Istanbul: Going to the movies

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Trying to figure out something new! cool! exciting! all the time is actually kind of exhausting. So, I asked the desk if any of the movie theaters play movies in English. And guys, sometimes America as the 800 lb cultural gorilla is awesome. Namely, Gatsby in 3D for 14 lira with watermelon bought on the street while waiting for the box office to open.

My official review: Gatsby is long on pretty, short on compelling performances. Still one of my favorites books from high school. ❤ Fitzgerald ❤

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Istanbul: The Spice Market

The Spice Market is a sight to behold. In some ways it reminds me of Pike Place, a functioning market that’s also a huge tourist attraction. The market itself is an enclosed structure next to the New Mosque (in fact, the market was set up by the mosque and rents helped subsidize the mosque and its charitable projects) plus blocks of stalls in every direction. You can buy anything you want/need/didn’t know existed including….

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Turkish delight

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Nuts and dried fruit

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Baklava galore

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Cheese

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Olives

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…and waders! Literally everything!

Istanbul: SALT Beyoglu

SALT is an arts and culture organization funded by the Turkish government. In recent years they’ve opened two multi-level gallery spaces in Istanbul. I read about a show in Time Out Istanbul that I was really interested in but couldn’t for the life of me find it on a map!

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This evening I rode the tram and hiked up one of Istanbul’s GIANT hills to explore the Galata and Beyoglu neighborhoods. Istikal Caddesi (caddesi=avenue) is the main street through Beyoglu. It’s almost exclusively pedestrian with a single old timey tram running down the middle. The shops are a mix of Turkish and Western and all the cafes open on to the street. There are food carts selling corn, roasted chestnuts and ice cream. I popped in and out of bookstores and stopped for Turkish coffee. Lo and behold, the very museum I had been trying to find!

The space is beautiful. Giant glass doors open to the street. The ceiling on the main floor is easily 15 feet. The hardwood floors help everything feel clean and modern. The first floor gallery was a smaller show of four Chinese-American artists living in New York in the 80s and 90s. Despite not setting out to make political art, the photography, installations and performance art pieces have strong anti-war and pro-LGBT themes. The AIDS crisis defined New York in the 80s, it’s not difficult to understand how it influenced their art.

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Floors two and three were the exhibit that had drawn me there in the first place: a retrospective on the Romanian political action group subREAL. The group lived in Bucharest in the early 90s as the economy moved toward liberal democracy. The first floor highlighted their experimentation with framing.

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The second floor covers the period after members of the group moved to Berlin. With both physical distance and political distance as the transition process continued, their later work is more explicitly political. SALT choose to recreate an interactive piece the group composed in the mid-90s. Participants are asked to write what they consider the most pressing social issue in the world on phallus shaped paper.

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The gallery was a great treat and I’m so happy I stumbled upon it!

Istanbul: Riding the rails

My first thought in a cab this morning was “wow, Russia really prepped me for driving in Turkey.” My cab driver seemed most comfortable cruising around 160 km/hr. Luckily, the roads here are much better. There’s lots about Russia and Turkey that are similar, especially borrowed words, but Turkey’s economic success in the last few decades marks it apart from Russia’s bumpy transition to a market economy. The difference in state investment in infrastructure is obvious.

I really like Turkey. It’s modern, surprisingly clean (at least this far) and cheap. This evening I did one of my favorite new city things: I rode the tram to nowhere. I love easily breezing through several neighborhoods to start to get feels for them and the people watching is unparalleled. The trams/streetcars in Istanbul are clean, fast and very economical at 3 Turkish lira a ride (roughly $1.65). Even on a Monday night the cars are packed with families, friends and a few folks still headed home from work.

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Paka Russia!

I sailed through check in and passport control in about 15 minutes. The Krasnodar airport is set up so international travelers walk through the domestic area before getting to customs. It’s way nicer in the international waiting area.

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In true Russian form the woman at the customs counter didn’t say a word to me. I told Nibitu I was nervous about handling customs if anything went wrong (not that I expected it to). She told me “look serious and check what they’re doing.” So that’s what I did. And then I felt like a baby badass. Baby steps of awesome.

Outtakes from Russia

Today marks four weeks in Russia. I remarked to Corinne that it’s crazy how fast you get used to something. My brain has just accepted that its really difficult to communicate with most people. Pantomime FTW!

Here are some of the more funny observations I’ve made here:

Driving
-Everyone is a maniac. There really isn’t a way to not be a crazy driver. Cars exist where cars fit. Rules are for suckers.
-No one wears seat belts in the back seat. Most people only wear them in the front seat because their cars beep at them ceaselessly if they don’t.

Bathrooms
-Most toilets in Russia are low flow. I like this.
-BYOTP is a great line of defense against uncertainty.
-Few Russians keep trash cans in their bathrooms. No idea what they do with used q-tips or hair that gathers in the comb.

Dairy
-Milk comes in bags.

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-The standard milk fat is 2.7%.
-I have serious concerns about how to run my life without ready access to cmeltana (Russian sour cream).

Misc
-Every staircase seems a little off. There always seems to be one step at the top or bottom that’s a half step.

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-Americans use “thank you” as a parting comment way more than Russians. I choose to believe most Russians find this quirky and fun rather than annoying and usual.
-I don’t think I’ve seen a single bumper sticker while I’ve been here. It’s just not a thing.

Flying to Istanbul Monday to begin the solo leg of this journey. Eek! I’m scared/excited!

Living out of a suitcase

You know those vacation packing features in women’s magazines? “14 outfits from six pieces (and a buttload of shoes and jewelry we don’t count!)”? They always contain one or two outfits that are just a little off. Its clear they work in the editor’s head but not on a real person but the editor just decided to go with it. Well, after living with the same clothes for a month, I have a lot more sympathy for the editor.

We’re in Krasnodar now, our last city and definitely the warmest. The sunshine and heat are great but it further limits my options. I’ve basically alternated between three outfits since I’ve been here. This morning I have to pack for a day that includes a rotary presentation (uniform), lots of downtime (warm weather casual) and a nightclub tonight (fancy). You think limited options would help but nope. Le sigh.

Fly Russia

I had a Russian tell me this week that as much as she liked studying abroad in Canada she could never live in the US or Canada because it’s too boring. The roads are too smooth, the traffic is too orderly and the utilities too predictable.

It would take me a while to get to a point of embracing that level of unknown and unpredictable.

Everything on this trip is of course heightened because it’s a complete crap shoot if someone will speak English. We were told one thing about bag weight and luggage piece limit and we ended up out of regulation. Luckily, your all-star had extra space and weight to help out her teammates. Feel free to tell me I’m awesome.

Everyone in Russia wraps their luggage. Some people do it at home but most people do it at the airport. For 300 rubles per piece (about $10), I’m in the wrong business. They have giant shrink wrapping machines and each bag takes less than a minute.

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The part that most surprised me was the thoughtful and smooth set up of airport security. The space is large and the identification verfication part is a good distance from the scanning machines. When you enter airport security their are several long tables and stacks and stacks of trays. Instead of flinging your things into trays while a bazillion people in line behind you roll their eyes, you sort out all your things and then take your trays to the line. They even provide plastic sock covers. And now, thanks to the circle scanners, airport scanners in three countries have seen me naked. Woot.
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Editor’s note: Nope, we’re not leaving Russia yet. We’re just flying to Rostov-on-Don (about 1200 kilometers) for a Rotary conference this weekend.

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Nouveau Riche

Moscow is nuts. St Petersburg was old and historic. It felt like an older lady with elegant features and worn velvet.

Moscow is just dripping with money. I’ve seen more $150k cars here in three days than in my entire life. Buildings are going up everywhere. The subway is crammed full of people rushing to work.

As a splurge-y treat, we went to the Sixty restaurant for coffee. The restaurant is located on the 62nd floor of a luxury high rise. The prices are, of course, insane. But! It’s the first time I’ve seen Bulleit on the menu in any bar in Russia. Civilization!…for $14 a shot.

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My favorite part of going to really high end bars and restaurants is the design ideas. This restaurant was incredible. I want to live in their bar.

The hilarious part is that we were taken there for the panoramic views. Instead, I took photos of all the furniture and lighting. Hello, Pinterest!

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