Cruising along the Bosphorous
Sometimes when I travel I feel as if I’ve just lived an entirely different life. Of course, we travel for new experiences and to immerse ourselves in other cultures.
But I mean there are a few instances where I sink into the new place so deeply it feels as if it’s become my whole reality. An inexplicable feeling grabs hold; I’m full with the sense that some part of me belongs even as everything is also foreign and unknown.
Ceiling of the Blue Mosque
On rare occasions – Paris was such a case – this feeling does presage a new life.
It’s been awhile, though, since I’ve felt thus transported.
Well, add Istanbul to the list. I can’t believe I was only there for a week; it felt like its own small lifetime. It helped, I’m sure, that 1) I was with my family so I truly was with people from my “real” life and 2) we had an extraordinary homebase that made us feel like we already had family there.
I don’t usually stay in hotels when I travel. I couchsurf, stay with friends, do apartment swaps – these feel like they put me in closer connection to the true city.
For our reunion, though, I wanted to join my family where they were comfortable and we chose a modest hotel in Sultanahmet in the Old City. We couldn’t have chosen better.
View from Hotel Peninsula
It’s no luxury experience. No. It’s a basic hotel but it has Ruhat at reception who by the end of the week was part of our clan. When I had to move for the final day, in fact (I stayed an extra day alone and the hotel was full), I still used Hotel Peninsula as my base and felt as welcomed as if I lived there. The man who served breakfast each morning literally told me I was family now. He looked as if he was going to give me a hug when I left.
And that’s sort of how the whole week felt: like an intimate, familial gathering – no matter that we were strangers.
We stayed mainly in our area, which, yes, is very touristy. We barely scratched the surface of the big, sprawling city. But when the Blue Mosque, Aya Sofya, Topkapi Palace, and the Grand Bazaar are all a stone’s throw from your hotel, it’s hard to get further out at first – so much to see on every corner!
None of those sites are what did it for me, though. (To tell the truth, I had to flee the Grand Bazaar and felt a bit let down by Topkapi). No, it was the vibe of Istanbul that drew me in. Laid-back, friendly, international, intriguing.
We hopped on a ferry to Asia one day in what has to be the easiest inter-continental commute in the world (and only 1.75 lira to boot). Cats roamed everywhere – over ancient ruins, rooftops, cobblestone streets. The Muslim call to prayer rang out 5 times daily, punctuating time with a strangely beautiful soundtrack.
Business, socializing, wooing were all conducted over tea – I can’t count the number of complimentary cups I was offered.
A grungy, cosy nightclub with a view played French, Spanish, American, Turkish, and gypsy music and a relaxed international crowd (no dress code) got down. Bustling crowds at Taksim Square bristled with energy. This might be the easiest way to say it then: Istanbul is alive.
Continue reading ‘In Love with Istanbul’