The entrance was around $5, which included lounge chair, umbrella, and use of the showers and bathrooms.Unfortunately, just as we sat down the sun went away and the wind came out. Chilly!
We ended up spending the afternoon in their beachside café, some munching on burgers, others drinking beer.
We brought lots of snacks with us, since we had heard the imported island fare was a bit pricey, but after a cold day on the beach, we all headed to a nearby café for a little warmth. 🙂
CappuccinoWhat I enjoyed most was learning about my fellow teachers, coming from both the United States and Canada.
For example, one girl had spent the last few months replanting trees for a Canadian logging company, in an effort to combat environment destruction, during which she encountered numerous sightings of bear and moose. She sure has some guts, since they weren’t given a weapon, but merely a help whistle in times of need.
Note to self: Black bears can climb trees and you should play dead if you see a brown bear, since it will typically attack when it feels threatened.Overall, a wonderful day enjoying nature, bonding with my future colleagues. 🙂
Luckily, since we had been working so hard the past week, I was given Monday off as well.
I really spread my own wings this time by choosing to navigate the city solo. It was quite the adventure. Can’t wait to tell you about it in the next post.
Until then! Good night. 😀