A Week of Turkish Festivities

Last Saturday we attended the Women’s Tennis Association semi-finals to watch Serena Williams play, and Friday we went to a league soccer game between Istanbul’s Galatasaray (yeah…Drogba plays for them nbd) and Konyaspor from Central Turkey.

The tennis matches were awesome, although by the time Serena arrived, we were on our third match and as fascinating at tennis is, it was getting marginally boring. Serena of course turned all of that around right away, treating us to an intense nail-biter. I was very impressed by the turnout for her match, there were tons of banners and signs…apparently Turkey likes USA, yayy!! I have to say, it would be fascinating to walk around for one day in Serena’s body. I imagine it would be something like putting on the Iron Man suit. That girl is ripped and scary as heck. I bet she can kill flies just by looking at them.

The Galatasaray game was an equally fantastic experience, though extremely different. Tennis is undoubtedly one of the world’s more refined sports. Soccer, though the world’s most beautiful game, is, to put it politely, not nearly as refined and the fans are even less so. The trip to the Turk Telecom Stadium, where Galatasaray plays, transported me straight back to high school football games against our rival team. The excitement in the air was palpable, and as we walked through the subway, echoing chants of “Cimbombom” (Galatasaray’s nickname) echoed through the tunnels. The subway tunnel and train itself were transformed into something more closely resembling the red and gold center of a mosh pit. No one even had to hold on during our subway ride! The entire train was packed so closely, it was just a continuous game of jello, but with lots and lots of large, sweaty, deodorant-free Turkish men. Huzzah. But actually, even despite the smell, it was an awesome experience. The game itself kept everyone on the edge of their seats, and as we’d hoped, Galatasaray pulled away with a 2-1 win. Had they not, I think Alican would actually have been near tears, so I’m real glad we didn’t have to witness a loss.

Tuesday, October 29th was Turkey’s version of the 4th of July, Republic Day, or the day Mustafa Kemal Ataturk (the father of modern Turkey) declared Turkey a secular, democratic republic. I have to say, I think Istanbul’s firework display and evening festivities outdid any 4th of July celebration I’ve ever witnessed or heard about. Turkey worships Ataturk, and the city went absolutely wild for this day celebrating his accomplishments for the country. People walked around for the entire day with red ribbons covered in the Turkish emblem streaming from their hair or tied around their heads, waving flags and chanting the Turkish national anthem. Boats strung with banners declaring “Cumhuriyet ve Demokrasi” (Republic and Democracy) sailed up and down the bosphorus, and every few feet salesmen thrust flags bearing Ataturk’s face and balloons stamped with the Turkish emblem into my hands. Per usual, Alican had hooked us up with the best seat in the house for the fireworks, so we ate our dinner on a balcony overlooking the Bosphorus in Ortaköy. The two Bosphorus bridges shot off sparklers and boats and buildings sent searchlights into the clouds for hours leading up to the display. Huge speakers on the bridges broadcasted the Turkish national anthem and Turkish pop music over the throngs of people wedged up against the railing on the Bosphorus edge.

The firework display itself most certainly did not disappoint. It went on for an hour and a half and didn’t get boring. Every single type of firework made an appearance (although sadly no dragon fireworks like in Lord of the Rings…I’m still searching for the country that can give me one of those), and the finale was heralded by red and white blasts that lit up the sky in the shape of crescents and stars. Alright, alright we get it, Turkey. You win. Throughout all this, I couldn’t help feeling the Turkey love and joining in the national anthem, despite having no idea what the words meant. It was absolutely awesome. Getting to see the birthday celebration for one of the most patriotic countries in the world was truly spectacular (pictures really just can’t do it justice).

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