Wrong time

Istanbul, Turkey

I was supposed to travel through Turkey with Sally for two weeks. ¬†When I received the bad news, I wanted to cancel my flight entirely. ¬†Unfortunately, that wasn’t possible. ¬†But with my Schengen zone allowance running out and Istanbul being a good hub city to go anywhere, I eventually decided to take the flight anyway and completely restructured the rest of my trip to re-allot the non-Schengen days I was to spend in Turkey to other countries I hadn’t planned on going to.

I think that Sally probably would’ve wanted me to continue travelling Turkey. ¬†But I knew I wouldn’t be able to handle it – and I think my short stay in Istanbul only confirmed that. ¬†I did do some sight seeing, met some people, had a nice time…but the whole time, I couldn’t help thinking of who was missing. ¬†One day, another year, I’ll come back and do Turkey some justice, see it with a better mindset.

I arrived at 6:30 am the first day on a two hour flight from Tel Aviv. ¬†(With security taking forever in Israel and the flight being so short, I pretty much had just one hour of sleep.) ¬†Exhausted, I still crammed in a bunch of the city’s most famous sights to get them “out of the way” – I suppose that really contributed to the negative feeling at first. ¬†They were all beautiful, but I have little to talk about – the grand Sultanahmet (Blue) Mosque, the Aya Sofia Museum (mosque turned church turned mosque again), and the giant sprawling TopkapńĪ palace. ¬†Dealing with the crowds and the little constant reminders that I wasn’t supposed to be seeing these alone…sigh.

But to my surprise, the city showed itself in different ways that I appreciated. ¬†I decided to stop going to paid attractions and just wander around for the rest of my stay – Grand Bazaar, Spice Bazaar, random streets, the pedestrianised ńįstiklal Street, the waterfront, whatever. ¬†On several occasions, complete strangers walked up to me and struck up a genuine conversation. ¬†One happened to be a doctor who saw my bandaged finger, asked what was wrong, and gave advice. ¬†Shopkeepers were friendly, I was never hounded (though one shopkeeper, thinking I was Japanese, actually said “Irrashaimase!” – that amazed me), and I had more than my share of lokum samples (Turkish delight).

On my second night, I was invited by Olympio (France/Cyprus) from my hostel to meet up with his friends Gani (a local) and Luis (Chile) by the Bosphorus Sea. ¬†Gani took us to his area of town, KadńĪk√∂y, a much more local district – from the city centre (Taksim Square), we had to take a funicular, ferry (beautiful in the late afternoon), and dolmuŇü (shared taxi), so it was pretty far, but it was worth it to get away from the touristy crowds alone. ¬†After a nice sunset walk along a park and small beach, where Gani comically ran into a different friend every few hundred metres, we had some mantńĪ (“Turkish ravioli”) for dinner before all heading home. ¬†Nice to see the city from a local perspective, and having some new friends really helped lighten my mood.

I wandered around some more on the third day with Olympio and Guy (England), also from our hostel, and we ended up all over the place – Galata Tower, the aqueduct, some very beautiful mosques, a Greek Orthodox area… I couldn’t keep track of all the names, but I enjoyed the random wandering. ¬†We said our goodbyes and I headed off on my night bus to Skopje, Macedonia.


One week later, on my way to Stockholm for the funeral, I had one extra night in ńįstanbul. ¬†Again arriving early at 6:30 am (from a 16 hour night bus all the way from Kosovo, woken up multiple times in the night to cross borders), I was tired and cranky…but at least with a much clearer mind. ¬†After just 1.5 hours of wandering, I fell asleep on a park bench. ¬†Yeah, that’s enough. ¬†But this time, I needed to treat myself to a little of the country’s specialties, at least – a relaxing visit to a hammam and some pistachio Turkish delight were enough for now.

I’ll count this as a preview. ¬†Turkey, I’ll be back someday for sure, when I’m good and ready.

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