13 September 2014

My Quick Getaway to Turkey

I am currently procrastinating by writing this instead of unpacking my suitcase and catching up on study I missed while I was away last week. What is it about holidays that when you take time off to go on a holiday, you then need to take more time off to recover after the holiday! I understand not all trips are super packed with sightseeing and tours; some are there to simply kick back and relax. This was not the case, however, for my quick getaway to Turkey.  

Last year my cousin announced that she would be getting married in September 2014. The thought of a wedding excited me! The thought of travel time and costs, however, did not. It was only a couple of weeks before the wedding that I started to consider actually going. This was a bit of a stressful situation. The trip would be during a busy time of year with work and university assessments. This is when I felt the universe take over to assist me with the decision. My exam was successfully deferred and my boss let me go. By ‘let me go’, I did have to hand in a resignation letter but it was a positive end. A lot of mixed emotions did run through my mind at that point. I was still extremely stressed about my studies and sad about leaving my work. On the other hand, I was tremendously excited about making my way to a new country and also in a way relieved to be leaving work as I personally struggled in that particular position. I have always believed in the saying ‘all things happen for a reason’ and on Sunday night, a week before the wedding, the tickets were booked and I was heading to Istanbul, Turkey! This was the beginning of another spontaneous adventure that I was not going to regret!

There are a few things I love about flying solo. One includes getting to know life stories of the wonderful strangers beside you and the other, getting a window seat! #phototime ;) On my plane ride to Singapore, where I was stopping over, I sat next to a middle aged women who was flying oversees for the first time. She was travelling on an organised group tour consisting of around 60 people. They would spend the next few weeks sightseeing Paris then London and later taking a cruise to New York! She had a beautiful pandora bracelet that was going to be filled with new charms from every city, she said.

After a 7-hour flight, I spent another four hours at the Singapore airport, anxiously finishing my assignment and checking the time furiously to not miss my flight! My next 10-hour trip was with a Turkish mother and her son who were flying home for a few months to visit their relatives. The lovely mother kept on apologising for speaking too much! But I loved speaking to her! The son’s name was Murat, which is the same name as the person my cousin was marrying, and the mother’s name I did not quite catch which, I do wish I had asked for again.

The plane officially landed on Istanbul soil and it was time to say goodbye to them both. I went on to pick up my suitcase where, because it took so long, I had a mini-heart attack thinking I forgot to check it in at the stopover. I was travelling with the same airline the whole way, however, so never fear! After about a ten-minute wait my purple, worn suitcase finally shot out onto the baggage carousel. Ten-minutes feels much longer when you begin to fear your luggage has been lost. So now with my handbag in the left hand and the suitcase handle tightly gripped in my right, I began to make my way to the arrival gate. From the corner of my eye I could see a figure rushing towards me. I straightaway knew who it was. My cousin was making her way towards me in the same way as she once picked me up from school in grade 2! With an enormous grin on her face like the Cheshire cat and with arms spread wide open like a flying plane; after 6 long years, we were reunited once more!

The first thought that came to mind was that I had finally reached her height! Last time I saw her she was 18 and I was only 13. A long overdue hug was now in order! The rest of the day was very chilled, lots of catching up, a swim in the pool and a few hours of assignment work. Later that night a few more relatives arrived from Latvia and we made our way to a classic, rooftop restaurant. The view was one I have not seen before, so very busy yet so colourful and exciting! Being a bit of a germ freak I struggled at first to enjoy the food but it was definitely a great cultural experience. There was watermelon with every meal! I was a little confused but I embraced it and loved it.

I had previously heard about culture shock but I have never experienced it myself before. On my first couple of days in Istanbul, this is exactly what I had felt. On my second day we set off to explore the major sites of the enormous city. I thought I lived in a fairly populated place but this did not come close to the 20 million living here! I have never been surrounded by so many people, and I have also not had this many people come up to me to try and sell. I can’t say I have never been in crowded areas, I’ve been in mosh pits at concerts and in the middle of the city on New Years, but this atmosphere was different. There was an unusual energy around and I was left feeling a little uneasy. To over come it, I began to focus on the architecture, the views and simply the thought of being with my cousin again. This made me forget my sense of agitation and made the day more enjoyable!

We later bumped into a small group of tourists who we shared a few laughs with. They asked us how we knew each other and we explained that we were all relatives! They went on to ask where we were from and one by one we responded, “Latvia…Australia…Russia”. With confused faces, they questioned how we were all related! That is when Olga, my step mum, replied, “That is life!” It is true; life brings many people together in the same time as take them apart. You can never be certain of what is ahead. Today it is much simpler to travel and find a new home in a different part of the world. Despite the distance, life keeps us all together. At the wedding, we also had other relatives flying in from places like Germany, Italy, Hong Kong, and this living diversity was only just expanding with my cousin marrying into a Turkish family!

Exactly, that’s life!

The day ended with a few beers at a nice bar. This is definitely something more universal!

My typical daily routine at home consists of waking up at around 7am, having breakfast at 8am, lunch at 12pm, dinner at 6pm and going to bed around 11pm. This schedule was nothing like the one I experienced on this holiday! Some days we would wake up at 11am, breakfast at 12pm, dinner at 8pm and sleep at 3am. Other days I don’t remember if I even ate dinner! Time was simply non-existent. That is a bit expected when you only have 4 days in a new place where there is definitely a lot to do! Everything form exploring the city to catching up with family members I have not seen in years! Indeed a very expeditious trip!

Then the wedding day arrived! The stress of an assignment due date also arrived on the same date. I tried my best to use every free moment I had during the week to finish the bloody 2000 word essay but there is always that last day when you realise how much you still need to do. So while all the celebrations were beginning, I spent a few more hours glued to the laptop in order to hit that submit button. With the essay complete, I was finally able to come out and enjoy the beautiful day of celebration. As this being my first wedding, I experienced first hand all the stress and excitement that goes into such a special event. It is all worth it I discovered, I promise you!

Our taxis arrived and we were off to the venue. We left extremely early because in a city of 20 million people, there is no such thing as off peak. There is traffic literally every hour of every day! The view on our arrival was mesmerising! It is a view that I personally can’t put into words despite how cliché that sounds; I am also not that great of a writer so lets just leave it to the photos! As with all exciting events, extensive amounts of photos were taken that day. I, however, ran out of time to go buy a travel adapter before I left, so my camera battery was flat. Sometimes this is a good thing; I was able to enjoy every moment of the unforgettable night through my eyes and not the lens. I’ll get all the photos from the others later!
It was truly a spectacular night and everything lined up perfectly! There was no rain, despite the forecast showing thunderstorms. There was a growing moon, which under Russian superstitions blesses the marriage with good luck! I was also finally reunited with my dad after a long year apart. I had to hold back my tears of joy when he finally arrived. You forget how much you miss someone until you see them again! Along with all of this, it was beautiful to see they true joy and love between the lovely bride and groom on their special day!

There was also a lot of the usual eating, drinking, singing and dancing that took place. Even I stepped out of my typical self and got up to dance with everyone! The food was delicious but I didn’t end up eating much of it from, I guess, the excitement of the day! Something else I found interesting was how the two different cultures united. There were various traditions practiced, a bit different from what I expected. The wedding was still a blast and finally around 5am it came time for bed!

Although I was only there 4 days, those 4 days were so jam-packed that my trip felt much, much longer! It was good to relax a bit more on the last day. My dad came around, we all chatted for a while and then sent him off to the airport. We had lunch with the rest of the family next and a nice stroll by the sea while watching the captivating sunset. The day could not end without experiencing some Turkish nightlife, however, and along with that came a midnight feed!

Then it came time to head on home. Again mixed emotions! I was sad to be leaving, happy to be returning home, not looking forward to sitting on a plane for 24 hours and on top of that stressing out about uni assessments! The trip overall was what I’d call a ‘once in a lifetime’ experience. I don’t think it would be possible to re-create the wonderful memories I made, only create more new ones! I have taken a lot away from this trip, as with all my other adventures! I will be missing my extended family and hoping to reunite some day soon again.

I did say I enjoy my plane trips and on the way back I sat next to a lovely couple who offered me Oreos! Oreos are the best! I did refuse politely just in case though, and also because I had already consumed way too much delicious cheese, bread and chocolate in Turkey! Then on the flight back to Australia I sat next to a very stylish mum who was heading home from Italy. She has a daughter who is studying at the same university as I and although I was unsuccessful with my exchange application for next semester, her daughter, however, was and would be flying to Denmark in only a few months! You could see the mum fearing the thought of her child soon leaving her nest but I guess that’s all part of life.

There is always something new to discover, leave your fears behind and take every adventure that comes your way!