Tag Archives: Istanbul

“I think I’ll go for a ride” – biking in Istanbul

Biking, turkish style – Prince’s island, Istanbul

by Nadine

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“I think I’ll go for a ride
Take the bike out of the shed
Put me up on the saddle
I’m as free as a bird
The bike, the road, and me
I think I’ll go for a ride

No petrol or diesel
And there is peace
Peace of mind
When you ride the frontier
Between nature and mankind
I think I’ll go for a ride”

- from “The Ride” – Luca Bloom*

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*We all had witnessed how MinWah steadily had metamorphosed into “SingWah” since she knew a good-mood melody for every occasion on our trip. Guess, you probably have realized that on her blog as well and I thought to keep up with her tradition making her trip/blog a bit more of a musical ;-).

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MinWah Leung, Jessica Leon, Natasha Yemelyanova, Aaron Yahr, Joel, Nadine Müller-Dittmann

04.13.2013

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“Do not even think of it, Nadine!” my dutch, turkey-loving coworker Wouter said looking worried. After having lived and studied in Istanbul for 6 months, Wouter could give the coolest Insider information, but apparently wasn’t all enthusiastic about biking in the crazy city at the Bosporus, though. Instead he gave me that serious look and explained: “Istanbul’s the 4th biggest city in the world with approx. 15 Mio people, crazy turkish traffic, utterly fearless dolmush (= turkish shared taxicabs) drivers and what not …. – You really shouldn’t consider biking there as long as your life means anything to you!” Uh oh! Hearing that from a dutch person – probably the most crazy kamikaze biker in whole Europe – certainly had an impact on me ….

MinWah, Aaron, Jessica, Natasha and me had plans to meet up in Istanbul to send MinWah off for her epic bike-ride to Mongolia/China and figured that there HAD to be some fun biking-kickoff for all of us together! Mh, after that conversation, I felt without the “dutch biking blessing” we should better reconsider the idea to ride all along the Bosporus in Europe and Asia.

Luckily, you can always count on “Prof. Wikipedia” to meet your challenges in life! So, turns out there is this cool place called “Prince’s islands”, 15 miles south-east of Istanbul. With no cars at all, accessibility by public ferry for cheap money and a great weather forecast– that was the place to go! So we got up Saturday morning. Some balkan beats of that pretty turkish previous night were still bustling through our heads and so we made our way rather sleepwalkingly through busy Istanbul towards Kabataʂ ferry station. When we reached the pier, Joel (one of Jessica’s numerous cousins, who lives in Istanbul) was already impatiently waiting for us to come and eventually we all had to sprint to catch the boat. Pretty awake as we were after that, Natasha assumed our latest learning of Turkish culture: “Hey seems like ferries don’t run on “Turkish time”, right?!”

It took us 1.5h by ferry to reach Büyükada, the largest of the 5 Prince islands. We talked about our mutual outdoor adventures on the way and personally I realized in that moment a lot of how much I miss having MITOC in Germany! But hey, no reason for nostalgia, I thought – we are in Istanbul and about to go on a fun bike tour! But before getting started, we checked out the islands culinary diversity and Joel again did a great job suggesting the most delicious food that we all shared (we quickly had developed some sort of indian-food-sharing-style-of-eating during the whole trip). MinWah again showed to us why she definitely deserved being called “the finisher” (wow, she can eat sooo much!!!!) and we took the illustrated menu of that restaurant with us that later served as an unbeatable help to memorize the food related (= most important) vocabulary in turkish.

On Büyükada there is plenty of possibilities to rent bikes (since there are no cars allowed) and soon we circled around the entire island on our quickly beloved two wheels. It was a great feeling with the sunny weather, an incredible view to European Istanbul and the biking through awesome nature (and actually being somewhere less crowded than Istanbul itself). It really calmed me down in that moment and I think it’s some feeling of freedom that’s always connected with biking – that, I’m sure we all enjoyed that day.

As pretty MITOC convinced people we naturally headed towards the top of the island and were looking forward to having a good view. MinWah and Jessica managed taking pictures while happily pedaling even and we had some fun in making floral wreaths on our way as well. On the top we went a little further ahead the monastery and had this awesome place to chill all for ourselves. When fooling around and enjoying the sun, I thought of how nice it is to live where seasons change. You are always looking forward for a new season to approach and I feel it’s good to have those constant changes in & for your life.  Mh, I guess we all were a bit out of MITOC shape in that sense that we totally missed to take a picture at the top (we got one at the aqueduct proudly presenting our MITOC bottles the next day, though).

It was really pretty up there, but we had to get back in order to catch the last ferry to the mainland. Already on the ascent, Joels bike chain broke and we quickly had to brainstorm on creative bike fixing methods. Luckily, the strap of my camera bag worked out surprisingly well to pull Joel for the short passages uphill. We made it back to the harbor no problem and just in time for some celebration icecream, watching the sunset at the beach and catching the last ferry without hastening this time.

On our ferry ride back we also stopped by the Asian side and we kept making fun, that supposedly MinWah with her Asian roots must feel Asia approaching. The next day we made it to Asia and of course took the “stereotypically correct” Asian posing picture ;). Going back after sunset by ferry also gave us this cool view of the illuminated city with the silhouettes of Hagia Sofia and blue Mosque that were clearly distinguishable from far away. We arrived at Kabataʂ ferry station, said good-bye to Joel and made it back to our apartment in Beʂiktaʂ. It turned out there was a power outage at our place. First we tried to deal with the electrical engineering challenge ourselves – unfortunately unsuccessfully. So we got to meet all our neighbors instead and could prove that we had already learned to deal with it the “turkish way” (this is how that goes: first, give it a shrug, then say: “It’s turkey!” and finally don’t worry much about it). We wanted to get some food in Beʂiktaʂ anyways. That neighborhood didn’t seem much touristic at all and we quickly experienced that, when trying to order food. The menu was in Turkish only and the approx. 25 years old waiter had a hard time trying to communicate with us in a funny mix of German/English/Turkish/Sign-language. That experience revealed two interesting points. First we discovered how awesome it was to have Joel with his indispensable food-, language- and culture knowledge and also what a unique experience it is to eat a potato sandwich (jep, it’s exactly what it’s called – potato wedges stuffed in pita bread). I guess in that moment we decided to put more efforts in learning food vocabulary with the illustrated menu MinWah got from the island ;-). Also, it was pretty funny how the waiter always seemed to envy Aaron for being with 4 girls and Natasha jokingly called the four of us “Aaron’s harem”. Later that night, we made it back into our Turkish home and discovered the electricity had come back.

So, I assume, it’s been a pretty awesome + successful day in every sense. We probably are very lucky people that we got a chance of biking in/so close to Istanbul and it’s actually a good feeling to having a real MITOC trip in Europe, finally ;-)! Big big thanks to all you for being so awesome and that we could spend such a cool long weekend on two continents together!

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Hey MinWah pirate, I’m super impressed that you are going for such an adventure!!! Have an amazing trip, good experiences + people along the way, many more musical songs in all the different languages, exciting culinary surprises ;) and during that whole amount of awesomeness PLEASE make sure to take care of yourself! We’ll meet soon enough ;-).

Hugs, much ♥ & best of luck,

-Nadine

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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