Since I get the same questions over and over again, I decided to do this update in the form of a little Q&A session:
Q: How long will you be traveling for?
A: Don’t know. Until I’m done I guess. I don’t really want to go back to Austria before summer 2009 though…
Q: So you got stuck in Istanbul. What’s her name?
A: No girl involved, honestly. For once I’m doing something stupid out of my own free will. ;)
Q: Do you speak any Turkish yet?
A: Well, I picked up some random words and phrases in the last month, but since I want to learn quicker I’m now taking a course (12 lessons a week).
Q: Is Istanbul safe?
A: Yup, definitely, at least if you have some form of common sense (e.g. showing huge amounts of foreign currency in dark side streets at 2am is probably not a smart move and the random guy who starts a nice conversation in Sultanahmet will at one point try to sell you a carpet). People here seem to be really afraid of terrorism though, so you see loads of armed cops and have to pass metal detectors every time you want to go on a subway or in a mall (or other public building/sight). And since they don’t have trash cans in the city center because somebody could hide a bomb in them, I came to detest all kinds of wrappings.
Q: How’s public transport?
A: Okayish. There’s busses, ferries, trams, dolmus (minibus taxis) and subways. Of course the subway lines don’t meet, so changing between them is not an easy feat. The busses however go all over the city (if they manage to go at all because of the insane traffic), but whoever designed the bus stops here must be a strong believer in Darwinism and the survival of the fittest. Why? Because it can be damn hard to find out which busses leave at any given stop and where they are headed. Schedules are unheard of (well, they can be looked up online, but that’s almost like believing in the tooth fairy) and intermediate stops don’t get announced on the busses. So once you figure out how to go to a place, you make that knowledge your best kept family secret, because at one point it may turn out to be a competitive advantage (‘My kids know how to get to the university!’). Ok, it’s not always that bad and people are actually very helpful, but on several occasions walking was way faster and less annoying than being stuck in a traffic jam on an overcrowded bus.
Q: How are the people in Istanbul?
A: Awesome! Their hospitality puts us all to shame and the young people are well educated and very interested in topics like world politics, religion etc. Of course my perspective probably is a little skewed because I mostly hang out with students, but I firmly believe that if everybody in Austria would be so welcoming and helpful to foreigners as people are here, that country of ours would be a much nicer place.
There’s some more questions, but I can’t really be bothered answering them right now, so I’ll save them for a future update.