We are back in Istanbul to party hard for New Year’s Eve! We stopped there once before for some days after our adventures in the Balkans, and we went down South to find a place to stay two months.
Rémi participates in a project for the best website in the world, hitchwiki.org, a collaborative website for hitchhikers. Existing since 2006, it changed and grew larger in a rather unorganized way. With his buddy Mikael, they decided to start working on a new and shiny version of the website. Thanks to a donation page, enough money is gathered to cover food expenses and to rent a flat. It was decided to take place in the South of Turkey because it is warmer than Europe and it’s on Arthur’s and Rémi’s way.
But let’s go back to Istanbul. Here for the tourists, these expressions are common. “I’m going to Asia”, “-Where is this place? -It’s in Europe”, “Waaah we are crossing from Europe to Asia”. Turkish people simply say they are going “to the other side”.
However according to us, in spite of the distinct geographical separation Istanbul is neither Europe nor Asia. In fact it is a bit of both, a junction-city located between the East and the West transformed little by little by all kind of influences. This might seem unremarkable, but when people say Istanbul is at the crossroads of civilization, it is definitely true. As the minarets’ songs come to our ears in a strange language, we recognize old rock tracks played by young people in the street. A bit further, a Turkish melody creates a dancing circle taking place in front of a Starbucks Coffee.
Luckily, people take us for original Turkish, Arthur with his vietnamese-style eyes and Rémi thanks to his dark skin and his jet-black hair. People in the street ask us were to find the metrobüs or the stadyum, we answer with our most charming accent “turkish yok”, not turkish. But at least, we don’t get harassed like the German tourists, potential preys spotted easily two kilometers in advance by the sharpened eyes of the döner sellers.
We were expecting a bigger cultural choc, but Istanbul is not very representative of the rest of Turkey, it’s an alternative and conservative city, ancestral and modern. We are hosted in Kadıköy, a district of Istanbul at Mathieu, Lena and Alican’s (pronounced Alijan), an explosive German-French-Turkish trio. Mathieu settled down in Istanbul before going to travel further, Lena is doing a student exchange with Erasmus and Alican is a computer developer. It’s an active and activist apartment in which we arrived, the door bell is continuously ringing bringing its flow of surprises and visitors. We are not the firsts hosted in this flat, far from it, the door is always opened to travelers and friends.
During our first stay we visited of course the touristic places, the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia, the Grand Bazaar, the ever-crowded Istiklal street. We just escaped Taksim square, center of the 2013 protests launched after the construction plan of building a shopping mall. The demonstrations quickly became a general discontent in response to an always more conservative government. (More about it on Wikipedia.)
But we participated as well at the night life of Istanbul, in the well-hidden pubs of the perpendicular street to Istiklal. A building entrance almost normal, but at each floor a different bar and at the highest perched pub, a terrace. We participate as spectators to a jam session. We realize very soon that beer is expensive, and our budget will quickly explode during these few days in Istanbul.
On Saturday we took part at Food Not Bombs with our hosts. The principle of Food Not Bombs is to gather food that would otherwise have been wasted, to cook vegetarian or vegan meals and to offer it to everybody. The organization is completely independent and each group of Food Not Bombs is free to organize themselves the way they want. We arrive at the Don Quixote squat which has neither water nor electricity and we start cleaning and preparing the fruits ans veggies in the street. At 6pm when the meal is ready, many persons come to share a moment together around the dinner. There are several Food Not Bombs in Istanbul, but this one just started and there is still a bit to work on before the project really takes off. It is a real pleasure to see the investment of all these persons striving to fight against global wasting at a local scale. It is as well a way to create social links and to integrate all kind of different people in a neighborhood. The street is ours, we have to use it!!
After these five days in Istanbul it is time for us to get back on the road, direction Fethiye in the South. We reached this small city in two days of hitchhiking with a night at the side of a toll near Izmir. There we find Mikael and Simona who Rémi knows since a year, as well as our two Iranian hosts. We want to settle down for two months and we want a city with some stuff going on. Fethiye has splendid surroundings and some quarters, with criss-cross stairs and footbridges, attract us. Unfortunately, the five pubs of the center don’t succeed in convincing us that we would like to spend two months here. We arrive thus in Antalya where we meet Federrico an hitchhiker buddy and Ceylan his turkish girlfriend/future wife. During three days we stay at Ceylan’s mother’s house who welcome us like kings, especially Arthur, guess why. Impossible to help for anything and we have our first big slice of Turkish hospitality. Thanks to Mikael’s efficient spamming skills and to our official interpreter Ceylan, we quickly find a flat that fits to our needs. During the first visit the apartment is dirty and not very welcoming, but we adopt it immediately by reorganizing, redecorating, and hanging maps of the world on the walls! We have access to the rooftop for the sunny coffees, between 15 and 20° in December when it is not raining, we can’t complain.
Antalya, although much bigger than Fethiye, is nothing comparable to Istanbul. Touristic coastal city, the activity in winter is close to zero. Many people in the streets, but we are far from the alternative atmosphere of Istanbul. Here tourism prevails on anything else. We organize our everyday life pretty quickly. Rémi and Mikael are coding most of the day, Simona works on her computer and Arthur reads, plays a bit of harmonica and trains for coin magic, an investment for the rest of the trip, in order to make coins disappear on the cafes’ terraces.
One week-end we decide to make an excursion outside of Antalya with two other nomads in transit. We walk three days and 20km out of the 500 which form the Lycian Way from Fethiye to Antalya. Backpacks, wood cooker, speakers and here we go. We wander from beach to beach and establish campsites in two of them. Campfire to fight humidity, night bath in the middle of the luminescent plankton, morning bath for a nice day beginning and mushroom collect. Back to civilization we cross a strange village, near-all boards written in Russian, deserted of summer tourists. We leave here Monsieur Chien, the dog that followed us during our three-days walk. From there we hitchhike back to Antalya and get back to our daily routine.
It is a real joy to be far from the Christmas magazines, from the Christmas decorations, from the Christmas advertisement. Here in Muslim country, none of this exists. In fact it is that much not in there culture that Turkish say “Christmas” for New Year’s Eve and that Santa Claus can only be seen on the 31st of December! But still true to our Christian heritage, we invite on the 24th our diverse acquaintances to share food from all horizons, with a big floating island for dessert, youpiiiiii!
We decide to spend New Year’s Eve in Istanbul while Mikael and Simona stay in Antalya. After a day of hitchhiking, maybe the best one since the beginning of our trip so far, 700km, a jew’s harp and a phone lost, a lot of food offered including delicious sausages grilled on motor oil and plastic bags, we are dropped in front of the apartment at 23h. This is how we roll
Germans, straight from Germanieland, came to visit Lena and we accept to share our living room with them. Yes, cause since last time the living room became kind of ours. We are in Istanbul so we decide to party, or rather party falls on us. This time, we go through Taksim square and realize we missed it the first time.
New Year is not less than 25 people in the flat, 12 sleeping in the living room and some more spread in all rooms, as well as a big spider crab that Rémi and Arthur share to start the evening, for the greatest delight of all vegetarians attending the party. Sorry Pachamama.
We do another Food Not Bombs session, with a very different organization as the first time. Now meals are not prepared in the squat anymore but in a Marxist café.
Istanbul is superb, but it is time to come back. Arthur goes first to explore Çanakkale while Rémi hitches directly to Antalya.
Great New Year to all our fans, we hope that the Santa Claus brought you present good enough so that you will not have to re-sell them on Ebay, don’t forget to take your resolutions, I believe in you, this year you will keep them, not like last year
Yes, this year you will do sport, lose weight, start guitar, learn spanishissimo, quit smoking and drinking beer. Yes, promised. And if you do it, promise we do it as well.