settling into summer, istanbul style

I would say that by now most people have found out, whether from us directly or from social media or from word of mouth that we're spending the summer in Istanbul, Turkey.  For a variety of reasons, we decided that it was best that we not go far from Madrid until we start school again in mid-September, and after finding that the jobs available to Americans sans European Union citizenship were pretty few and far between, we ended up with the first job we applied to back in January, a summer camp held at a university on the outskirts of Istanbul.  We're both working as English teachers every weekday from 8:30am - 2:30pm for (primarily) Turkish kids, all the while living in the university dorms and eating our meals in the university cafeteria.  

In some ways, it feels like the college experience I never had, since I didn't live on campus and eat in the dining hall like most students, but instead of going to class, I'm teaching classes.  Oh, and since Danny and I are married (newsflash!) we scored a private bathroom attached to our room, while all of our co-workers are roughing it with communal bathrooms/showers/etc.  Don't think we're getting too spoiled though - dorm management has crammed two twin beds into a single room to pull the private bathroom hijinks off, so we're reminded that we're just ordinary people every time we squeeze past the six-inch opening between our wardrobe and the beds.      

D - I absolutely loved college.  As an extrovert through and through, it was pretty much a dream set up.   "Oh, I can see my friends any time I want just by walking next door or down the hall?  This is incredible!!"  Now the cafeteria here isn't all you can eat like it was at the Great UNC (which is probably a good thing), but at least it's just a three minute walk from our dorm.  Additionally, I'm viewing this summer as a shot at redemption for not using the gym more when I was in college.  Here was this great gym, just minutes from my house, paid for through my student fees, and I probably used it less than 20 times.  Well it's not going to happen that way again, I say!  So far, Shan and I have gone ~6:30am every weekday morning.  The only bad bit about this campus for me is that, as Shannon mentioned, since we're married, we're kind of cordoned off on own in a totally different dorm from all the other teachers, so things aren't as ideal for my extroversion as they were in college.  Oh well.  You can't win 'em all.  

We've been on campus for about two weeks now, and I'd say that we're feeling pretty settled in now which feels really nice.  I'm starting to memorize which words (in Turkish) stand for the cycles I want to use on the washer and dryer (okay, yes, we really are living the life here with a washer AND dryer down the hall and every time I fold warm clothes I feel like a queen), we're figuring out a new currency (and its conversion to euros), public transportation (still working on that one as getting back home last night after our day trip took us hours longer than expected), and are getting acquainted with eating schedules and customs (always tricky...but thankfully from what I can tell so far, Turks seem to eat, at least time-wise, a bit more like Americans than Spaniards).

We've made two trips into Istanbul, the second of which, in my opinion, was undoubtedly better than first, primarily because it wasn't nearly as hot as the first, but also because we felt more confident finding our way around and trying to do things without much Turkish, two things we felt rather intimidated by at first.  I have a long list of places to see, foods to try, and experiences to have in Istanbul and the surrounding area, and we've been steadily crossing items off.  It's not all about the list, of course, but it is helping to shape how we plan our days off.  

D - It's a tried and tested rule of travel and of life.  Places and people seem a lot less scary in person, when you try to get to know them.  We fear that which we do not know or have not experienced.  

Some photos around campus during the past two weeks - first up, the field where we play games with our students, and below that, the mini-forest in between some of the dorms on campus.

On our first full day on campus, we went to the top of the clock tower with some of our co-workers.  The room at the top is decorated in a very traditional Turkish style and is really neat, but the view is the most impressive part - you can see the Black Sea and the Bosphorus Strait, as well as one of the three bridges that crosses it, all of campus, and the green hills that surround it.  Beautiful at any time of day. 

D - Surprised?  So were we!  The campus is truly gorgeous!  I think it's got a real SoCal feel to it, don't you?

We were released from orientation early one day to go into Sariyer, the northernmost district of Istanbul, and the closest 'civilization' to campus as we're a bit isolated in the woods (and don't worry, very secure - we have to show three forms of ID to get back in whenever we leave!).  To be honest, we didn't really love Sariyer, as there doesn't seem to be much to do there unless you live there and are just carrying about your daily life, but it is along the water (which is beautiful and always a plus).  

Ever since we started talking about coming to Turkey this summer, the food was a part of the conversation, something along the lines of, "Well, at least the food will be good!"  And so far, we've been right.  The food has been good, even though 95% of our meals have been eaten at the university's cafeteria (and are university cafeterias usually renowned for their food?!).  There's always been at least one vegetarian option, a couple of fruits available at every meal (except breakfast, but I'm definitely NOT talking about breakfast here), the desserts are always tempting although we've never tried them, and the bread and tea are free.  

D - As you can see below, yogurt is really popular here.  The Turkish practically inhale it.  You can serve yogurt over pretty much anything, so it would seem.  Interestingly, one of the most popular drinks here in Turkey is a yogurt based drink called Ayran.  If I'm correct, I believe it's literally just yogurt and water.  If you want to know what it's like, imagine if Danimals Drinkable Yogurt had a plain flavor.  Or just make it yourself at home.  

Or don't.  At the risk of offending worldwide lovers of Ayran, I'm going to say don't make it/try it/buy it - it's flavorless and borderline disgusting.  Okay, anyway, just a sample of dinner one night...

Okay, breakfast.  Nothing I said above applies.  I have really (sort of) tried to be tolerant about the Turkish breakfast, at least outwardly.  It is just so different to anything I am used to for breakfast...with no other options available...inwardly I am waging a small war every time I fill my plate with tomatoes, cucumbers, a piece of cheese, and bread, all while calling it breakfast.  Yesterday there were surprise pastries (for the first time in two weeks) and while Danny stuck to the status quo I didn't think twice and loaded up as many as of those bad boys would fit on my plate.  I can eat my veggies at lunch and dinner like I've been doing the other 26 years of my life, because if there's pastries, forget that nonsense.

I suppose I should mention that there are a few more things available at breakfast than what I take: hard boiled eggs, two types of mystery meat, a few other types of cheese, a variety of spices and herbs, honey, and jam.  

9.9 times out of 10, this is what my tray looks like...

...and this is what Danny's tray looks like.  He takes tomatoes, cucumbers, hard boiled eggs, cheese, and red pepper, and mixes it all up to get the concoction below.  He's become a fan, but I think if they started serving pancakes or granola he wouldn't maintain too much loyalty to his Turkish breakfast creation.

D - I was pretty disappointed at first too.  But hey, it's healthy right?  And I've truly developed a palatte for my odd breakfast salad.  Ironically, the only meal of the day when Turks don't have yogurt seems to be breakfast.  

So, a little look into our Turkish life this summer.  So far so good, as long as I can keep stomaching these breakfasts and/or talk the chefs into trying something new once in a while ;)