Culture Shock

Recently, I got the opportunity to visit three continents within the span of one week.

My two more atypical trips happened to occur back-to-back, making for a whirlwind of a week. It required a lot of adjustment to the new cultures and environments but it was absolutely incredible.

Weekend One: Marrakech, Morocco 

My first trip in this “series” was to Marrakech, Morocco. I was beyond excited to get to visit Africa and experience a completely new culture. From the moment we got in a taxi to head to our hostel, I was blown away. The buildings and scenery seemed to be straight out of a movie…it was all so different!

Lamb Tajine, a typical Moroccan dish
Lamb Tajine, a typical Moroccan dish
The city square in the center of Marrakech
The city square in the center of Marrakech

For our first day, we roamed the streets and tried to absorb the culture. Even walking through the plaza was wildly exciting. We walked into the square to the sound of Moroccan music playing loudly. To our right, we saw people kneeling to pray since it was around the time of their fourth daily prayer time. We walked a bit further and were bombarded with people trying to sell us things, all while we walked past snakes being “charmed” and men with monkeys that you could hold. It was surreal…but this isn’t to say things went smoothly. During our wanderings, we endured many cat calls and slurs, a few awkward confrontations in little stores, and even got lost for half an hour. Our time in Marrakech was one of the few times I’ve felt uncomfortable during my time abroad and, strangely enough, I enjoyed it. I came abroad to step out of my comfort zone, and my uneasiness represented that I was doing just that.

On our second morning, we embarked early to drive through the Atlas Mountains to the Sahara, where we would ride camels to our campsite and then camp out for the night. It was every bit as wonderful as it sounds. Although the trip there was long, our night in the desert was completely worth it. I’ll never forget dancing to Moroccan music next to a campfire while surrounded by nothing but sand dunes and bright stars.

Our campsite in the Sahara
Our campsite in the Sahara
On camels en route to our campsite
On camels en route to our campsite
Enjoying the fire & Moroccan tunes after dinner
Enjoying the fire & Moroccan tunes after dinner
With my camel before our trip back to Marrakech from the desert
With my camel before our trip back to Marrakech from the desert

Weekend Two: Istanbul, Turkey

The next weekend, I headed off to Istanbul, Turkey. Istanbul is the only city to span across two continents. Before visiting, I didn’t fully comprehend how massive this city is. It’s huge, and filled with a vibrancy and more culture than you can fathom.

Our days there were packed — hitting all of the major sights like the Hagia Sophia, the Topkapi Palace, and the Blue Mosque…the latter of which took us three times to enter, since we kept arriving at prayer time. One of my most unforgettable memories from this trip was standing in front of the Blue Mosque when they made the call for prayer. It was spectacular, and so different than anything I’d heard or seen before.

the Blue Mosque at sunset
Blue Mosque at sunset
the Hagia Sophia
Hagia Sophia

Another highlight of Istanbul was the cuisine. Although the doner kebaps weren’t as great as I expected them to be (I had very high expectations since every country has countless “Istanbul Kebap” shops), the other food didn’t disappoint. The meats were great and each meal was followed by complimentary apple tea. One day, we went down to the fish market by the bridge and got fresh fish kebap sandwiches. It was sketchy, but delicious. Last but definitely not least, the BAKLAVA. This became a staple food in my days there. I’d eaten baklava before and enjoyed it, but in Istanbul it was unbelievably delicious. I could probably eat a whole pan of it.

The fish market we visited
The fish market we visited

The final, and perhaps most memorable, thing we did in Turkey was visit a Turkish bath. We’d heard that this was something that was slightly sketchy but necessary and worth it. The street alone (pictured below) made us weary but it ended up being a good experience as a whole. You enter, change into the robe they provide you with, and then proceed to the sauna. Then the real bath starts…a woman takes you to the center where there’s this marble slab and proceeds to simultaneously wash you and give you a massage. It was interesting, weird, and great. After you’re fresh and clean, you can go for a swim in the pool or go lay in the sauna until you’re ready to leave.

The street where our Turkish Bath was
The Turkish Bath we visited

In all, my visits to these two cities were two of my favorite trips so far. They were so beautiful and picturesque. Visiting these two cities were great “breaks” from the typical European city sightseeing I’d been doing each weekend. Seeing cities with such different vibes only further fueled my growing desire to see more of the world and to experience what it has to offer!

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