Conservations with Strangers: Huseyin from Istanbul

How we met: I was strolling through the Grand Bazaar when Huseyin approached me and invited me into his handbag shop for rose tea. He was very helpful in giving me advice on how to haggle and find the best quality products in the bazaar, but I’m also sure he was trying to schmooze his way into my wallet.

About him: Huseyin owns a shop in the Grand Bazaar, full of impressive imitation Prada and Fendi bags. He taught himself English and even lived in Minnesota for four years. Why anyone would come to the States to live in Minnesota though is beyond me.

Coolest experience: Huseyin’s coolest experience was paragliding in Fethiye, a gorgeous beach town in Turkey.

Life dream: He dreams of visiting Spain, especially Barcelona and Madrid because he likes experiencing different cultures. I’m not convinced that Barcelona was a coincidence, but I’m flattered nevertheless.

Huseyin in his handbag store.

Huseyin in his handbag store.

Squeaky Clean in Istanbul

Over the weekend, I flew to Istanbul to visit my friend Kristi, otherwise known as KrIstanbul. Clever right? Check her out at kristanbul2015.wordpress.com.

We made the tourist rounds all of Friday, marveling at the magnificent Hagia Sophia and Istanbul’s numerous mosques, so Saturday morning we decided to indulge in a Turkish Bath or Hammam.

I honestly did not know exactly what to expect from a Hammam, and in retrospect I should have Googled it.

At the Hammam, I changed into a towel and sandals, with only a thong underneath. Kristi and I entered a warm light room, entirely of marble and were greeted by two Turkish women in bras, shorts and crocs, who immediately pulled off our towels and retied them around our waists. They began splashing us with hot water, and then led us to a warm marble slab to relax on for twenty minutes. At this point, I was as disoriented as you must be reading this.

The women then came back and hurried us to another warm marble slab to sit on, each of us on opposite sides of the marble room, and took off my towel completely. You’re probably thinking, that’s a lot of warm marble slabs. It was.

I was also not aware that this was going to be a naked party.

The Turkish woman began rubbing me down with an exfoliating cloth. She kept insisting that I relax, but it’s rather difficult to relax when a stranger is rubbing your naked body down and hasn’t at least bought you dinner first. It was right after she had finished my chest, and still had one hand on my breast that she looked up, introduced herself and asked what my name was.

“Pauline, nice to meet you!”

But that’s life, sometimes you just don’t know someone’s name until after they have groped you.

You could see the dead skin coming right off my body, which was pretty cool, but made it look like I haven’t showered in seven months. Next came the fun part. The Turkish woman took a cloth filled with soap and water, and proceeded to cover me completely with bubbles. It was like being in a bubble bath but without the water. She then soaped me down, washing and massaging all of my limbs, washed my hair and rinsed me off.

She dried me off, wrapped me in a towel and lead me to an expansive lounge area where Kristi and I relaxed like the queens we were meant to be. We spent the rest of the day in a state of absolute elation and peace.

My Turkish Hammam experience was quite the culture shock, and simultaneously incredibly relaxing. Also, my new aspiration in life is to never have to bathe myself again, because my skin has never been this baby soft.

Interior of the Hamam for reference

Interior of the Hammam for reference. See? I told you it’s a lot of marble.

After a full day of touring Istanbul, KrIstanbul and I definitely deserved a bath.

After a full day of touring Istanbul, KrIstanbul and I definitely deserved a bath.

 

Turkish Hospitality

I loved Istanbul for many reasons: the rich culture, amazing food, friendly cats and gorgeous mosques. However, what made me fall in love with the city was the Turkish people; I have never felt more welcome in a foreign place than I have this past weekend in Istanbul.

I wandered out of their mess of an airport around four in the morning, and hopped into a cab. The driver didn’t speak a word of English, but he smelled nice and we listened to Smack That by Akon and the Turkish version of I Will Survive. When we reached my friend’s apartment, without me having to ask, he gave me his phone so that I could call her and even waited at her staircase until I was collected, which I thought was very kind and a great first impression of Turks.

For the next few days, everywhere Kristi and I went we were greeted with smiles and an eagerness to help and to give insight into Turkish culture.

One night, we were smoking hookah at a water pipe cafe when we struck up a conversation with two Turkish men, Serkan and Ismail. Within minutes I was seated next to Serkan learning how to blow smoke rings and getting local food recommendations. They later joined us for dinner, and in the spirit of authenticity, ordered sheep intestines and fried mussels, which were surprisingly delicious. After dinner they insisted that no trip to Istanbul was complete without a stop at Karaköy Güllüoğlu, the most famous baklava house in town, and happily drove us there on their way home.

Usually I am rather cautious about the whole getting into cars with strangers in foreign cities thing. But, by that time they were no longer strangers, they were friends, and you could tell that they genuinely wanted us to enjoy and to understand their city.

On Monday, while exploring Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar, I wandered into a lamp shop and met Ozzy, who immediately invited me in to have tea with him. The Turkish say that a cup of tea bring fifty years of friendship, and it is very common for shopkeepers to offer you apple tea. We chatted for a while about life and travel, then he took me out for hookah at an incredible 300 year old cafe, filled with only locals. Afterwards, Ozzy proceeded to accompany me on my shopping trip, haggling for the lowest possible prices in Turkish.

Ozzy taught me a Turkish saying that I will never forget, “Çok okuyan mı bilir, çok gezen mi?” which means:

“Who knows more, reader or traveler?”

When I travel, I talk to locals as much as I can because there are things that you simply cannot learn from a book or TripAdvisor. The people of Turkey showed me great kindness, and helped me discover many of Istanbul’s hidden gems, and for that I am forever grateful.

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My poor attempt at learning how to blow smoke rings with Serkan.

Just chillin in fron tof

Hanging out with Ozzy in front of his lamp store.

Conservations with Strangers: Juan from Barcelona

How we met: Juan and I met while boarding our flight to Istanbul Thursday night. We ended up sitting in the same row in window seats on opposite sides of the plane and insisted on obnoxiously yelling to each other in Spanish across the aisle for most of the flight. Needless to say, the other passengers were not particularly pleased about it.

About him: Juan is a fashion designer and wine connoisseur. He had a bruise on his nose because the other night he was laying in bed wearing a new hat and decided to take a selfie using his laptop, but dropped it on his face. We’ve all been there.

Coolest experience: The most incredible thing that has happened to Juan is when he got a puppy, a yorkie named Roque who helped him through some tough times and whom he loved dearly.

Life dream: Juan’s big dream is to play the piano. Unfortunately, he has the fingers of a Chucky doll. He showed me his hands and I can confirm they are ridiculously tiny and would make piano playing quite the task.

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Airplane selfies always warrant a duck face.

 

A Day in the Life

You’re probably wondering what I do on a daily basis. Or not. You probably weren’t wondering at all. Which is all very valid, considering I do nothing 86% of the time.

I have officially mastered the art of doing nothing and everything all at once, and it’s the best thing to ever happen to me.

I have zero obligations here. I’ve been reading more, working on manual photography, and honing my writing skills. It’s like an extended “me workshop.” I spend my days lounging in cafes, people watching from my balcony, shopping the European fashions and exploring the beautiful city of Barcelona. In the evenings, I check out a new tapas place for dinner, or head to a bar for a beer.

I have learned how to be Spanish. Nothing really phases me; it is what it is and I’ll get there when I get there. I have learned that set times are just suggestions. For example, if class starts at 11 am, I don’t leave my apartment until after 11:05, and still get there before the professor usually does.

Today was a gorgeous and sunny day, so I wandered down Las Ramblas towards the ocean. I love walking down Las Ramblas, because it is the most disgustingly touristy street in Barcelona, and the people watching is prime. It’s like a melting pot, one which you desperately want to get out of because you’re annoyed by everyone, but simultaneously so fascinating that you can’t help but be in the middle of it.

I love watching tourists. They wander around, map in hand, trying to understand signs in Spanish while taking picture with their iPhones of literally everything they see. I watched a man teeter over the edge of the dock today to take multiple photos of the fish. It’s not like they were special or colorful, just regular fish that probably contained too much boat fuel to consume safely. I waited for the man to fall or drop his phone into the water, but to my dismay, he did not.

That’s pretty much what a typical day looks like, with a coffee and pastry stop somewhere in between, of course. I lead a very tranquil and relaxed life here, and I think it’s having a very healthy affect on me.

No, really, I feel like Buddha. Just as Zen, and slowly just as round.

A collection of Barcelonian noms

A collection of Barcelonian noms

La Vida es Un Carnaval

Last night, I was locked in a tiny, dark bathroom with mayonnaise on my tutu, with my friend kneeling in front of me, helping me button my leotard from underneath, while an Icelandic Pharaoh and a costume-less American waited outside.

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Carnaval.

Carnaval is the festive season immediately before Lent and typically involves intricate parades, skimpy costumes, and general debauchery. And in Spain, Sitges is the place to be to celebrate Carnaval.

So I donned a sheer leotard, a feather boa and a red mask, and went on my merry way to Sitges. I also wore wings, which I constructed mostly from tissue paper and staples. My outfit was definitely a hit judging by the amount of strangers taking pictures of me.

The highlight of the night was the parade that went through the whole town, filled with half naked men and women, lots of glitter and a plethora of cross dressers, who walked better in heels that most women can. The parade started at 8 pm, and was still going strong by the time we left Sitges five hours later.

That’s a really long time to be parading, and I really don’t know how the dancers do it. But then again, each float had it’s own bar on board and many of the Spaniards walking in the parade had a cup in one hand and a cigarette in the other, so I think they were doing just fine.

I embraced Carnaval to the fullest extent this weekend, debauchery and all, but now I desperately need to detox. I think I’m ready for Lent to begin.

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Queen of the Carnaval

Valentine’s Day

In case you weren’t aware, it is in fact Valentine’s Day. And, for the first time in many years I don’t have a Valentine.

I often get asked why I don’t have a boyfriend, usually by random Spaniards on the street who then ask if they can be my boyfriend. I always think that’s such a silly question. It’s like asking me why I don’t have a cat. I don’t like cats.

Being in a relationship is hard work, and I’m not particularly good at it. Not that I have anything against it, nor do I have any resentment towards the happy couples sharing their love on Facebook today. I just firmly believe that now is not the time for me to be in a relationship.

Now is the time to go out with boys and never call them again, to make eyes at strangers on the metro just because you can and to flirt endlessly at the bar because that 20 euro mojito isn’t going to buy itself.

Therefore, I proceeded to celebrate Valentine’s Day like any self-respecting single lady would.

Last night, I saw Cincuenta Sombres de Grey, also know as Fifty Shades of Grey. I went into it with rather low expectations, like most things in life really, and actually thought it was pretty good. The directing and cinematography were well done and it was basically a really high quality porno, like the kind you have to pay for. Now a few parts were a bit much, like the whole physical and mental abuse thing, but I thought the ending had some redeeming qualities.

To continue my celebration, I fixed myself dinner tonight: ravioli and wine, neither of which were very good, and binged watched Bates Motel on Netflix.

My roommate, Pablo, invited me to his theater to watch a comedy that he directed, which is where I’m headed tonight. Later, my girlfriends and I are going to a club called Razzmattazz. I know that’s going to be a good time, because Razzmatazz is also the name of my favorite crayola crayon color.

Anyhoo, I hope you all had a lovely Valentine’s Day with that special someone. Even if that special someone is named Jack, José or Johnnie, or even if you’re your own special someone.

Also, a dozen roses showing up at my doorstep doesn't hurt.

Is it really Valentine’s Day without roses?