Comparing the Incomparable

Rome was a fantastic prelude to Istanbul and introduced us to how different Europe is compared to America. I did not feel overwhelmed in Rome or Istanbul, but I believe that if I had immediately traveled to Turkey first I would have gotten some form of culture shock and felt uneasy about my experience. When I got to Istanbul I was ecstatic about the vibrant environment that we had observed the first few nights. This city is amazing, and when people ask me whether I like Rome or Istanbul better I have no idea how to answer. They are two incredibly different cities. Throughout my experience here in Turkey, I will be pondering the possible analogies I can use that would equate the extremities of these two cities.

I love so many things about Rome and about Istanbul. When discussing this with my peers we always come up with lists of pros and cons for each one, so I will let you know what some of the things we have came up with are in our opinions –

DESIRE TO WANDER: In Rome you can go out without a destination and come across something interesting quite easily, and there are monuments spread across the urban fabric. Istanbul is so vast that we feel like we need a destination for the day. We have found it difficult to just leave our apartments and wander around until we find something – because after a couple hours of walking around you may not have found anything that peaks interests. We need to become more familiar with the neighborhoods and what they have to offer I think, and then we may be more comfortable with this experience. However, I do remember that a couple days after arriving here, Jack, Peter and I were walking down Istiklal Caddesi and randomly turned down one of the roads that went downhill. We ended up making it to a street that went straight down the hill, allowing for a view of the expansive neighborhoods up onto another hill in the distance. We decided to sit down and sketch for a good while, and I think that that sketch has been my personal favorite so far here in Istanbul. I hope to find many other instances such as this one in the next 7 weeks we have here!

SLEEP IS FOR THE WEAK: Istanbul is a city that seems to rarely sleep. It is incredible, me and some of the group members were walking home one night around 1am on a weekday after spending some time on our site to experience what it’s like at night, and stores are still open, blanketing the streets in warm, cold, and fluorescent lights everywhere. Another night at our apartment, it was around 12:30 or 1am and Jack and I went out on the balcony just to see what its like (a day or two after arriving here) and we were flabbergasted at how many people we saw on the street still! Two of the little corner markets were open, a dürüm shop was open, there was a fruit vendor on the street with his cart, and there were an additional 10 or so people just passing through! This is one of my favorite parts about my experience here so far. Contrasting this, in Rome, if we wanted to get a container of milk or something from the store past 8 or 8:30 at night, we were out of luck because most of them had closed down by that time. It was nice and quiet in Rome because of that, but I think that I prefer the constant bustle of Istanbul.

FOOD: I miss Dem Boys kebab and pizzeria shop (we call them Dem Boys because the place doesn’t have a name and because the people who worked there were amazing and always gave us extra/free stuff and we LOVED IT) the most when it comes to food. And pizza…and pasta…and constant espresso…and more pasta. The food here is exquisite and very different from what we have experienced at home or in Rome. Personally I prefer Italian food to what Istanbul has had to offer. Don’t get me wrong though, I believe that if you do it right here it can blow your mind! That is one of my biggest problems though – I don’t know how to do it right. Every time that we have gone out with Ozayr, the meals we have eaten were impeccable. One of the most memorable places that we have gone to was a place called…well I don’t know the real name, I just know it as “The Flaming Chicken” because that’s what Ozayr calls it. It was an amazing experience; we started with so many different types of appetizers including bread and a plethora of different things to put on it! There was also this dish of pickles and peppers that a few people were obsessed with (mainly Brad and Sam – they were practically fighting over it – very passive aggressively of course). After that we got a meter long kebap (meat), which was delicious! It was filled with all different sorts of things like nuts and spices; none of us could believe our eyes when they brought this out. And if we thought that that was impressive, the 3 flaming chickens (literally) that came out next knocked all of our socks off! These chickens were layered with 2 inches of just salt and then set on fire to give the chicken flavor. They then proceeded to pull a couple of us up to take a hammer and chisel to them, and break off all of the salt! It was Jordan’s birthday the day before, so he got the opportunity along with Yun on one of the others. After this whole ordeal, when we finished the chicken we got desert, which was some type of wheat along with honey and something else (this all sounds amazing I know, and I’m doing a terrible job at explaining any of it to the extent that it should be) and it was amazing. We had this along with a couple more glasses of çay and Turkish coffee that was like sludge in its consistency. Anyways, I need eat with Ozayr more because every time the experience is perfect, and maybe by the end of this trip I will be leaning more towards the food that they have here compared to Italy!

THE CONDITIONS: The type of work environment and weather is completely different in each city as well. In Rome we had excellent weather for the time period that we were there. Also, the workload that we had consisted of very minimal hard deadlines until the end of our 5 weeks there. The last week was jam packed with all nighters, final production, and extreme caffeine intakes. If I had to give advice for next year, it would be to work on your sites and begin production much earlier. But because of this, the first four weeks seemed like a vacation in Rome. I have loved every minute of this opportunity so far. Here in Istanbul, our classes are much more concrete, and we have an actual schedule with constant deadlines for studio and even readings to do for our history class (CRAZY, RIGHT?!). We have been doing work and it is much more comparable to our workloads of a typical semester at the U. The amount of leisure time that we seem to have is still surprising though – maybe I need to buckle down even more than I already am!

ARCHITECTURE: Mosques vs Cathedrals; Modern vs Historic; Unknown vs Knowledge. These are things that I think about when I compare the Istanbul to Rome. Istanbul obviously has mosques scattered throughout the city. I think that is absolutely incredible at how unified the city is through these landmarks. From the towers on the mosques (the minorets) there are speakers on every single one throughout the city from where the call to prayer is heard. The call to prayer goes off 5 times a day, based on a lunar schedule. It can be heard from across the city and from all directions. In Rome, the cathedrals are as vast as these mosques. I could talk forever about the appreciation for the subtle differences seen between different mosques in Istanbul and different cathedrals in Rome. Even with the historic peninsula in Istanbul, I still see the city as being more modern than historic where I 100% think that Rome is a historic city with minimal modernism (for example, the Ara Pacis Museum by Richard Meier). Here in Istanbul, we visited a place called the Zorlu Center, which is a large mall with apartments, a hotel and a large-scale auditorium attatched. While we were there, it literally felt like we were in a rendering – it looked like so many of the “future” and “coming in 2020” types of buildings. It was the first large scale contemporary building that I have been to and I absolutely loved it. Next, my knowledge of the two cities is completely different. In our history classes at the U we have learned extensively about many of the places in Rome including the Pantheon, the Vatican, the Colosseum, the Baths of Diocletian, and many of the cathedrals and piazzas that cover the city. All we have learned about in our past history classes within Istanbul is the Hagia Sophia and we barely touched on the Blue Mosque. It is rather disappointing because it gave me a much larger sense of appreciation for the architecture in Rome. I am hoping that this will completely change by the end of this trip because we have the opportunity to have an excellent historian teaching our history class, Saygin Salgirli. I can’t wait to learn more about this city’s historical fabric in addition to what I have already learned from the class!

Clearly there are too many things for me when I consider choosing which one I like better, but both cities definitely have their perks! However, I do have 7 more weeks in Istanbul, and who knows how they may be spent and what may happen in the future to sway my decision one way!

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