Atlanta belly dancer and lover of Turkish dance (and food!), Karmelita, embarked on the biggest adventure of her life to date! Check out her trip re-cap and see pictures she took along the way!
Wow…it took me this long to write about my trip to Istanbul, but the memories are still fresh! Let me preface this by saying this trip was my first time out of the country (other than Canada or Jamaica) and the first time I went somewhere without my parents! Double whammy! It was exciting and terrifying, but by the time I was ready to go home, I found peace and comfort.
The adventure was full of surprises, from the first view of the mosques and cityscape from the window of the plane, to the taxi ride back to the airport to come home. There were so many people! And cats! And dogs! The city was much larger than I ever imagined. You could stand on the bridge and look out and never see an end to the buildings and streets. We rode on the bus for almost an hour and were still within the hustle and bustle!
I traveled with a bunch of musicians, namely “Maharal” and “Ishtar”—two bands that perform traditional and non-traditional Middle Eastern and Turkish music. It just so happened that Ishtar had secured a gig at a bar on the Istaklal (basically the Turkish version of Bourbon Street!). What a surreal experience! A group of Americans playing classical Turkish songs for a room full of young and old Turkish people. And they LOVED IT!
We stayed in a hostel called “Chillout Hostel” on the Istaklal. It was my first time staying in such a place and I rather liked it. The cost was lower than a hotel, I shared a bathroom and shower with other people, but I still got to have a private room. The people that ran the Chillout were very nice and helpful with our many questions. We traveled in groups to the Blue Mosque, The Grand Bazaar, a Hamam (Turkish bath—SO GOOD), and even to Asia! Most people think when they hear “Asian side” they imagine it is just a figure of speech. No! Istanbul really does sit on the divide of Europe and Asia. You can take a ferry from European side to Asian side for about $1. But be careful not to stay out too late, the ferry stops running at around 10 pm.
Along with the regular site-seeing we also visited quite a few bars and clubs, to sample the music and nightlife of course (Efes is tasty!). We went to Araf and a few others I cannot remember the name of. It was very interesting to hear such a variety of music at these bars and clubs—Turkish, Latin, American…even Gangnam Style played a few times. The American version of “International Night” at a regular club was their every day thing! One of the most notable experiences was going to Saz Bar and seeing Saygi Turkmen play, with a few other musicians I don’t know the names of. The music was overwhelming. I and the two people from Maharal that were with me, were in tears! It was beautiful…but then they’d lift us up and play fun, fast music and we stood to dance with the locals. What a treat!
Now…belly dance stuff. I bought a costume from a nice older man in the Grand Bazaar but the bra was too small. No worries, he was able to create a brand new bra in two days for me! Wow! I didn’t get the chance to go into Bella or Sim (I found out Sim was on the Istaklal the last day I was there!), but I did go into Saneil Moda Evi, one of my favorite designers. The shop was incredible and just FULL of gorgeous costumes. I tried on several but unfortunately…I hadn’t saved up enough money for the trip and had to forego. I and another dancer, Christy Fricks of Athens, studied with Reyhan at her home studio. THAT was a treat! We did about an hour and a half of straight up Romany dancing with her broken English coaching and man, were my abs sore. Reyhan was so nice and is a great teacher, despite the language barrier. That night, we went to Sultana’s and watched a super cheesy show…until finally…Didem came gliding out from behind the curtain. Didem is the most famous Turkish dancer in the world in this generation, performing on TV shows constantly. Seeing her live was an experience all on its own.
The day we packed up to head back to the States was a bittersweet day. I was getting a cold and really wanted to be home, but there was still so much more to do and see! I vowed I would try to return to this glorious city at least once a year. If you have ever been curious about traveling to Istanbul, I highly encourage it. It is an experience that pictures and stories will never justify. Go! Go forth and travel!