HOLY CRAP WESTERN CIVILIZATION IS A THING! There is literally no way you can possibly understand how I am feeling right now since the good majority of you are probably reading this post sitting at a computer in a room with a recycling bin in the corner, where everyone is wearing adequate deodorant and outside the cars and people go by in an orderly manner and all arrive on time to their destinations. There are no stray animals on the streets, everything you own is not covered in a thick layer of dust, and you could fairly easily look up a schedule online for the bus or train you would like to take later in the day. Well I hope you are counting yourself VERY thankful for all those things on weekend of thanking, because those are all utterly delightful aspects of Western civilization that have been completely absent from my life the last three months. Prior to spending this past weekend in Vienna, Austria, I could not have articulated to you these things I love about the developed world (other than the prevalence of deodorant), but now it is hilariously clear to me that I have really not been in Europe the past three months.
Given Turkey’s recent bids to join the EU and huge increases in tourism in Istanbul the past 10ish years, I think I had tricked myself into believing that Turkey really wasn’t all that different from the rest of Europe and the Western world in general. Wrong-o. Arriving in Vienna was possibly one of the most surreal experiences of my life, and was likely just a little taste of the reverse culture shock I’m going to experience when I return home in 19 days (I know, it’s only 19 how crazy is that?!?). Nina and my train from the Vienna airport was easy to find and left at precisely the time it said online that it would leave. That’s unheard of. As we drove through the city outskirts towards the center of Vienna, we were in complete awe. There were actual residential houses (I have not seen a real home in months…Istanbul and the rest of Turkey are all about the apartment life), and, as we passed a gigantic domed building, Nina exclaimed, “Wait, that’s not a mosque!!” Lol who knew non-mosque big buildings existed?! I sure forgot.
We arrived in the city center and met up with our wonderful tour-guide host, Chris Genco. Chris steered us out of the station and onto the street. I am fairly certain our jaws actually physically dropped at the first sight of street level Vienna. There were sidewalks. Like there was actually a place for pedestrians to walk along the side of the street. And you could fit more than just one person across on them. There were traffic lights, and actual lines on the road marking lanes and shoulders. Um what? As we walked down the street, we didn’t have to walk uncomfortably close to each other. Even when we entered a crowded Christmas market we actually had personal space. I saw someone on a bike who wasn’t actively terrified for his life AND a dog wearing a collar and on a leash. Holy shit what is this paradise?! I really did not realize how familiar I have become with the chaos of Istanbul until those first few moments in Vienna. To be fair, Istanbul has a population of 17 million with another 3 million commuting into the city on any given day to deal with, while Vienna is looking to organize a whopping 2 million at most, not quite such a daunting task. Nonetheless the contrast was laughable.
It’s really pretty ironic…we had gone from Istanbul, which actually has probably some of the worst public transportation slash traffic problems on the face of the earth, to Vienna, widely acknowledged as the city with the best public transportation in Europe, and possibly the world. When Nina and I were preparing to leave Vienna early in the morning on Monday, Chris was able to look up exactly what time the tram would be leaving the stop near his apartment and heading towards the city center. The fact that that ability is foreign to me right now is hilarious. That’s such a normal thing to be able to do and yet I completely forgot that scheduled transit was actually a thing! Wowzers.
So, once we had gotten over our initial awe of Viennese orderliness we spent our weekend tromping along the adorable cobblestoned streets from Christmas market to Christmas market, eating chicken schnitzel, kartoffel salat (DELICIOUS potato salad), huge cream filled Viennese donuts called Krapfen (my body hates me right now but my mouth loves me), and best of all Mozart balls. Now don’t get the wrong idea c’mon, Mozart has been dead for a long time. When I say Mozart balls, I mean these delicious chocolate truffle things filled with pistachio and hazelnut cream. NOM. It was great. We visited Shönbrun Palace, the Hapsburgs summer palace, and all the gorgeous architectural sights along the Ringstrasse, including Parliament, Rathaus, and the winter palace.
Even though we were hundreds of miles from our Istanbul homeland, Chris told us some super fun historical facts that kindly reminded us that we can really never escape Turkey. Or, well, never escape it while remaining within the bounds of the ancient Ottoman Empire’s territory. Vienna was the western edge of Ottoman control and changed hands between the Ottomans and Hapsburgs a few times. The area outside Vienna’s Ringstrasse (the old wall), which is now filled with super hip shops, restaurants, etc., used to be an empty area left as a battleground for the inevitable wars against those dang Turks. The croissant, which is usually thought of as a French invention, was actually a Viennese innovation, baked as a representation of the crescent that shows up on the Turkish flag. #funfactsfordayz I think I learned more on this trip than I have all semester in my Ottoman history class. Hooray education abroad!
The Turkish influence in Vienna was actually much more apparent than I expected. Within about 30 minutes of our arrival, we heard someone speaking on the phone in Turkish on the Vienna metro, and the streets of Vienna are lined with places to get döner and kebab (both classic Turkish culinary delights). We visited the Naschmarkt, the closest thing Vienna has to a bazaar, where we walked through tightly packed streets past heaping piles of fruit and nuts, stuffed peppers, and even baklava, all highly reminiscent of (though definitely more civilized than) our Istanbul motherland. It was just great.
We did the classic Viennese thing and went to see Mozart’s Magic Flute at the opera. However we did it college student style…i.e. jeans and standing room only. I paid 3 euros to stand for 3 hours and 45 minutes. Ow, but worth it. We’re pretty sure Mozart was on acid when he wrote that opera but it was fantastic nonetheless. Also, can we just talk about how Vienna has an opera toilet in its U-Bahn station? LOL I love it.
We got to learn a little German, which was of course delightful. They use soop-air too, just like the Swiss, so I felt right at home. After seeing these signs all around town…
I asked Chris on our last day what in the world the Einbahn was, secretly wondering why the heck our fantastic tour guide hadn’t yet shown us the Einbahn. With signs all over the city pointing to it, it had to be some really crucial tourist sight, and yet Chris seemed to have been keeping it from us! It turns out that Einbahn means One Way in German. So all those signs I had thought were pointing to the number one sight to see in Vienna, were really just marks of Vienna’s pristine traffic control. LOL! Great job Camille! Holy cow I’m an idiot. This is like the Crème Fresh fiasco all over again. I really need to just stay in places where I speak the language.
Now, I don’t want you to interpret this whole post as Istanbul bashing in any way. I adore Istanbul, and though Vienna was a welcome break from the madness of the bul, I was very excited to get back. I just think it’s hilarious that, as Nina and I went to throw away our coffee cups in the airport before our flight back to Twerkey, we stood utterly perplexed before the Vienna airport’s 5 different recycling/trash bin options. It’s been that long since I’ve seen recycling. I just had no idea what to do. Did the lid of my coffee cup go somewhere different from the cup itself? And how about my spoon, was it compostable? Confusing, man. Boulder is gonna be a hella loud wake up call.
So finally, after utilizing no less than six different forms of transportation on Monday between 4am and 1pm (classic Istanbul), Nina and I finally made it back to Bogazici for the week of turkey day and our last midterms. Since I’ve been having four months of Thanksgiving, you might have thought I’d be pretty over it by the time Thursday, Nov. 28th rolled around, but I was actually incredibly excited for my blog’s namesake day celebration. Per usual Duke over-the-top fashion, Alican had rented out the top floor of a cookie factory, and hired a Cordon Bleu chef to teach us how to make Turkish mezzes to go along with our turkey on the big day for giving thanks. As might be expected, everybody was feeling a little homesick for most of the day on Thanksgiving since we’re all thousands of miles away from our families’ kitchens, so our first sight of the room where we were to spend our Thanksgiving brought most people close to tears. I mean look at this. Alican really knows how to get us. There’s a fireplace and a freaking Christmas tree, it’s just too good to be true!!!
It was a fantastic evening. The food was delicious, and we witnessed our top chef cook eggplant the traditional Turkish way (i.e. literally putting it right on top of the burner and letting it catch fire). She politely reminded us that we would not be able to do this in an American kitchen since all the fire alarms would go off. Good, yes, safe. Classic Turkey. No rules. No parents.
It was the best possible beginning to our Thanksgiving weekend and I think left everyone feeling pretty grateful for our incredible, crazy semester in Turkey. It’s now on to the home stretch and our last few weeks of Istanbul. Despite the 55-60 degree weather outside, I have already started listening to Christmas carols. Go team go. I promise to blog more these last few weeks, and I hope you all had wonderful Thanksgivings!