So what the crap? Here's what the crap: As we whittle away the days here in Moscow, we have classes to attend and some excursions to go on, but other than that, we're essentially free agents as long as we communicate big plans to the higher-ups. Additionally, everyone in our group got double-entry Russian visas which means we can enter Russia twice during our visa period: once when we first get here, and one more time if we chose to leave and return. This meant we had one shot at non-Russian travel.
Luckily, Paige and I decided to do our Ukraine traveling BEFORE we got here, so that didn't count against our entries, so a small group of 6 of us decided to go to Turkey. Why Turkey? Mostly this:
This is the Hagia Sofia, the largest (former) mosque in the entire bloody world. This is one of those buildings about which Art History teachers ooze poetry all over their slide projectors. It's generally considered to have changed architecture forever, in addition to being absolutely gorgeous and it happens to be located in a country that maybe a handful of Americans would ever consider visiting and they are all either Art History teachers or they've grown bored of Europe.
This is, of course, because a quick airfare search tells me that a round-trip ticket for one person from Salt Lake City to Istanbul is roughly $1400, and if an American is going to spend $1400 on airfare somewhere, they're going to go to one of the places on their top-10 list of places they'd like to go, not to number 26 or 27 which is generally where Turkey lies. From MOSCOW, however, a round trip ticket to Istanbul is a couple hundred bucks. This meant that we could travel to Turkey to see its wonders (which, by the way, includes chocolate soft-serve ice cream at McDonald's) for a fraction of the price because we're already way over here anyway. This was our master plan, and it worked out beautifully.
Some of you may ask, “Worth, you fool, why did you not tell us about your plans sooner? I am offended and furthermore extremely miffed!” I will explain. In addition to constructing an opportunity to post dramatically below about They Might Be Giants, I decided not to tell anyone on my side of the family about our trip because I was betting it would kinda freak my mother out. I think I've put her through enough worry throughout my life like that time I thought it would be so cool to get off the bus from elementary school and not go home until 4 hours later when I had finished doing my homework outside. So here we are, back safe and sound in Moscow (lol), and I can just be all like “Surprise, mom! I went to a country with known active terrorist organizations!” Then again, most countries have a couple of those nowadays. At the very least, I can assure my parents that Paige did inform her family, particularly for the purpose of checking with her dad about any safety concerns. As I told our little group, the Pentagon cleared us to go visit, so we went.
As an aside, I'm assuming that all of you know as little about Turkey as I did a couple weeks ago, and I reckon that most of you are thinking, “Well that's good for Worth, I guess, but I just can't see Paige putting up with that burka all weekend,” and you would be right: If Turkey was that kind of Middle-Eastern country, she wouldn't have put up with it and we wouldn't have gone. In the real life, though, Turkey is a democratic, secular country that has an extremely large Muslim population, but many desires to join the EU and be like all of the other swinging European countries. It bridges Europe and Asia like Ukraine bridges Europe and Russia, and just like Ukraine, it would like to chill with the Europeans while still being friends with it's eastern neighbors. Further, Turkey, in my limited experience, is not full of the angry, blowy-upy type of extremist Muslims, but is instead chock full of the incredibly easy-going, friendly, smiley, give-you-free-stuff-for-no-reason kind of Muslim that no one enjoys talking about for some reason. Turks make the Moskaviches look like a legion of vampires. And not even the hip, metropolitan, Washington ones that drive Volvos; the real ones that suck blood. Even when the bazaar salesmen hassle you, they are smiling and say “please” and “thank you”, often within the same phrase. In Russia they grab you by the hair and insult your shoes (actually happened to a girl in our group).
So as a final word of comfort to my possibly horror-struck mother: I felt safer in Istanbul than I do in Moscow. Or than I did in New York. Or than I did in Lake Forest, California when I lived there for 6 years. It's that nice there.
More adventures to come, including our amazingly Russian trip over there, the things I saw, the places I swam, the hostel I stayed at, and the bidets I used.
On an unrelated note: Today was my 60-day rabies shot! That makes 5 or so, and marks the end of my Russian rabies adventures (hopefully). The next one is scheduled for sometime in September, but I'll be home already, so I'll get to go tell my heroic tale of bravely staring angrily at an old lady as she ran away and nobly wandering around Moscow for an entire 8 hours. Life here in Moscow goes on...