I decided to visit Turkey almost on a whim. I was supposed to return at eBay during the winter, but the US authority did not process the work authorization in time—the bliss of being an international! So at the New Year eve, I decided that I should make the best use of the free time I have now and should travel somewhere. Although that meant being almost broke, but I also realized that in near future finding time will be more of an issue than funding any reasonable travel. So more or less randomly, I chose Turkey. Actually now that I thought about it I realized it might seem like a random decision, but it was a not so surprising! In terms of practical reasons, Turkey had pretty cheap plane tickets and they have the fastest visa processing system for any country in Europe (and yes! I do need visa unlike the US citizens). So speaking of the bang per buck, Turkey was a no-brainer!
Then the second reason, which was probably playing a role in my subconscious, was that Turkey being one of the leaders of the Muslim world has a lot of cultural influence in the subcontinent. Only after visiting Turkey I realized that so much of the Muslim cultural elements—from Sufism to names—in Bangladesh was from Turkey or was influenced by the Turks. This makes sense because when the Turks marched towards India the brought those Ottoman cultures with them (and yes! Delhi was under Ottoman rule at some point!). So it was good to get back to the roots of those cultural elements. Also my father visited Turkey almost 20 years ago and in my childhood I heard numerous stories about those tours. So growing up (or almost growing up!) I had to see what the fuss is all about! It was a rite of passage, if you will, or just another family thing!
Because I would go to even Alaska if I needed for cheap tickets, I got flights to Turkey from the Newark airport! Newark is somewhere in New Jersey. But to get there I decided to use public transportation (because paying 100 dollars for a taxi would defeat the purpose of the cheap tickets). Once more in my life, I realized that digital map and navigation system is the best thing invented by human beings after fire! Basically using google map, I hopped from one bus to another and was in Newark in an hour!
I was in Munich in 8 hours and the weather looked surprisingly gloomy. However, when I landed in Istanbul Ataturk airport the 13 C (55 F) air welcomed me! Compared to the super sub-zero weather and lack of sun-light I have been experiencing in the New York City in the last month, this seemed to be a tropical paradise! However, later I learned from the hotel people that the temperature is supposed to be around 0 C. But hey! I am not complaining!
In Boston, we often feel proud for having a few hundred years old buildings and going to a school which is about 400 years old, but in Istanbul things generally start with a 500 to thousand years count! On my way to Taksim from the airport, I saw the walls from the Byzantine Empire, which were used to protect the city thousands of years ago. And still those are standing tall—talk about the engineering!
One great thing about Istanbul is that the city has great public transportation system. In fact, they have one of the oldest public transportation systems in the world and it is still operational. So I took a subway from Taksim to my hotel. When I was going up, I realized how deep the subway was! Later an internet search revealed that on average the subways are about 20 meters deep, because there are so many old artifacts under the ground that when the risk of destroying those if they don’t dig that deep for their subways.
(To be continued…)