Falinge Park High School

Opening Doors; Unlocking Potential

Hey guys, it’s Shannon here on the blog. It’s Day 5 of the Erasmus Project: I’m not missing home and I’m definitely not missing school (sorry Miss Ali, Mrs Richmond and Miss Hussain!)

Today was the day we had all been waiting for: our day trip to Istanbul. But you couldn’t tell from the way we started the day as we were ALL late and some of us missed breakfast. The rehearsals and workshops yesterday really took a toll on us. Well, for at least the first thirty minutes of the day.

We met Sheraz at the entrance and got on our minibus. What looked like a grim and wet Wednesday morning, quickly descended into a circus of complete madness. Starting with the fact that Antonio, Tayyab and two of the Turkish team members decided to start dancing to the Turkish songs they had been rehearsing the night before. I would say that I was confused and bewildered by their behaviour but if I’m honest I wasn’t that shocked as you could only get away with this behaviour in Turkey. And the driver didn’t seem to mind either.

We were also told off for the explicit choice of music that certain individuals, who will remain anonymous for now,  had chosen to listen to and so we turned to playing getting to know you games inspired by the workshops we had been part of. We first played Never  Have I Ever, which made me feel like I was exposing myself as I’m not very close to the people in this group -in fact I feel the closest to Mr Ahmed – and yet here I was dividing information about myself. It also made me realise I have had many experiences in my life that a lot of the others haven’t had a chance to do.

Our second game involved us renaming Chinese’s whispers to be more politically correct. I chose to call it British whispers instead and explained the rules to our Turkish members. At first, I found it so funny to whisper to Miss Malik that she was a ‘mug’ (meaning foolish) but that enjoyment soon came to an end when Antonio revealed the original message was that she was – ‘butters’ (meaning ugly); clearly their rivalry is still alive as she retaliated by starting a whisper where she called him weak.

We then gave our Turkish friends a chance to pass on a whisper in Turkish.  I felt a little apprehensive about this because I was nervous because I didn’t want to offend someone by mispronouncing their language or being disrespectful. However, once we got into it the whole group were laughing at our inaccurate pronunciation. It was fun as well because it helped pass the time and we got to know each other so much better. I don’t know if this project has developed my confidence with strangers, as much as it has for others as my confidence fluctuates between being extroverted in new situations to just wanting to be alone.

After the game, we arrived in the heart of Istanbul and took in the city’s landscape. My first impression was that it was so big and impressive to look at. There were so many skyscrapers and a big sea that separated the two sides of the city.

Our first stop was Topkapi Palace. This was a palace that belonged to the Ottoman Empire but now housed precious artefacts and religious relics. Because there were a lot of Islamic items I could tell it meant a lot to other people in our group however for me it was unfamiliar to be around, but I could appreciate its importance. The architecture was very beautiful but once  you’d seen one room everything looked similar. The guns and armour exhibition were most impressive because they were so grand in size and I didn’t understand how they could have possibly ever been functional in a battle.

We left and outside the palace there was a street vendor selling a Nutella and cinnamon pastry which none of us could resist, especially since we’d skipped breakfast. This was the first non hotel cooked food item I had tried and I really liked it. The girls also found a juice stall where they served freshly squeezed juice but I skipped this after looking at how extortionate the prices were!

Our second stop was at the infamous Hagia Sophia. Again it was beautifully designed but because it was religious and I don’t affiliate to any religion I felt a little odd being in a sight that held so much history to the people I was with. I was surprised to see how there was a mixture of both Christian and Muslim iconography side by side which you don’t normally see. My favourite thing was the mosaics in the wall that had real gold in them. The most unusual part of the Hagia Sophia was that it did not have stairs to access the top section of the mosque. Instead you had to walk up a steep cobbled slope  to get up. It was at this point that Tayyab decided to ask Miss Malik – as if she had any hand in designing the structure of the building – ‘for god’s sake, why are there no stairs Miss?!’ To which she just rolled her eyes and sighed heavily, for this was probably the seventieth ‘silly question’ he had asked her that day.

By this time we had worked up an appetite  for lunch. The group decided they wanted to go to McDonalds because it is halal in Turkey. This surprised me as I assumed everyone could eat this in the UK and didn’t realise it wasn’t halal there. It was particularly interesting to see Mr Ahmed chomp on a DOUBLE Big Mac which he actually managed to finish (I honestly don’t know where he puts it!)

After a filling lunch, We went to the Blue Mosque. This mosque now required a new set of regulations to follow. Although I have been in a mosque before, I had to now make sure my shoes were off and my hair was covered to respect the worshippers inside. The blue mosque was bigger than the mosques I have been to at home  but I was surprised to see there were more non Turkish people inside the mosque than locals. And despite there being lots of visitors the atmosphere inside was very calming.

The question was how do you continue a day that has been full of religious sites and spiritual reflection? Well you obviously continue on to the infamous pilgrimage of consumerism to the Mecca of the shopping world: The Grand Bazaar. We went a little bit crazy with the spending here and at one point there was a competition to see who could haggle to get the best bargain. It was actually Nasrin who started off the competition by telling us her sister’s haggling trick from her honeymoon in Bali.

The shops in the Grand Bazaar are so different to the ones at home. All you see is the Evil Eye icon everywhere and designer knock-offs. There were also a lot of things dedicated to cats as well which was very unsettling for a committed dog lover. Isabel also decided she was buying  everyone she knew a present- how that girl is going to pack it all away is beyond me! It was also her first time trying Turkish Delight which she really enjoyed.

Tayyab was by far the worst shopper; he wanted everything and haggled relentlessly only to end up buying his mum four “authentic” silk scarves. Unsurprisingly, they weren’t “authentic”. We spent a total of three hours in the Grand Bazaar but the highlight of it all was when in the height of the shopping frenzy, a shopkeeper played the ’Summame’ song that the group were rehearsing to yesterday.  They decided to show off their moves in the narrow alleyways and shops of the bazaar which the shopkeepers were impressed with and cheered them on. I was surprised by this because they had all been so shy and reluctant, (not being natural performers like myself) but it was encouraging to see them let loose and not take themselves too seriously for once.

As we left the weather took a turn for the worst and in Istanbul- when it rains – it pours. We took refuge in a Starbucks where the barista renamed me Channel. I wasn’t that offended as people normally tend to get my name wrong.

After the rain calmed a little we ventured back into the first gift shop we went to, because evidently our group could not resist a good deal. The other girls wanted to pick up last minute presents for their friends and family and even treated the shopkeeper to a taste of their newly acquired dancing skills.

Our final stop for the day was at a traditional Turkish restaurant , where we ate variations of doner. I personally found my doner meat dry but I noticed that the rice was very sweet and  tasty.

We then had a long drive home from the city and honestly it is the quietest I have ever heard our team because we were tired from our day of exploration. However, the night didn’t stop there because when we got back we had to meet in the reception to plan our cultural night presentation which is taking place tomorrow evening. It was also at this meeting where Tayyab asked more silly questions – but we won’t talk about that. Instead I want to end this blog about Miss Malik’s inability to be inconspicuous when she very unsubtly disconnected the entire hotel’s WiFi, whilst pretending to the hotel receptionist she had no idea how this had happened. Typical.

That’s me done. See you all soon!

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