Category Archives: By Country

Istanbul (Not Constantınople). Day 1

*To make thıngs easy to remember, my blog can ıs now at mınwahleung.com (Thanks tech-savy brother Davıd!)
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**I heard about the Boston explosıons thıs mornıng at 1am. Dear Boston frıends I hope everyone ıs ok…
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“Istanbul was Constantinople
Now it’s Istanbul, not Constantinople
Been a long time gone, Constantinople
Now it’s Turkish delight on a moonlit night”    – Istanbul (Not Constantınople), They Mıght Be Gıants

It all started when my friend Nadine said she would come to Istanbul for a weekend to send me off. When she first emailed me in February , she said “Is anyone joining you on your bike trip? Who’s in the MinWah fanclub?” I was confused about her reference to a fanclub–What fanclub? I don’t have a fanclub. But several days later she proved right when 4 other random friends decided they would also come to Istanbul to see me off, all from different parts of the world. Nadine would come from Stuttgart, Aaron from Boston via Italy, Jess Leon from Cincinnati, Natasha from Amsterdam, and Sally Peach would layover in Istanbul on her way back from Ethiopia to Colorado. Nadine, Jess, Aaron, Natasha and I would rent an apartment through Airbnb and tour Istanbul for 4 days, and I would have turkish coffee with Peach during her layover. I am truly honored and blessed to have such fantastic friends!

I took off from New York JFK aırport and headed for Istanbul vıa Moscow. Most of the flıght was spent worryıng about whether I had packed everythıng and whether my bıke would arrıve ın Istanbul unharmed. Russıan aırlınes had rather terrıble servıce: the food was utterly unappetızıng, the TV screen was broken and streamıng MS DOS code the whole tıme, and the flıght attendants dıdnt ask me whether I wanted tea or coffee, they just stared at me as ıf I spoke Russıan. But all ın all I was so sleep deprıved from the weeks´ prepartıons that ıt dıdnt bother me that much.

I arrıved ın Istanbul on Thursday Aprıl 11 at 12pm. It was unnervıng to be ın a foreıgn place where I dont speak the language. No matter how much Ive traveled, I stıll get the same sıck feelıng of lonelıness and worry everytıme. But as I walked out to Baggage Claım, I was greeted by a blonde haıred German wıth a brıght smıle. It was my frıend Nadıne! We exchanged joyous hugs and suddenly my fears went away. Nadıne was a vısıtıng student ın Boston last year and we became frıends through the MIT Outıng Club. Her flıght from Germany had arrıved an hour before mıne so she waıted for me. Soon after, my bıke box and duffle bag came along the conveyor belt and everythıng was ıntact. Whew!

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After meetıng a second frıend Jess Leon at the aırport, the three of us headed ınto the cıty on the Havatas shuttle bus to Taksım square. At this point, my bike was still in the bike box and hard to lug around. So when we arrived in Taksim, we decided to put the bike together while we had some time waiting for a third friend Aaron Y. Magically like it was meant just for us, across from the bus stop there was a small pedestrian island with a giant flag of Turkey where we could set up MinWah’s bike assembly workshop. It was an easy place for our friends to find us and a nice refuge from the busy square.

Jess and Nadine enjoyed the sunny warm weather (a far cry from Cincinatti and Stuttgart) while I carefully pieced the bike together. During this time, to our surprise, we met our first bike tourist friends! A woman and her father passing along on their bicycles when I said hi to them. They were from Germany but they had been cycling for the past 8 days from Greece to Istanbul. Sadly they were ending their bike tour in Istanbul, so there was no chance I could bike with them on my trip. We chatted for a bit before wishing them well.

In time, Aaron Y and Jess’ cousin Joel showed up in Taksim. Joel has been living in Istanbul for the past 2 years and graciously offered to show us around. He showed us the way to our apartment in Besiktas then took us to our first kebab dinner. YUM! After going around the table talking about our individual eating habits, we discovered that we were all omnivores and very generous eaters. Eating in Istanbul was going to treat us well with lots of good food, especially meat, for cheap.

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Me, Joel, Jess and Nadine drinking ayran, salty yogurt drink (i love yogurt!)

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Nadine and Aaron with gigantic mixed kebab dinner

Istanbul. Day 2-4

You’ve got a friend in me, you’ve got a friend in me,
When the road looks rough ahead
And you’re miles and miles from your nice warm bed
You just remember what your ol’ pal said
Boy, you’ve got a friend in me
– You’ve Got a Friend in Me, Randy Newman, from Toy Story

 

The last few days with friends have been tremendously joyous and encouraging for me, which is a great distraction from dwelling on the remaining to-dos for my trip. Since I have limited time now, I will only give a brief summary of our days in Istanbul. Nadine, Aaron, or Jess will be adding a guest post soon with all the juicy details. Stay tuned!

In the last couple days, Joel has shown us the best of Istanbul’s sights and the best food in town. We tell him he should start a food tour company because we feel as if we have been eating as kings and queens. Istanbul is full of meat stands and pastry stands everywhere.

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Friday

Brunch: Menemen

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Sights
– Tool Bazaar, Spice Bazaar, Light Bulb Bazaar (each bazaar is located in a different district. there’s bazaar for everything in Istanbul, but the tool bazaar is by far the coolest)
– Hagia Sophia – thousand year old Christian church that was converted to a mosque
– Grand Bazaar
– Cool kids aka hipsters neighborhood overlooking Bosphorus

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Dinner – Mesa dinner with Joel’s Turkish friends, lots of little plates or meat, seafood, and salads

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Nightlife – Dancing! Played interesting mix of upbeat international music, including our favorites Hit the Road Jack, La Bamba, Mambo #5

Midnight snack – Stuffed mussels and drunk hamburgers

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Saturday

– biking on Prince’s Island

– Lunch: kebabs and salad on the island

– Dinner: seafood on the island

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Sunday

– Turkish breakfast with Peach during her layover

– Lunch: Kurdish food in the Kurdish neighborhood

– More sights: walking through side streets to Sultanahmet, Fatih Mosque, Blue Mosque, Cistern

– Dinner: Asian side kebabs/buffet (notice we’re being Asian on the Asian side)

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Monday

– hamam: Turkish bathhouse, aka getting bathed and massaged by older Turkish women

– sending off Aaron, Natasha, and Nadine to the airport

– got haircut for 20 lira

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