Greetings from the mighty land of Istanbul, former home of the Ottoman and Roman Empires- a unique city on the Bosphorus Sea that straddles two continents-Europe and Asia. The planning and preparations that took place prior to embarking on this journey were exhausting and concerning-canceled flights, worried friends, fluky, downright strange and cryptic events that have no place in this blog. However, it is noteworthy as it simmered behind the scenes like a witch’s bubbling vat. Nonetheless, minor irritations at best–because here we are in our surreal and exotic world, with all that way in the rearview mirror. Travel is never easy, and it is the effort, time and energy that is put into it that reciprocally brings pleasure, awe and gratification.
Entering Istanbul, the vast Bosphorus Sea greets you. Bifurcating this region, high rises and trendy condos flank each side. Palm trees sway in the air, illuminated with many encouraging abundant signs of construction and re-gentrification. I currently am sitting perched atop the first floor of my beautiful room at the Vault Hotel http://www.thehousehotel.com/the-house-hotel-vault-karakoy.aspx in the area of Karakoy. This region lies in the northern part of the Golden Horn mouth on the European side of Bosphorus. It is also one of the oldest and most historic districts of the city.
Entering the hotel, one is almost transported back in time. The establishment was a former bank and even still houses a vault- which will be explored at some point. The antiquities housed within the hotel are breathtaking and imposing. Greeted by the friendly staff, we were quickly taken care of and taken to our little jewel of a room. It is a petite room, a perfect geometrical square with impressive floor to ceiling windows, an opulent ceiling and art befitting for a gallery. Of course, it has all the creature comforts of home, as well as free WIFI, a gorgeous marble bathroom and a bidet that the Hubs was accidently violated by (mistaking for a toilet handle).
With a very strange, but dually exciting midnight flight across the Atlantic, we did not arrive until late evening to Istanbul. Not tired, but lacking motivation, we explored our internal surroundings and dined at the restaurant here in the hotel on the roof deck http://www.kasalokanta.com/tr/rooftop/ . Sitting window side, we held a bird eye’s view of Istanbul. The Hage Sophia- which you will hear much of later, stood impressively in the distance. The Sea -dark and infinite, showed off the many ships crisscrossing the calm waterway. Lights twinkling in the evening sky as nocturnal birds flapped their wings in a delicate dance.
Our waiter, friendly and very informative helped us choose our selections from the Turkish delicacies. He started us off with fresh and flavorful bread with a tangy tomato and olive oil tapenade. This was followed by an appetizer so impressively displayed, of 10 spoons housing a variety of Turkish specialties-all of which were delicious. A creamy, garlicy hummus, a unique fennel and plum jam, a tart yogurt spread and others.
Each bite more tantalizing then the next. Dinner comprised of eggplant and Halloumi cheese in tangy and smoky tomato compote. The cheese, a Cypress cheese unique to this area, melted over the eggplant like gooey velvet blanket-all these flavors, foreign and pleasant to my taste buds.
The meal ended with the sweet and delicate loveliness of baklava-the airy pastry and pistachio sweetness with a tease of clotted cream on top.
The meal was absolutely memorable, the service was impeccable, the atmosphere and view 5 star and the price was very reasonable. Considering our options this evening was a bag of nuts or this- I would say we chose wisely a real perfect start to an exciting adventure.
Well, as all spring trips usually occur (if you are a faithful follower of A Girl, Her Hub and a Suitcase) you will know today it a Red Letter Day for this duo-as it is also the Hubs birthday today. So, I must bring this to a close as the celebratory festivities of the birth of the Hubs is about to commence.
More tales of Turkish delight to come,
Greetings from your Turkish travel queen. I come to you live with your latest and greatest trip report update. Before I ramble on about today’s exciting events, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention this….I hear all your safety wishes-every last one of them. And, the Hubs and I truly appreciate it. In fact, when wandering this diverse, vast earth of ours-it is these sentiments sometimes that get me through the sometimes scary world of travel.
However, I hear you. I get it. The world is not 1999 anymore. A lot has changed, some good, some not so good. But, the Hubs and I have also changed and grew wiser, more “worldly” and adaptable to the differences that exist among us. Each trip, every spring and fall, wherever this traveling twosome roams, we do our research. We treat this like a marathon. We train our brains and our bodies, both physically, mentally, and spiritually to immerse ourselves in the culture we will be adjusting to. This is a respect driven task, and not only do we become avid members of this foreign community in our hearts: we also embrace the differences we may encounter. I am not in a bubble and see the challenges that face us all in this ever-changing world we all share. This adventure- the Hubs and I embark on –our biannual pilgrimage of sorts has molded us both to be more forgiving and open to the environment in which we are in.
Having said all that, if you read this blog and feel the need to update me on current world events or dramatic tragic happenings-I ask of you-this is not the forum. I again appreciate your concern and even understand that this may not be your “thing”-however, I need each one of you to truly understand this-The Hubs and I are guests in these foreign lands. We welcome the customs and ways of life we encounter. Our eyes are truly open to the danger that present (and don’t present) themselves. I am not on a Disney ride with singing elves or a fire-breathing dragon. This is real life, I document as I interpret it. So, continue to whisper your prayers and wish for my safe return. I feel the love and grasp the sentiment. But, please limit the safety chatter and New York Times updates. We are watching the news and understand the dangers that lurk among us.
One final note on this….Everywhere we have been within this lovely city of Istanbul has had “airport-like” security. Scanners, metal detectors, military guards with machine guns all calmly but powerfully providing safeguards in this vulnerable community. Vigilance and awareness is essential and the usual mindless ambivalence seen in the past is not present here. However, the Turkish people accept the deal they have been given right now and have adapted to the security threats that really affect all of us on a global level.
After all this dialogue, there is no easy way to segway into Turkish breakfast, but I shall try…
Awakening from our slumber, we made way to the grand dining hall for the complimentary breakfast that awaited us. Turkish delicacies lines the marble breakfast bar, many unknown to this gal. A breakfast menu was also provided with Turkish omelets, waffles and other scrumptious options-loading our empty guts with food to which would ultimately sustain us for many hours.
We set on foot in the damp and intermittently raining air across the Galata Bridge, bringing us to the other side of Istanbul. The seagulls swooped over us, one later on in the day christening my auburn afro. It was early morning, fishermen were out thrusting their poles ready for a fruitful day. The tourists were still sleeping, most of them except this duo as store front owners lifted their gates ready for a lucrative retail day.
Our walk ascended, slowly climbing in narrow streets with themed storefronts for each block. Our block is the Mecca for chandeliers (not very helpful when searching for food), the street next to us is Plumbing central. Eventually, we hit a music store, unique from anyone I have ever seen called OTAG Musik Merekezi http://www.otagmuzik.com/ . A curious cat rubbed at our legs as beautiful Mulberry guitars hung from the walls. The adorable shop owner Yasar welcomed us, ushering us to try anyone of these acoustic angels. The Hubs as you may or may not know is quite the guitar aficionado. Those mighty sausage link fingers can really strum up a melody and his talents did not lack in Turkey.
The lovely Yasar pulled out her best car salesman bravado, tempting the Hubs with musical possibilities. However, not wanting to lug around a guitar all day and the vision of accidently thumping 27 poor skulls as we made our way through coach on Turkish airlines deflated his visions of musical majesty. However, Yasar allowed us a picture as the Hubs plucked away doing his best Eric Clapton meets Istanbul impression.
Next stop, Topkapi Palace http://topkapisarayi.gov.tr/en built in 1460 this palace was the digs for the Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror. Everyone seems to be quite titillated with seeing the Harem, where all his ladies lived. However, we skipped this and focused more on the immense layout of the compound and the gorgeous water views all along the Bosphorus River. The grounds were sprawling, and the vibrant Turkish tiles still maintained their deep rich hues. The selfie sticks were swinging, and the crowd was steady.
We then we popped our head in and shoes off to see the Tombs of the Sultans and then off to Hage Sophia http://ayasofyamuzesi.gov.tr/en. This is one of the most iconic visions of Istanbul. It is an archeological wonder, originally a church that was erected in the year 360. Destroyed and resurrected many times, eventually in 1453 it became a mosque. In 1935 it was converted into a museum by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk.
Inside it is a hybrid of Christianity and Islam. The Hubs climbed the many ramps to the top for sweeping views. I opted out of this activity as energy and motivation was slipping like sands in an hourglass. Hailing a taxi, we made our way back to the hotel for a bit of rest and surprise birthday celebrations.
A major reconnaissance mission was under way as Sammy my front desk accomplice had provided a chocolate cake of epic deliciousness from Koskeroglu http://www.koskeroglu.com.tr/. It was the Hubs birthday and being on an international trip of a lifetime is not enough for this big hunk of love Hubs of mine. In our room, in a beautiful presentation was this cake delivered by the chocolate Gods. It was by far the best cake I ever had and served as a ridiculously indulgent lunch as it was many, many hours since our breakfast.
Bellies full of birthday gluttony; we rested our weary feet in preparation for our evening celebrations. Via taxi in staggering evening traffic, we had an evening at the symphony- http://www.borusansanat.com/tr/etkinlikler_5/bifo_33/konser_bifo-freddy-kempf_54/ this included pianist Freddy Kemf and the Borasani Philharmonic. The evening began with a somber melody of remembrance for the recent activities that transpired in Ankara that led to many deaths. It was a beautiful piece that was stirring and evoked many emotions. This was followed by several upbeat Gershwin numbers and finished with some flawless classical pieces. Between travel exhaustion, physical fatigue and time change adjustment, several pats and kicks were given to each other to keep the eyeballs open and commence any disruptive snoring.
After the show, a harrowing taxi ride through the streets of Istanbul was had. Clutching the seatbelt and praying, we were plopped off in the middle of a one-way highway as the taxi driver lacked GPS and apparently any driving sensibilities all at a ripped off rate, nearly doubling the price.
With no dinner options available except the remnants of a stellar chocolate cake, we returned to the rooftop restaurant of our hotel https://www.zomato.com/istanbul/kasa-roof-lounge-vault-karak%C3%B6y-the-house-hotel-karak%C3%B6y-istanbul . Some tasty bar food was enjoyed, served by our same friendly waiter from the evening before.
By the end of the meal, it was midnight. It had been a long enjoyable day, full of sightseeing, birthday jubilations and musical pleasures.
Join me next time for more Turkish tales,
3 hours of sleep but this gal is going strong. I think it’s all that hummus, salty sea air or merely the magical powers of pigeon poop. Either way, Turkish life suits me well. After a hearty breakfast, the Hubs and I a bit cocky on our travel high, or simply an overabundance of carbs at breakfast-we bought a pass for the tram that navigates quite easily around the city. Yesterday I wasted much time and precious energy with our entertaining trek up to the sights. We embarked on the tram system like total locals.
Exiting at The Blue Mosque our intention was to go there. However, immediately a lively, rather aggressive gentleman took us hand in hand to his carpet store. The move was rather ballsy, I would say-but The Hubs was merciful giving this poor guy a chance.
Fearful that this may turn out like the Orlando time share we almost broke the bank for, I intervened. Waving my finger in my best New Jersey accent, informing him his business practices were deceptive. Meanwhile, The Hubs was still wrangling for a bargain, inquired the price of this a one of a kind-carpet. Realizing that there are better ways to wisely depart with $2500 for a fancy bathmat, we high tailed it out of there. The one good piece of information the gentleman did offer was the Blue Mosque did not open until after 1:30 on Fridays as this is an important day of prayer.
So, instead we visited the basilica cistern http://yerebatansarnici.com/ -a subterranean water system derived from 537. The water was delivered by a forest in Belgrade and then housed in this marble underground reservoir. The unique dwelling is right off a city block, but as you descend the steps, eerie dim red lights illuminate a path. Marble large thick columns are perched within the water and frisky girthy fish swim just below the surface showing off for the tourists. Mystical Turkish melodies and the occasional drip are the only sounds that pervade the stillness.
From there we made our way to the Grand Bazaar http://grandbazaaristanbul.org/Grand_Bazaar_Istanbul.html – Istanbul’s’ unique version of Mall of Americas; but before we get to that-let me share a bit of my cautionary tale. I had to use the bathroom and conveniently located was a water closet (WC). Not realizing this was a pay toilet situation. So, naïve me- I walk up to a gentleman behind a desk, which in my opinion may be the world’s worst job ever- he then subsequently asked for one Turkish lira (35 cents) and handed me your run of the mill kitchen napkin. Only one may I add! So, he points me in his foreign dialogue to a door, rather vaguely. I apparently go to the wrong door and enter a prayer session with men and shoes on the floor. Well, this is odd I say to myself. I quickly skedaddle out of there. Eventually, I make my way to the toilet. Ugh, may I say. Absolutely deplorable-but when you got to go-you got to go. Careful not to touch a thing, I try to get out of there quickly rather heavy on the hand sanitizer. However, in my haste and slightly slippery from my over sanitization- I trip fall splat on the wet (unclear as to what biohazards may have touched me) floor. Traumatized, bruised and now contaminated I find the Hubs. We then immediately go to Starbucks which actually has a free bathroom, real toilet paper, but actually much more biohazards than the prayer room/water closet. That is my story on – A funny thing happened on the way to the Grand Bazaar.
The Grand Bazaar is an absolutely overwhelming experience-but a MUST if in Istanbul. Dating back from 1455, it is a colonnade of over 3,000 shops that twist and turn in mazelike hysteria. There are themes to help organize ones needs-however, I did not catch onto this at first. There is jewelry, candy, clothes, knick- knacks and much, much more. We got very lost within the jumble of corridors-a compass would have been very helpful. At 1200 noon as the Hubs was trying on his turban-like hat, the gentleman assisting us informed us that all men had to go for prayer. Before you know it, men started closing shop, running down the corridors all to pray for the hour. Over a loudspeaker, the call to prayer (ezan) billows out a guttural cry that for me created a physical, visceral reaction. The prayer evokes emotion and once I heard this, I felt it inappropriate to do such mundane activities such as shopping. I pulled to the side and respectfully just sat in silence, until the tonal reverberations subsided. This is my experience of a very sacred practice, and I have tried as best as I can to describe to you. In my reporting, it is not my intent to poke fun or joke about this. I hope that reverence was notated in my documenting of this act.
During the shopping extravaganza, we stopped off at a candy booth and taste tested numerous sweet treats called Turkish delight http://www.turkish-delight.com/v2/index.php. May I add that after about 7 or 8, there really is no delight-just a mild headache followed by some benign nausea. However, this did not stop yours truly, who along with her trusty companion left with several boxes for the peeps back home. When you taste it, just remember the sacrifice that I made choosing the right flavors.
From there, we sat on a park bench overlooking the water and crowds of people spilled out into the square. We had a very light snack (still full from TD) and rested our feet. Contemplating our next activity, we made our way over to the water. A sleazy somewhat friendly guy approached us for a boat ride excursion. Impulsively, we consented and made our way to a lovely boat. We boarded the boat with about 30 other semi-annoying individuals who in their spare team like to feed seagulls, take selfie after selfie and agitate the heck out of sweet angelic tourists such as myself.
The air was crisp and cold, in the 40’s but the sun was ferociously bright. We sat on the top deck, looking left and right, Europe, Asia back and forth. The seagulls trailing alongside as the tourists with ADHD tossed morsels of food at the greedy fowl. It was a perfect activity that rounded out an amazing day.
We made our way in the dwindling sunlight back to the hotel to rest. This much needed respite turned into a full-on nap that only by chance did we awaken. At the suggestion of the hotel, we ate dinner at a trendy restaurant that similar to our hotel was a previous bank. Neolokal http://www.neolokal.com/?/en is a beautiful establishment 3 doors down from our hotel. We dined on waif like portions with crafty descriptions. Don’t get me wrong, the food was tasty and satisfying, but it was more art than substance.
After dinner, we walked around our neighborhood, getting to know our surroundings. We eventually made it back needing rest for a full day tomorrow.
Tune in for more tummy ache tales of too much Turkish Delight,
Today was a somber day. There was a bombing in Taksim Square. According to what I know, 5 people were killed and 36 injured-7 of those seriously. What are my thoughts on this? I have many. First of all, I chose to continue on with this blog because it is a true account of my experience-good or bad. I usually pepper it with funny commentary to lighten a sometimes-heavy subject. This entry will be void of that. In fact, this entry is dedicated to the victims of this tragedy. I continue on because my philosophy has always been the same- I will not live my life in fear.
I know there are many arguments wisely debated regarding this. However, I am here in Turkey-living this, and truly only I can really accurately judge my actions and reasoning. I am here for the remainder of my trip. I have no intention of leaving early. Let’s walk through some of the practicalities…
First of all, despite this senseless and terribly heartbreaking event- I am enjoying myself. The people of Istanbul are just as upset over this and do not condone this violence. In fact, the people here are some of the nicest I have encountered. It is a nation of passion, vibrant in all aspects-their food, bold colors and religious fortitude. There are always extremes in everything. It is those at the polar ends of the spectrum that make poor, deadly decisions.
This issue is way bigger than me and my blog is not the place for political debate. I know too little to go down this road. I would like to share one story with you regarding today’s events. The story for me pulls everything together and has given me a bit of clarity on life and how fragile it is.
Today our schedule was completely devoted to a tour with a private guide. Gamze Artaman http://www.turkeytravelplanner.com/guides/artaman_g.html specializes in “off the beaten track” tours. We began to talk about the art of Whirling Dervishes. If you are unfamiliar with this –it is a form of meditation that entails spinning in a rhythmic fashion. It was created by the 13th century Persian poet Rumi. At the center of all his teachings is divine love. Just as we began discussing this, we were right by the Mosque it first began. We received special permission to enter there as it was closed. We followed all the basic rituals, taking our shoes off, covering my head as we entered the quiet and empty hall. We sat in the stillness as Gamze explained the meaning behind Rumi’s teachings and the Sama ceremony. Her interpretation centered around rebirth, redemption and reincarnation.
Listening to her as she related this to the very recent loss of her young husband, clarity began to settle and everything in my heart was open to this thinking. My core began to swell with love and any fear was quickly replaced by a strong and powerful inner peace. We continued the conversation a bit longer, the idea deeply settling in my soul leaving me with a newfound understanding of my purpose here on earth.
We left still unclear on a plan as to what do the rest of the day. But quickly a plan was formulating. We would go to Taksim for the remainder of the day. We would start at the top of the street and wind our way down, eventually leading straight to our hotel. We stopped for a coffee rest break- when Gamze suggested we rethink our plan as there was some sort of attack in Taksim. We sat at a table, drinking hot tea watching CNN Turkey and slowly began to learn of what had happened. I instantly thought of my mother, my sisters, my friends and my safe home. I got such a strong sense of “homesickness”- and all I wanted to do was hear my mother’s voice.
Even though it was barely 6am, and my thoughts were purely self-need driven-it was a need I had to instantly fulfill. And so I did. I selfishly woke my mother unloaded my burden on her, leaving her alone worrying. But this child at this moment needed to know there was still one safe place in this world.
The rest of the day I will spare as it all seems rather silly in the scheme of things. But it served as a grateful distraction, channeling my energy as a helpful diversion. I need to point out the divine fate of this day. We had not planned to go into that Mosque, we had not planned to have a 30-minute conversation about the fragility of life and second chances and by doing that-we were not in Taksim square, possibly under other circumstances. All of this-yes is “happenstance”-but on a day that only stimulates more questions-this was enough of an answer for me.
I will continue to document my trip. My reader, I respect your choice to disengage if you choose. But, if you get one thing out of this-such as hug your child tighter, live in the moment for just a second longer, and know that maybe-just maybe there might just be something more out there for all of us. I hope that this helps you understand me a bit more.
Last night for obvious reasons-it was a “lay low” kind of night. The streets were an eerie ghost town, especially for a Saturday night. As my warm air breathed on the cold window creating a mystical fog, I saw not one human on the street outside. An occasional lonely wandering dog trudged on by, oblivious to the changed world. The kaleidoscope in which I now viewed every aspect of this trip had changed leaving all its vibrant hues to shadows of darkness.
We ate snacks in the room as the rain tapped away at the window. We watched nonsense shows on TV just to avoid the news. And, then eventually restless from our inactivity we relented to sleep with little protest.
In the morning, the streets remained empty. We spoke with the hotel staff to try to extract any local information. We were provided some very basic advice that served little use and did not really offer us any further sense of well-being. We embarked out into the cold air trying to contain some microcosm of normalcy. As we continued to walk, we found ourselves in front of the Galata Tower http://www.ibb.gov.tr/sites/ks/en-US/1-Places-To-Go/towers/Pages/galata-tower.aspx -built in the 6th century it served as a prison, a watchtower and a lighthouse. It scales 230 feet up in the sky and offers amazing views of Istanbul and beyond. The elevator takes you up 7 flights and then you climb 3 flights. There is a thin circular terrace that loops around the narrow top. Visitors dangerously squeeze on by trying to capture the best view.
From there it was one straight uphill climb to the Galata Mevlevihanesi Hall http://www.turkeytravelplanner.com/go/Istanbul/Sights/Beyoglu/galata_tekke.html. If you recall yesterday with Gamze the tour guide, we discussed extensively Whirling Dervishes. This spiritual dance has enamored me all during the planning of this trip. We found the museum to purchase the show for this evening. However, the kind gentleman at the box office showed me his phone acting as the translator displaying one very telling message CANCELED DUE TO TERROR.
To say I was not disappointed would be untrue. However, I quickly put this in perspective and will always choose safety first.
We continued walking as the sun starting to warm up the cold air. The few people walking would sporadically make paranoid eye contact sizing up their risks and exit options. Individuals stared blankly void of any tell-tale signs of emotion. As if on a pilgrimage, we found ourselves walking on the exact street the incident occurred and quickly realized we were standing amidst groups of people who have curiously like us consciously or unconsciously arrived at the same place. The Turkish flag hung above flowers that lay in the doorway, like a strong, proud soldier protecting his people. Photographers, camera crews and the curious lingered respectfully. Speechless with a lump in my throat I said a silent prayer, a whisper of gratitude and then moved on.
By midmorning, though- more people began to pile out on the streets. Palms pressed in hands from church on Palm Sunday, a resilient calm seemed to pervade the city street. Commerce slowly commenced, Starbucks opened, and it finally seemed that we as a whole may be able to move on from this. A feeling of hope seemed to cloak the people, like a heavy warm quilt.
We stopped for lunch at a local place with a menu full of gaudy, bright photos acting as deceptive enticement for a hungry tourist. The food was pretty bad, although the pictures were keenly accurate. From there, we sat at Starbucks, which was nearly empty- a real sign of normalcy off its axis. The Hubs and I had deep conversations, clinging to one another thoughts like a buoy in the rough sea.
Nothing works better for the emersion back into real life than retail therapy. We found some very unique musical stores with interesting instruments. This was a very welcome distraction. Then, we went to an amazing art establishment called Artangels. This very one of a kind store that specializes in hand- made crafts all made by the owner Nuvit Tuzel and his wife. Beautiful ceramics, crochet objects and other unusual items can be found here. We made many purchases in there, while enjoying lively conversation and sharing the depth of what had happened with this lovely gentleman.
We continued to wind our way down the street in route to our hotel. Along the way, I encountered something that I want to share with my reader. This is once again a cautionary tale and I hope that these shared mishaps benefit you the reader in some way.
Yesterday, a young man walked by me and dropped a brush from his shoeshine kit. I kindly said, “excuse me you dropped something.” And this young man continued to follow the Hubs and I quite closely (too closely) and attempted to grab his feet to shine. The Hubs was quite insistent he did not want nor need this. We were lucky to shoo him away.
Well, similar to a deja vous experience-the exact same thing happened again! And, yet again, I said “excuse me you dropped something.” The young man did the same thing except this time, he succeeded in grabbing The Hubs feet. He said- I do this for free. I am so poor. Then, I tried to give him a couple dollars and he took a $20 instead of providing me change. I got all “JERSEY” (NJ) on him and starting yelling and cursing at him-realizing the whole bloody thing is a scam. He scurried away, but then ran back to me handing me half my money back.
On the way back to the hotel, we noticed 2 other shoeshine men do the same drop the brush technique! I almost kicked their stupid brush down the street! However, The Hubs requested I restrain myself. At the hotel, I shared this with the desk staff, and they informed us, that although The Hubs shoes were nice and shiny (and they were)-to quickly rinse them as they use some sort of animal excrement or something to clean the shoe with- that eventually damages them in 10 minutes (there may have been a bit of a language translation here- I hope).
For dinner we ventured out looking for the “perfect” place. And boy oh boy did we find it…Andrea https://www.zomato.com/istanbul/andrea-karak%C3%B6y-istanbul/menu is on a quiet side street about a brisk 5-minute walk from our hotel. We stumbled upon this treasure purely by accident. It is a previous Monastery, and its presence is quite welcoming. Red lighting illuminates the inside like warm burning embers. Loud techno music thumps away rhythmically in a continuous loop. The interior is cloister meets classy brothel with a dash of high energy rave. There are 3 levels. The bottom floor is a bar complete with good looking millennials enjoying the benefits of “adulthood”. The second and third floors are for diners, which was only us. The menu was all in Turkish and the waiter patiently struggled to help me while I indecisively vacillated between options. In the end, I committed to a lovely plate of hummus and some interesting noodles. The Hubs had a creamy tomato soup and a beautifully cooked salmon. During our meal, a bride (post wedding nuptials) threw her gown rather obscurely next to us and invited us to her wedding shindig downstairs. Although, this would be a first for us-we opted out as we have an early outing tomorrow that will be an all-day (and night) event. Due to this-most likely, my blog will resume on Tuesday-our last day.
One final note regarding all the events that have transpired in the last 2 days…..Please try to understand, we are trying to make the best out of a very sad and scary set of circumstances. My pithy jokes and attempt at benign sarcasm is all in an effort to salvage the remainder of our trip. It is hard to comprehend that one day after all this madness that one could shop, eat, sight see and have the audacity for humor. However, life has resumed here. People are out, business as usual doing their thing. My hope is that you the reader do not find offense to the resumption of normality and recognize the absolute need for this. The alternative will only help evil to prevail.
Love and all things Turkish,
Up this A.M. before the crack of dawn we had a big day planned and escaping the city could not have come at a more perfect time. We spent the day on a private tour with 10 individuals through a company called Crowded House http://crowdedhousegallipoli.com/gallipolitours/1day_gallipoli_tour.html. At 6am, we piled into a “crowded van”, hence the name?? The group was an eclectic bunch with many years of travel between us all. There was a lovely couple from Australia, a family of 3 generations including a teenager on his spring break. A darling single mother and a high-spirited young boy celebrating his 8th birthday as well as a very well-traveled, young, charming couple from London, recently relocated from Australia.
It was a 5-hour trek to the destination-each way, with a breakfast stop and numerous bathroom breaks. The breakfast and lunch were included in the cost of the ticket and were subpar/borderline prison gruel. However, the establishments were acceptable and accommodating and perhaps I am a bit spoiled by the amazing cuisine that has been consumed thus far.
We voyaged out t to Gallipoli peninsula- a region in Turkey famous for a battle that lasted over 9 months in 1915 and over 45,000 lives were lost. The Hubs and I relish history and anything War related. We had done our research prior to this, and I highly recommend the Russel Crowe movie The Water Diviner https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8CkLC4Zr2Mw that weaves an emotional depiction into a gripping historical account.
After the long journey and our bellies full-we finally arrived at the vast seaside battleground-which is now a national park. Our guide Bulent Yilmaz Korkmaz firstname.lastname@example.org expressed his excitement and enthusiasm for this subject with robust fervor. The tour takes one to 11 different sites on the widespread grounds- all with breath taking sweeping views of the Aegean Sea.
Walking on the sacred grounds of the many cemeteries, there is stillness in the air, a quiet vibration –that if you listen closely, you can almost hear the battleground cries of young boys that died way too young. It helped me to reflect on my own personal losses and fears that I have recently been forced to face on this trip. As I let the sun warm up n my face and the wind whisper in my ear, a restorative healing began to take place.
We stopped for a very unappetizing cafeteria style road stop dinner that was so unappealing, hunger seemed a smarter option. We began our 5 hour journey back with intermittent head bobbing, nodding off slumber followed by chatty restlessness. I learned many things about my travel crew and remembered one of the many joys of travel is encountering new people, unique stories and meeting at that mutual meeting ground of shared commonalities. With the magic of social media, friendships can continue way past a trip ending. Arriving back at the hotel 16 hours after we set off, tired but fully satiated I would certainly recommend this to a future traveler.
One last note….I have received much feedback –regarding my “decision” to continue on with my trip. I feel one final time-I must address this. I hope I can explain this in a way that is both respectful but transparent.
Let me compare this to what I understand and appreciate most-ART.
When viewing a painting, art is subjective. It is all in how one views it. The closer you are to it, the more different and possibly distorted it appears. As you shift back, and your eyes adjust the view takes on an alternative perspective. Sometimes, one needs to walk away from the picture, take a breather and look at it with fresh eyes.
This incident that occurred less than 10 minutes from our hotel, and where I was to be that day- is quite close to me. Local news is in a different language, and therefore I am dependent on the information that is released on international news. What you my reader may be seeing, hearing, or reading may be quite different than what I am exposed to. So, as I wind down this vacation with one day left-understand my perception is reliant on the variables in which that are present.
One very final note on this and then we can really seal this baby up. Life has moved on here-business as usual. “Running to the embassy”, “renting a car and escaping”- these are some of the options people who care for me have suggested. We are not in Uganda during Wartime. Getting on an airplane early? What will this solve? Where do I draw the line? That’s the bottom line-where does the line in the sand be drawn? Travel just within the United States? This does not exempt me from harm. Travel just on the Eastern Seaboard? Travel only 20 minutes form my house? Where and how does it end?
This is not a rant. My blog is a sacred place for me. It is a real- time daily account of what I experience. I completely appreciate your prayers, love, well wishes and curiosity. Please keep them coming. But ultimately – life is about living it to the fullest, embracing challenges and moving past overwhelming hurdles. My friends, we got this!
I have chosen to finish my trip report from home. Let me explain the series of events that transpired the last remaining hours in Turkey. Day 7 (our final day) began with enthusiasm and trepidation. Normally, the Hubs and I do a “circle round” of our favorites, meaning, we venture back to some of the sites we enjoyed getting a different perspective of it, or simply see something in it we may have missed the first go around. However, many of the sites such as Hagia Sophia http://www.hagiasophia.com/ and The Blue Mosque http://www.bluemosque.co/ which we wanted to re-visit were crowd gathering places and this did not feel “safe” to me. So, after our final delicious breakfast consisting of some of the many items, I will miss such as -honey-drenched pastries, salty, briny olives, and Turkish cheese, we formulated an alternative plan.
Out into the spring like air, we headed out on foot to The Istanbul Modern http://www.istanbulmodern.org/en – Istanbul’s modern art museum. It is a large open space, with glorious views of the Bosphorus Sea. The art is whimsical, colorful and in many different mediums-such as visual, musical and tactile as well as various combinations. It ranges from curious to political, with hidden meanings embedded within the context of the art. We spent roughly an hour there. It served as a “palate cleanser” for our brain-offering our minds a clean slate, wiping away many of the lingering fears and uncertainties that had been vexingly tapping away at my cerebral cortex.
From there, we took the Istanbul Funicular http://www.istanbultrails.com/2009/08/getting-around-in-istanbul-by-metro-tram-and-funicular/ -Istanbul’s metro system up to the top of Taxim http://www.turkeytravelplanner.com/go/Istanbul/Sights/Beyoglu/Taksim.html for shopping and soaking in the remaining hours of our time here. We absent mindingly window shopped- a juxtaposition of fear and paranoia intermingled with moments of distractive joviality.
We darted in a Cathedral St. Antonio, http://www.sentantuan.com/ one of the few I had witnessed on this trip. The ornate church was a temporary home to my heart in this sea of unfamiliarity. I sat in a pew next to The Hubs in the silence. As the religious icons faced me, I silently prayed for our safety and relished the peace that swelled inside of me.
At one point, during our promenade we witnessed a large crowd, strapping men, marching, literally linked arm and arm. These suited men all had foreign emblems and wording, unknown to me or The Hubs. As this team thumped their feet down in unison, they made their way down the street as if on a mission. Flanked on each side and behind the mass, were paparazzi, cameras, and reporters scurrying to get a shot. The Hubs and I were completely caught off guard and curiously, cautiously tried to connect all the dots. We stopped a camera man, who was more concerned with his footage then our annoying nosiness-and asked him what this was about? He hurryingly barked “CONSULATE”.
Unclear with this clue, we chalked it up to translation confusion and matters that don’t concern us. As we continue to walk down the hill, we made our way back to our friendly shop keeper Nuvit Tuzel the proprietor of ArtAngel.
We were greeted with enthusiastic hugs, double cheek kisses and squeals of excitement. His wife and nephew were there, and as if now family, he offered us apple tea and a seat. This was the exact moment, my vacation turned. It’s like there was before, and an after on this trip. Technicolor then black and white-this was the moment. On his laptop was streaming CNN reporting another terrorist attack in the Brussels airport. 34 people were killed. Departing tomorrow-less than 12 hours from this point, my mind began to spin like Alice down the rabbit hole. Fear wrapped its arms around me; my “quilt of safety” had now turned into a lead blanket, weighing me down, crushing my spirit and enveloping me in a fear so visceral, I was strangled in inertia.
All the ornamental art pieces in the store surrounding me seemed to be mocking me of my naivety. All my claims of safety, my insistent pleas of shelter, all evaporated like liquid vapor right before my eyes. Our new friends sensed this change in me and offered such neighborly love and comfort, that this gave me a brief respite. Nunit’s daughter lives in Brussels so this too was quite close to his heart. He passionately talked about his anger about this latest installment of events. His starch anger contrasted vastly with my deep sorrow bordering on ego driven shattered pride.
In between this see- saw of emotions, we purchased the last of our trinkets and souvenirs for friends and family all the while, seriously contemplating if me, The Hubs or The Suitcase would truly make it home safely.
After our purchases, Nunit walked us around the corner to a local popular lunch spot. It was all traditional dishes, colorful, tasty and cheap. We ate in silence as my eyes darted around, every minute between ordinary chit chat mentally recording all my surroundings. My fellow diners seemed to be doing the same.
On our way at the bottom of the hill, was a music store Natural Muzik https://www.facebook.com/pages/Natural-M%C3%BCzik/315822431784035. The Hubs- an avid guitar player wanted to give this Turkish guitar called a Baglama http://www.allaboutturkey.com/muzikalet.htm one last try. The owner was very patient and determined to earn the Hubs business. We sat in this cozy establishment, surrounded by beautiful Mulberry, Spruce and Juniper instruments- calm in the midst of the chaotic storm in my head. The Hubs strummed away in Turkish melody. The notes warmed my heart and offered for a small moment some calm in my muddled mind.
Convinced this was the Turkish bargain of the century, the Baglama was procured. This musical indulgence replaced the cost of the Hammam http://www.allaboutturkey.com/hamam.htm adventure that we canceled on this day. The Hammam, if you are unfamiliar to this as I was–is a Turkish bath experience. Our hotel offered a private Hammam, which we had scheduled on the inception of this trip. It includes a lot of nakedness on both parties –in this instance Hubs and I –separately- and the Hamman-ster (I know this is not the right phrase). You are placed in a sauna type setting and basically have the first 3-4 layers of dermis sliced off like a cheese grater. The Hubs, delicate like a Georgia peach had numerous concerns about this. Ultimately, his concerns to me were validated with my research and so thus –our bathing escapade was thwarted. It would have- in my opinion made great Blog content. However, the sloughing was canceled –fortunately for the Hammam masters as The Girl and The Hubs would be something that they could never –un-see.
Baglama in tow, we made our way back to the hotel. Off to our final meal for our trip, we went to Pera Thai http://www.perathai.com/. The restaurant was virtually empty. We dined on some common Thai dishes with some uncommon, unknown flavors to us. It was an interesting interpretation of Thai cuisine. Over dinner, I continued to share my concerns with The Hubs, who offered support and encouragement. It would be very hard if both of us were mentally and emotionally combusting, so I appreciated his strength and optimism at this time.
We made our way back taking in the last of the Istanbul skyline. The Hagia Sofia perched up on the hill; all lit up like a warrior watching over its worried flock. We winded around the Galata Tower, down the cobblestone 180 degree drop of the street back to the hotel.
Let me summarize this trip and Turkey-both separately. This trip challenged my strength and my ability to overcome some very scary obstacles placed in our path. Would I do this to myself again? Have I tested the travel Gods too much this time? Travel is never easy. For me-travel is the art of learning new things, new cultures, different ways of life and exposure to the unknown. Unfortunately, this trip was complicated by evil that exists in the world. This form of evil will always be present in countless ways. It is up to us, not just in travel, but in life to move through and beyond this to see all the beauty that truly exists in the world.
Turkey is a beautiful country, and Istanbul is a one-of-a-kind city. The Roman ruins that stand side by side overlooking a modern highway are a testament of this city’s survival. Its bold colors from carpet to tile, its vibrant spices and simplicity of the food to the passion of the people are all apparent in their everyday representation of life. Istanbul has carved out a special place in my heart-as a survivor, straddling two worlds and bridging these into one beautiful mosaic of culture.
See you in September 2016 Oslo &Norway… ~B&F