Istanbul Without a
June 10, 2006
The birds are singing. The sun is shining. I am exchanging smiles with everybody I pass. Ahh… The affects of nice weather.
I arrived yesterday upon pulling an all-nighter. I did not do this because I wasn’t tired. If anything, I was more tired on my
last night in Tel Aviv than any other time on this trip (the reason probably being that I got all of my energy sucked out of me
by being in the sun on the beach all day-- a price I was okay with paying).
By the time I arrived in Turkey, I was so tired that I felt sick and nauseated. I checked into my hotel and had a four-hour
long date with my bed. We instantly bonded and I felt like a new person when it was time for me to part ways and make my
way into the city.
At this point, it’s not even a matter of bouncing from ‘city to city’. It’s more like bouncing from 'culture to culture'. Now I’m
back to a world of needing to cover up at times and hearing prayer calls. I’m back to needing to re-learn how to say ‘thank
you’ and ‘good-bye’ in Turkish. I’m back to having to remember the Turkish lira conversion rate to the U.S. dollar. Welcome
to my life for the past month and a half. The only difference this time is that I have already been to Turkey and I now
knowing that my information-retention skills are less than impressive.
Since I was familiar with this city, it automatically made it easier to know what to do. I was going to head back to my beloved
Ortakoy neighborhood. I hopped on a ferry and ended up meeting Julia, a human rights attorney from the Netherlands. She
was roaming around Istanbul for a couple days before heading to Ankara for work. I told her about Ortakoy and she asked if
she could get off at my stop so I could show her where it was. I felt great about sharing this neighborhood with somebody else
as Cindy and I were told about it by others as well.
The problem was that I guess Julia and I were talking a bit too much because our stop for Ortakoy came and went. So now
we were going over to Asia (since Istanbul is the only city in the world to lie on two continents). But we were talking and
apparently not paying attention again and missed our stop. Finally, me made it off the boat at the second stop in Asia. Very
quiet area with picturesque restaurants along the water. There were beautiful houses lined all along the coast.
Fast forward to about an hour later…we were now in Ortakoy. Even more charming and adorable than I remember it from
last time. Julia was quite impressed with it, too. We had a drink while looking onto the sea. Ahhh…this is exactly how I enjoy
taking in this city – without a plan and just enjoying the scenery around me.
Before long, Julia and I parted ways and I continued to immerse myself in the main shopping/restaurant street over here in
the Beyoglu area. The details of the buildings all stood out so much more on this beautiful evening. After having a great
dinner, I was in for a bit of a surprise upon leaving…
‘Did I just feel what I think I felt?’ This is the thought that went through my mind as I felt a couple of drips on my head. A
few drips became many drips which then became full-blown rain. Because I wasn’t thinking I would have to battle anything
more than a mild wind, I decided not to bring a long-sleeved shirt with me. At the same time I couldn’t complain about this
weather. While being in the extreme heat at times over the past month, there were times I was praying for weather like this.
Now that my wishes were granted, who was I to complain? It was still mild outside—just wet and mild. So what if I had a
short-sleeved shirt on? I have realized you just need to go with what Mother Nature gives you and make the most of it. In
just minutes I hopped on a tram and was back in the warmth of my hotel.
Enter Anne and Ellen, sisters from the United States. Anne has been living in Europe for the past 5 ½ years and her sister is
We were in the lobby of our pension and I started chatting with Anne while her sister was on the Internet. Turned out we
both found each other’s stories pretty darn interesting (she has been working on yachts in various cities in Europe). We were
comparing our thoughts with regards to this region of the world. I always find it interesting to hear what different people
have to say.
It was now pretty late and I was ready to call it a night.
Today I decided to do the same thing I did yesterday… I call it ‘Istanbul without a plan’. I started by going to the Basilica
Cistern (Yerebatan Sarayi is the actual name) which is underground and really different from anything else I have seen. It
was built back in 532 AD and served as a reservoir for the water needed for the Byzantine Great Palace. It consists of 336
columns that rest in a foot or two of water. You even feel the water dripping down on you here and there while walking
through this. At the end there are two columns with Medusa heads on the bottom. These were only revealed as recently as
1987 when UNESCO came in and restored this sight.
Next item on my non-agenda: buy some produce at the colorful fruit stalls. Bing cherries, Rainier cherries, albino blackberries
(still don’t know the name of these) and apricots would all make their way into hands...then mouth...then stomach.
The rest of my day would consist of nothing more than walking around different areas and people watching. One of the
greatest areas for this was on a bench that lies directly in between the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sofia. Both of these structures
are incredible. Hagia Sofia is actually now a museum but was a church back when this city was Constantinople. When the fall
of Constantine and Christianity occurred in 1453, the Muslims plastered over the mosaics of Jesus Christ, etc. and turned it
into a mosque. When this later became a museum, the Christian mosaics would be revealed from the massive restoration
projects. Now the presence of two major religions exist underneath the one large structure.
Later I saw Anne and Ellen back at the hotel and we decided to meet that night at a jazz club. Before heading out there, I
grabbed a drink along the Sea of Marmara to get a front row view of the sun setting over the sea. This experience was
combined with Turkish bands playing and locals singing along to the songs. Quite a treat.
I met Anne and Ellen and then me made our way down to a Spanish tapas restaurant. Nothing better than to wrap up a great
trip with the great company I have met along the way…
The street where my hotel was.
My view while having a drink.