The Blue MosqueIt’s hard for me to believe, but it’s been almost twenty five years since my second attempt at college.

The first attempt was brief, in 1987, immediately after graduating college. In retrospect I simply had no motivation. I dropped out and took a number of strange jobs. Some were fun but there was nothing that I cared to make a career out of. And so, two years later, I was ready to go back, and this time I was motivated — knowing full-well what the alternatives looked like.

My second attempt was entirely different than the first. I learned a lot, and met a lot of interesting people. One of these people was Emrah, a fellow student in the Computer Science department at Highlands University in my hometown. Emrah and I became friends even though it was, at times, humbling to hang out with the guy. He despised programming and math but was unquestioningly better than I was at both of them. He often encouraged me to have fun with him instead of studying for exams, but then he’d ace the exams and I’d barely get by.

After graduating from college, Emrah alternatively lived in California and his native Istanbul, where I have long intended to visit him, especially after moving to Denmark (Istanbul is only a three and a half hour flight away.) I finally managed it over Easter. It had been sixteen years since I’d seen Emrah. A lot has changed, but I still enjoy his company a great deal.

The view from Emrah's apartment in Kadiköy, a suburb of Istanbul The Asian side of Istanbul, as seen from The two sides of Istanbul (Western on the left, Asian on the right) as seen from A tiny slice of Istanbul along the Bosphorus A tiny slice of Istanbul along the Bosphorus The newest part of the Istanbul metro (Marmaray tunnel, which goes under the Bosphorus)

Visiting a new city is an entirely different experience when you have a native as a guide. Particularly in a city like Istanbul, which is massive (considerably bigger than New York City or London.)

Even at The Blue Mosque, one of the city’s biggest tourist attractions, being with Emrah paid off in a big way. He marched me right to the front of a line of 500 people, spoke to a guard for a few seconds, and we were allowed right in. No money was exchanged — that’s just how charming Emrah is. The same thing happened inside the Mosque. The tourists are restricted to one side, but after a few words we were allowed into the area supposedly only for prayer.

The Blue Mosque Inside the Blue Mosque Inside the Blue Mosque Inside the Blue Mosque Inside the Blue Mosque The Blue Mosque

I probably would have found Istanbul crowded anyway, but Emrah and his friends assured me that it was more crowded than usual. Turkey gets around 40 million tourists a year, and Istanbul, by far the largest and most famous in Turkey, is where most of those tourists go. The center of town was crowded.

One of many, many shops in The Grand Bazaar Even the turks were surprised by how crowded central Istanbul was on Easter weekend Emrah The Turkish police, ready to quell any rowdiness. A fish market near the sea DSC_4496.JPG DSC_4503.JPG DSC_4505.JPG DSC_4509.JPG

Istanbul is an amazing city, with a lot of incredible sights. The sheer number of mosques really surprised me. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that there is surely no spot in all of Istanbul where you can’t hear the call to prayer.

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