I spent the last month living in Istanbul, working as much as possible on Art Sumo while enjoying Turkish culture. While my first three days were spent getting scammed by a belly-dancing scheme, receiving food poisoning from a considerate 'wet burger', and below-freezing tempratures, gladly, the rest of the trip was one heck of a lot better. The Turks are incredibly hospitable and eager to show you their country. Although I'm now in sunny and wonderful Granada, Spain - I still miss the craziness of Istanbul and have added it to the list of places to live someday. I would highly recommend a trip, but before you do here are some tips for you.
1. Tea tastes better in small shot glasses.
2. You can conduct the cheers of a football match, like a conductor directs an orchestra.
3. Istanbul is the land of cats! While in North America, people have cats, in Turkey, cat have humans.
4. Speaking of cats - March is the month of cats, so be prepared: bring earplugs and prepare to cover your children's eyes.
5. Forget everything that you know about breakfast. The Turks do it best!
6. "Menemen," a popular Turkish egg dish, is very different from "many men;" beware of what you're ordering.
7. Turkish hospitality is unparalleled. They love to invite you into their homes, serve you tea and ensure you are extremely comfortable. Be warned, however - they may try to snuggle with you at night.
8. Istanbul's cafe culture has Seattle's beat. How can you argue with free wifi, $1.50 cappuccinos and cafe owners with fantastic taste in music?
9. A nice pair of jeans: $20. A master tailoring by a tailor with 40 years of experience: $3. Realizing I shouldn't buy clothes in North America: Priceless.
10. The nuances of the Muslim world are clearly more complicated than they are portrayed in Western media. While the Turkish government claims that 99% of the population is Muslim and therefore justifies spending tax money on building multiple religious structures, the bars are packed with young Turks drinking, most mosques are relatively empty, and we met numerous atheists.
11. By most accounts, Turks don't really exercise - so the girls just don't eat. Makes sense when gym memberships cost $150 USD/month!
12. Speaking English raises the price of everything by 5 lira - 10 lira if sporting a fanny pack.
13. While many think of the Turkish government as democratic, most educated Turks aren't believers. Their argument? A democratic government doesn't arrest reporters, stage coups or require bribes for businesses to keep their doors open. We saw more protests on Istiklal Ave. than we could count and the majority of the educated population are eager to leave.
14. Stepping into the Grand Bazzar will inform you what nationality you really are based upon what language is spoken to you. Apparently - I am Spanish; Lindsey is Lithuanian.
15. The Baha'is have preserved one of the houses where Baha'u'llah stayed in Edirne, Turkey, just like similar houses in Acca. The most hospitable Turkish family takes care of the place and greets visitors. Similar to Haifa, there are plans for a beautiful visitors center to be built, as well as an unparalleled garden near Baha'u'llah's home. Rumor is that construction is scheduled to begin sometime this year.