Istanbul Day 9 – 3.22.2015

Today (and by today, I mean four hours later) we woke up, showered and quickly packed our stuff. We had a quick last breakfast in the clubhouse, then were all given Management and Economics Club sweatshirts (which are incredibly soft and comfy!)

We took a group picture in front of the clubhouse and then were off to the airport. After multiple security checkpoints, we said a sad goodbye to our delegates; I got one last simit, and then were off!

I’m writing this last post from my seat in the airplane. I was so tired from last night/this past week that I actually have slept quite a bit. I am also incredibly filled with gratitude for my fellow Harvard delegates and of course the Turkish delegates, both of whom made this conference such an incredible experience.

In conclusion, here are 10 of my favorite things from the past nine-plus days:

  1. Scavenger hunt all around Istanbul
  2. Visiting the Hagia Sofia
  3. Visiting all the incredible mosques (Blue, Suleiman, the one on the scavenger hunt, etc.)
  4. Waffles
  5. That amazing last breakfast (and all the simit)
  6. Walking through the Dolmabahce Palace
  7. Boat cruise on the Bosphorus
  8. Partying at Reina
  9. Amazing baklava dessert
  10. Traditional Turkish dinner

Thank you all for such an amazing experience! Teşekkürler!

Until next time,
~JK

Istanbul Day 8 – 3.21.2015

Today we woke up but (gasp!) didn’t have breakfast right away. Instead, we traveled for a bit and ended up in a random parking lot. But, it turns out it was a fancy random parking lot, as it was the parking lot that went with a GORGEOUS hotel.

The first thing I saw when I walked in was a 360 breakfast buffet. There was literally a circle of food in front of me and it was glorious.

All of us (the Harvard delegates and about 8 Turkish delegates) sat at a long table and enjoyed a delicious breakfast. I had about eight mini-simit (yes, I have a problem). I was able to have the simit with Nutella (!!) but also with honey. Not just any honey, though, but honey straight from the comb. I had never experienced this before, but there was a comb of honey, with a wire running through it, and you literally scrape off some of the honey from the comb – it was so fresh and delicious and went perfectly with the simit.

After many rounds of breakfast buffet, we walked around the grounds of the hotel a bit (it was raining, but you could still clearly tell how beautiful this place was, and there were so many flowers!) We got back on the bus and headed to tea at Çengelköy. This was a lovely, seaside restaurant and provided exquisite views of the Bosphorus (which, in case you’re curious, currently has jellyfish in it…) I had delicious apple tea, which tasted like sweet apple cider.

Once tea was done, we made our way to a chocolate shop (which was very similar to Burdick’s in Harvard Square!) We then meandered back to the bus and headed to Çamlica hill. Unfortunately we have just been striking out with the weather and both today and the other day when we were supposed ot have incredible views (i.e. when we went up the Sapphire Tower, Istanbul’s tallest building) the weather was completely foggy/drizzly and we could not see a thing.

However, it was nice to stretch our legs and walk around for a bit (especially after such a large breakfast!) We then headed to a restaurant near the Grand Bazaar where I had a delicious chicken kabob.

Next we were given another hour to explore the Grand Bazaar. I went with Fulya (one of the Turkish members of the Club). I had a great time shopping, but more importantly learning more about her life and Turkish culture.

After the Bazaar, we took the subway train to change continents yet again (this time we started the day in Asia and were going back to Europe). The train went underground/under the sea and in about three minutes we had changed continents.

Our meals were not following a normal schedule today (breakfast/brunch was around 10:30, meaning lunch was around 4 – reminding me once again of Spain!) Once in European-Istanbul, we had the most delicious Turkish delight for a pre-dinner dessert. We went to a restaurant that specializes in Turkish desserts and it did not disappoint. I had a delicious baklava-like dessert that included 41 layers of pastry!

After getting back on the bus, we headed back to campus, completely stuffed. Once we arrived at campus we just hung out for our last night in Istanbul. We had a small sandwhich dinner around 10pm and then played some games and listened to music for the rest of the night.

Around 1am, we were hungry again, but unfortunately got stuck in traffic, so around 2am we had delicious Turkish sausage sandwiches at a trusted place near where we had our Turkish baths the first night. We then got driven back to our hotel.

During the past few nights, I had opted to sleep in (no surpise there) but some of the other Harvard delegates opted to go to get waffles. They were all raving about them, and when Ahmet asked if we wanted to get waffles again, I thought YOHIO (You Only HCAP Istanbul Once) and went for it.

And OMG I am so glad I did. The waffle industry in Turkey reminds me a lot of the Froyo industry in America – very trendy/up-and-coming, with cute (but expensive) shops popping up everywhere. The waffles themselves were delicious, but even better were the toppings you could add. I had a Nutella-like substance, strawberries and bananas on mine.

We arrived back to our hotel room around 4am, happy but incredibly exhausted and stuffed after a wonderful and delicious last day/night in Istanbul.

TGT: 1) WAFFLES 2) Out of this world breakfast 3) Chatting and shopping with Fulya in the Grand Bazaar

Until next time,
~JK

Istanbul Day 7 – 3.20.2015

Today we woke up and again were able to have a delicious (and calm) breakfast in the clubhouse. Afterwards we went to the auditorium on campus to hear an economics lecture about the shadow economy (i.e. all legal goods that are exchanged in a certain area without being properly documented/taxed). It was interesting to hear about the shadow economy in both Turkey and other countries around the world.

After the lecture, we walked down a few flights of stairs (still on campus) and came to the Asiyan museum. Before even entering the museum, you come to an opening with incredible views of the Bosphorus. Yes, most of the campus gives you incredible views of the Bosphorus, but now that we were at a lower altitude (i.e. closer to sea level) there were fewer trees in the way, so you could really see the sea.

The Asiyan museum was interesting – it essentially served as the house for different poets throughout the years and different rooms had memorabilia, poems and/or pictures. My favorite room was the bedroom, which had a giant window overlooking the Bosphorus.

After the museum, Indrani and I went to the ATM on campus. On the way back, I saw a white tent near the campus quad, and curious, we made our way over. Almost immediately I could tell that it was the start of a road race. As we did a 360 turn around, we realized that there was red and white tape going around the campus. Soon thereafter the starting gun sounded and the runners (of many different speeds!) were off. Indrani and I had a blast cheering them on and after four laps around the campus course (maybe about 1.5 miles total) they started finishing the race and Indrani and I headed back to the clubhouse.

After a quick lunch in the dining hall, we got into the shuttle to go visit Istanbul’s Technical University. Here we also sat through an informational presentaiotn and then got to tour the facilities a bit. Everything reminded me of Harvard’s i-lab, especially the part about giving entrepreneurs of all different stages funding, mentorship, desk space and other resources.

We then took a quick trip to a nearby mall to do some more shopping (and by shopping I mean mostly eating). After an hour in the mall, we had some free time in our hotel and then we were off to a special dinner – “Turkish traditional night.”

When I was in Spain, one of my favorite memories was a final farewell dinner I had with about 20 of my Physical Geography classmates – the food was delicious, and we took turns dancing and taking pictures in-between courses. Turns out this traditional Turkish dinner was very, very similar.

It also turns out that the Management and Economics club is way more than the 8 delegates who came to Harvard – there are about 70 members in total, and many of them (whom we had not met before) came to this traditional Turkish dinner!

It was crowded and hectic but SO much fun. We started with appetizers (very tapas-like!), then a three-piece band came in and people (myself included, obviously!) started dancing. The band then left (but only after we gave them money!) and we ate our main course (not that we were very hungry, since the appetizers were delicious!) Next, the band returned, and so did the dancing. The main course was fish and it was served with Raki – a traditional Turkish vodka that turns into a cloudy/milky consistency once water is added to it.

All in all, it was about a four-hour dinner/dancing session, and afterwards we wandered through the very crowded streets, got back on the bus and went back to our hotel.

TGT: 1) Traditional Turkish dinner (and dancing!) 2) views from the Asiyan museum 3) delicious breakfast

Until next time,
~JK

Istanbul Day 6 – 3.19.2015

Today we had a delicious breakfast in the clubhouse – not only was it delicious sandwiches, but it also meant we were not yelled at by the cafeteria workers (which was a huge relief to us all!)

After breakfast we were off on a long bus ride (which meant we could catch up on sleep!) During this bus ride, we crossed the Bosphorus, which means we actually changed continents (our hotel, University and everything we have done thus far had been in Europe, but toady we were spending most of the day in Asia).

Our first stop was Tübitak – an 8000-acre plot of land that is home to “the scientific and technological research council of Turkey.” We got an overview of the place and then heard from specific workers in different industries. It was very pharmaceutical-heavy, but this establishment is huge and doing great things in the pharmaceutical world (for both Turkey as a nation (especially their military) and also for civilians). The whole presentation tied in nicely with our conference theme of “technology and our generation.”

We then got to have lunch in Tubitak’s dining hall and then got a tour of some of the facilities. After that we were off to the Turkish e-commerce company sahibinden.com.

Sahibinden.com is essentially the amazon/eBay/alibaba of Turkey. It is literally the most popular Turkish website, and is around the 4th most popular website in visited by Turkish people (after Google, YouTube, Facebook, etc.)

First we got a tour of the offices. On the bottom floor there were some rows of desks (not cubicles – all open air). In addition to the desk areas, however, there was a dance studio/yoga area with auditorium seating behind it, a mini basketball court and a gym. Best of all was the brainstorming room, which was painted green, had a plush purple bench along the outside and best of all had a mini rainforest encased in glass around it.

We then headed up to the second part of the office, on the third floor. Here there were more cubicle-less desks and common meeting spaces. There was also a room to play video games in (seriously) and a fully stocked kitchen. Best of all was the fact that there was literally a one-lane track running along the outside of the whole office (about 300 meters total!) You could tell that this office clearly wanted their employees to feel comfortable in order to work as effectively as possible.

After learning a bit more about the company (and eating some delicious snacks) we headed back to the clubhouse for dinner. Dinner was this DELICIOUS combination of chicken, rice and chickpeas.

Next we went back to the hotel to change, then came back to the clubhouse for a pre-game and to meet some of the other club members. We then headed to Reina, a gorgeous and very fancy nightclub right on the Bosphorus. It started off a bit odd (a DJ was playing, but some people were still eating). We were just a little early, though, and I enjoyed chatting with many of the Turkish delegates for a while. After a bit, more people came and we started making a dance floor right by the DJ. I had an absolute blast dancing the night away and we ended up returning to the hotel around 3am (just in time to get live-text updates from the nail-biting end of Harvard’s NCAA game).

TGT: 1) Dancing at Reina 2) delicious dinner 3) touring Sahibinden.com

Until next time,
~JK

Istanbul Day 5 – 3.18.2015

Today we woke up and again headed to breakfast in the dining hall (and again I was yelled at for taking too much food….) After breakfast we were off on a longer bus ride; today we were being tourists all day.

Our first stop was the Basilica Cistern. This was a remarkable underground structure/creation that at one time (i.e. centuries ago) held water for the city of Istanbul. Essentially, you walk down about 60 stairs, and you’re in an underground area with about 100 pillars, spaced evenly apart. These pillars are in a foot of water and there were actually fish in the water. Soothing classical music was playing all around the space (which was probably a bit bigger than an American football field) and it was a bit eerie, yet calming at the same time.

After the cistern, we went to Hagia Sophia. This enormous structure was at one point an Orthodox church and later converted to a mosque (and now is currently a museum). Unfortunately its magnificent inside was under quite a bit of scaffolding, but even with the scaffolding, it was an incredible sight.

As cliché as it may sound, I live for the moments, especially while traveling, that take my breath away, and walking into the Hagia Sophia was one of those moments. I think it was the combination between its height, expansive floorplan and multiple chandeliers, as well as the mix between Christian and Muslim influences that made it so spectacular.

Hagia Sofia reminded me a lot of the Catedral de Sevilla (aka one of my favorite places in world – it’s the world’s largest cathedral, located in Sevilla, where I studied abroad last semester). The Catedral de Sevilla was also a mosque and a church during its “lifetime.” Another similarity was the way in which you climb to other levels of the building – both in Sevilla and in the Hagia Sofia, instead of stairs, there are ramps that go around in a square to get you to the next level. The views inside the Hagia Sofia were even more amazing from the second floor, and I got to hear the call to prayer (from another mosque) when I looked out one of the windows of the Hagia Sofia.

After Hagia Sofia we headed to Topkapi Palace. This palace was lovely, but it was hard to compare to the palace we saw yesterday (and it also wasn’t waterfront). After strolling around for a bit, we were all getting quite hungry, so we left for lunch, which was greasy (but delicious) Turkish “meatballs” (and no, they don’t eat them with spaghetti, but they do eat them with a lot of bread!)

After lunch we went to the Blue Mosque. Since this (unlike the Hagia Sofia, which is currently a museum) was an active house of worship, I was required to cover my head before entering. This mosque was absolutely spectacular – huge, but unlike the Hagia Sofia, its walls and ceilings were freshly painted and decorated with intricate patterns. The big chandelier in the middle was also very attention-grabbing. We had to leave a bit early because prayer time was starting.

Next we were off to the Grand Bazaar. This is a covered marketplace, where essentially anything and everything is sold. It was a bit overwhelming, but Chris, Juan and I stayed with Oz (a student at Bogizici University), who was able to help us get around, speak in Turkish to the stall-owners and provide advice on what to buy.

The hour we had in the Bazaar flew by and soon we were off to an early dinner. Dinner was a delicious soup (which was fine since we had such a late lunch!) and reminded me of the food that Antonia (my host mom) cooked for me in Spain.

After dinner we headed to our last mosque of the day – Süleymaniye Mosque. Sancack (another one of the students at Bogizici University) had arranged for us to watch the prayer time, and a tour guide actually gave us a private question-and-answer session soon thereafter right in the mosque. I had never been in a mosque at night nor during prayer time, and it made for a uniquely beautiful experience.

We then walked back to the bus and went back to our hotel after an exhausting day being tourists in Istanbul.

TGT: 1) Hagia Sofia 2) Blue Mosque 3) Walking through the cistern

Until next time,
~JK

Istanbul day 4 – 3.17.15

Today we woke up, had breakfast in the dining hall again (yes, this did include simit, the bagel like food I’m becoming obsessed with, and yes I did get yelled at by the scary Turkish cafeteria worker for taking too much…whoops!)

After breakfast we had a “technology workshop” which ended up being more like a consulting case for a bank (insert classic Harvard joke here). In all seriousness, though, it was a pretty enlightening experience. Akbank (a banking company in Turkey) was asking us how we would expand into rural or poorer parts of Turkey to provide loans. We were split up into groups of three and Juan, Millie and I came up with the idea to tie loans into marriage packages (meaning if bank patrons took out a loan from Akbank, they could get a discount on a wedding location, etc.) Weddings are an incredibly huge deal in Turkey and it was really fun researching them and asking some of the bank workers for firsthand information about Turkish weddings.

We then headed to Dürümce for lunch. This was a beautiful, multilevel restaurant where we, once again, sat overlooking the water. Lunch was (delicious) chicken kebabs. After lunch we walked along the water for a bit, before making our way to the Dolmabahce Palace.

I hate to say it, but spending a semester in Europe has kind of spoiled me in terms of palaces. Don’t get me wrong, this palace was beautiful (especially because it was literally on the water) but as the tour of the palace started, I couldn’t help but feel a bit underwhelmed.

But not so underwhelmed that I didn’t want to take pictures (pictures were illegal inside the palace itself, and I may or may not have yelled at for taking pictures inside said palace…whoops). Anywho, once we got to the last room of the palace, I completely changed my mind. This room was absolutely ginormous, but even more impressive was the 4.5 ton (I’m not kidding) chandelier hanging from the incredibly tall ceiling in the center of the room. The ceiling was as intricate as the carpet on the ground and it was hard to comprehend how expansive this room was.

After the palace we were off on a boat tour. I love boat tours – while in Europe I did boat tours in four different cities (Sevilla, Albufeira (Portugal), London and France) and I just think they are such a beautiful and efficient way to see cities. Istanbul was no exception and the tour took us up and down quite a bit of the Bosphorus straight.

Once the boat tour ended, we went to dinner, which literally consisted of just a baked potato. But not just any baked potato – a completely stuffed baked potato, filled with many delicious things that you could pick a-la-carte – I had mine with mozzarella cheese, peas and a spicy cous cous-like type topping.

We then had about an hour back at the hotel, and then we were off to Keçi pub. This was a great bonding time, but it was a little strange, since the pub was essentially modeled off an English pub, complete with books and posters lining the walls in English and American pop music playing over the speakers.

TGT: 1) wonderful boat tour of Istanbul 2) delicious lunch overlooking the water 3) going to the Dolmabahce palace

Until next time,
~JK

Istanbul Day 3 – 3.16.15

Today we woke up and drove directly to the one of the University’s dinning halls. Once there we had a delicious breakfast, very similar to yesterday’s (which included simit – a bagel-like bread, hard-boiled eggs and more bread with honey).

We then heard a brief welcome speech by the University president. After that, we had a quick campus tour, a lot of which we had seen already, but it was nice going around again, this time to get a bit more situated. Next was a conversational Turkish class. Turkish is an incredibly challenging language, not only in terms of structure, but also in terms of pronunciation. We stumbled through the class, learning how the “c” is pronounced as “j”, and trying to comprehend what the ç, š and ü sound like.

After that we heard from a University professor, who talked about how Bogazici University is aiming to become the first university in the world to be completely sustainable (relying solely on wind power). The way HCAP works is that we host the January conference with a certain theme (this year’s was “technology and our generation”) and then we learn about that same theme in whichever city we travel to.

Lunch was also in the dinning hall and after that we took public transportation (the bus, since Istanbul is still building their subway system) to get to Taksim Square.

Once in Taksim Square, we walked for a bit and then the real fun began. The ten of us Harvard students were divided into three teams. I was with Chris, Teagan and Hande (who is from Turkey). We ran (literally) throughout the streets of Istanbul, asking questions in broken Turkish and trying to complete the scavenger hunt as quickly as possible. The hunt took us through a church, a bakery/candy store (with delicious Turkish delight that a worker let us sample!), up a 140+ meter tower, across (and under) a bridge, through a mosque, and ended in a spice bazaar. All in all it was a wonderful experience and allowed us to see so much of Istanbul in such a short period of time.

Dinner was also under the bridge – the top layer of this bridge that spans an offshoot of the Bosphorus straight is for cars and pedestrians (and fishermen) and the bottom layer has shops and restaurants. For dinner, we had what was I’m sure some of the freshest seafood ever – we were sitting on the water (still on the bridge) and had a really good grilled-fish sandwich.

After dinner we headed back into the bus and went to Oz’s house for a Turkish house party. Yes, it was as crazy as it sounds and involved lots of singing, dancing, smoking and chatting. After a long night, we stopped on the way home for some kabobs and then headed off to bed.

TGT: 1) scavenger hunt all around Turkey 2) entertaining Turkish house party 3) simit and other delicious food for breakfast

Until next time,
~JK