My favorite destination is always changing. Luckily, I know now, my heart’s forever in Istanbul. The hospitality of the Turkish people is unreal. My night in Istanbul: I was picked up from the airport after learning I did not have a free hotel (oh well) and would have to pay for one, along with a Turkish visa. I took this in stride, why not? I chose a room with a terrace, overlooking the city, at the Legend Hotel. I had dreamt of one on the plane; obviously, God’s hands had helped mold my Turkish experience…
My cab driver had a love radio station on. I looked out at the city, the lights, and thought about how one who is not Muslim prays at the Blue Mosque. At the same time, Macklemore’s ‘Same Love’, which is about loving the same regardless of who you love, came on the radio, and I smiled.’Same Love’ was the theme of my trip to Buenos Aires, Argentina, in 2013. My gay roommate and friend, Mauricio would make me belt out Mary Lambert’s part in the chorus, as he, playing Macklemore, would heartily rap the verses. I miss him.
a handmade Turkish rug, hangs in a shop in the city
I arrived at the beautiful, hilly, cobbledstoned streets of Old Istanbul, right outside my hotel. I quickly freshened up, got a map, dropped my leather backpack, and headed towards the Blue Mosque. On the way, I saw an Egyptian Obelisk, reaching towards the sky, Egyptian hieroglyphics walking up its spine. I was amazed by the beauty because Istanbul is gorgeous. Looking over the city, you can see mosques, the Bosphorus Canal, leading the way to Asia, bazaars, and people of all ethnicities milling about.
Plus, the men are positively divine. I kid you not. Gorgeous, blue-green eyes, dark hair and beards, chiseled cheek bones, and sturdy backs. Sign me up! While on the way to the Blue Mosque, I was stopped by a young man asking if my eyes were real. I said, “Of course, stupid!” and kept walking.
my first Turkish coffee
Just kidding, I chatted with him, and we walked together for a little ways. Turkish people are way more hospitable than Americans; I cannot picture this exchange happening in any city in the U.S., especially my own, NYC. I read online before I came about the plethora of Turkish rug shops, so of course, my new friend had one, but said I was ‘too young to care about buying a rug- not yet’. And, we ventured on.
Turkish coffee, the most delicious thing on the beverage planet, is the best thing I have ever had. Enough so that I will dream about it until I am back again. It’s nutty, gritty, sweet, and bold, all at the same time. Like nothing else I have ever tasted, Turkish coffee will remain forever in my heart.
Turkish rug shop terrace, overlooking the Blue Mosque
The most beautiful view I saw during my stay was from young Adnan’s carpet store’s terrace. This beautiful, old wooden terrace, covered in potted plants, ferns, geraniums and more, had the most direct and sweet view of the Blue Mosque I had seen. Here, we enjoyed a Turkish coffee, shared photos of the snow in our respective homelands, and talked about the future. My mind was baffled, sitting on this terrace; a mere 15 hours ago, I had been in New York City! Looking over the Bronx and the Hudson River, wondering where this journey would take me.
Needing to go, Adnan quickly showed me how the Turks flip their coffee over onto the saucer to signal it is done, and we got up, and left. Adnan dropped me at the Blue Mosque, and wished me well on my way. I took off my shoes, donned a scarf and skirt, and headed into the Mosque. It was incredibly beautiful, but the abundance of tourists and their selfie sticks, along with the screaming of babies and yelling of many languages, erased some of the Holy feeling I would normally experience. Still, a magnificent sight.
Blue Mosque ceiling
Leaving the mosque, I entered my hotel for a pit stop, before heading to the Grand Bazaar. Magical food, tons of tourists, lots of kitchy souvenir shops, and a view to die for. It strongly reminded me of New York City; I even stumbled upon a Turkish Diamond District! I purchased a yellow crystal mala bead necklace, a handmade ashtray, a Turkish evil eye for the home, an “I ❤ Istanbul” magnet, and some assorted gifts. As with all tourist destinations, many of the shops have the same things for sale, so bargaining is encouraged.
Leaving the Grand Bazaar, I stopped for dinner on the edge of it, this little-hole-in the-wall-lamb kebab shop. I sat at a red checkered tablecloth, and enjoyed the smells and sights of the city. My bags were packed and I was ready to go home, so I got the check, and headed on my way, stopping for a treat of handmade baklava on the way.
I know it’s bad, but I made two friends on the way, both named Abduel. I taught them about the power of Etsy and social media marketing in exchange for some apple tea, and about America. I got a few gifts for friends, and a gorgeous, almost Aztec-inspired handmade pillow for myself, with my last Turkish lire.
Once back at the hotel, my sleep was uninterrupted by dreams. I awoke at 3:30am, and lingered in bed, staring at the soft glow of the city lights through my golden drapes, admired the pink and white striped walls papering the rounded room, and the red velvet- covered seat cushions all around. When I came downstairs, the concierge offered me a coffee as I waited for my cab, and I finished the last of the previous night’s baklava for breakfast.
I was further amused, before heading into the night, by the concierge smoking inside the lobby and the aquarium fish lighting up the hotel entrance.
My cab driver this time was a young Buck. What he lacked in English, he made up for in good looks. He chose the following songs to play during our car ride, all of which affected me on an emotional level:
“What Do You Mean?- Justin Bieber”
“My Heart Will Go On- Celine Dion”
“See You Again – Gym Class Heroes”
You’re probably inferring with your eyes that the subliminal messages of these song choices were at best enough for me to change my plans to continue to Egypt and stay in Turkey, but I did something better: I went to Africa.