2011 has been a year of discovery on a lot of fronts. This year has taken me from Brooklyn to Kansas City, MO to visit family, to deep in the heart of Texas to support Dr. Brown at her dissertation defense, to England for a seminar on race in the US, to Istanbul for cultural exploration with a good friend, to Paris for some “me time,” and to MIA for even more “me time!” Traveling to all of these locales has afforded me with many memorable moments. So join me as I countdown my top five travel memories of 2011!
Number One: Istanbul
Here it is! My top moment of 2011 was traveling to Istanbul, Turkey. I was not sure what to expect traveling to another Muslim country during Ramadan, but I knew it was not going to be as intense as my experience in Egypt. What I found was a warm and welcoming country and her people. I also do not think I have been to such a visually colorful place yet in my travels. The Bosphorous Strait and Sea of Marmara were a deep blue. The intricacies and vivid colors of the tile work in both the old city and European side stood out as well.
This was also the first time that I stayed in an apartment rental. My friend Devin set up the rental through airbnb and were hooked up with an updated (sans air-conditioning) two bedroom apartment in Istiklal.
As Shannon and I would unwind from the days adventures, we often would sit out in the front room late watching BBC or MTV Turkey (that track list still plays in my mind on constant rotation: LMFAO, Nicole Scherzinger, Mr. Saxobeat, insert other obligatory Euro-pop songs). However, around 3:00am every morning, something unexpected and entrancing occurred. A local would walk up the street beating his drum to signal to begin the final meal before daybreak for those observing Ramadan. We definitely would not have gotten this experience to see how the locals live by staying in a hotel.
While we spent the majority of the time catching up and leisurely sight-seeing, we did get some (unexpected) physical activity in. We visited the Princes’ Islands just off of the coast of Istanbul and I wanted to hike to the peak of the main island to get an unobstructed view and to visit the Greek Monastery of St. George. Well, we made it through the sweat and pushed through the four letter words flying because of the steep climb (in sandals for both of us nonetheless).
On Shannon’s birthday, we went to the Grand Bazaar, one of the oldest shopping markets in the world. While there, I read that the entire complex employs over 30,000 people and many more come to visit. The jewelry stores were numerous. The fur and leather shops were in abundance. The ceramic shops stood out for me though. I ended up purchasing a traditional Turkish ceramic plate in a deep blue for my personal collection.
We rounded out our trip with a cultural highlight of attending a Whirling Dervishes performance at a local heritage and performing arts center, Hodiapasha. The performance was wonderfully calm and provided a connection to this tradition that many are unaware of. This was perfect way to end our trip with all Istanbul.
Istanbul has seen many changes over the course of the thousands of years of its existence. It has done a great job of preserving its history and culture while moving forward in the 21st century.
With that, I will raise my Raki to Istanbul! Serefe!