It is so easy to wake up in a state of bliss in a city like Istanbul. There is something magical about the place, a certain je ne sais quoi, that I cannot put in words. Waking up in another city, especially Istanbul, without an agenda is so intoxicating! The complete freedom I feel takes me back to my childhood when freedom from worry was the greatest luxury, and time was always on my side. So waking up with this feeling along with the cool hotel white sheets touching my skin made me smile even more so.
The only thing I wanted to do on my second day in Istanbul was to just walk around Sultanahmet, my favorite part of the city. Perhaps my WanderLust started here, and my mind takes me back to the Hippodrome area where I called Giuseppe, the man who was responsible for my first trip to Istanbul. Back then I remember sitting by a bench in front of the Blue Mosque and calling him in Chicago just to tell him how much I LOVED Istanbul and how my mind was blown away by the experience. Little did I realize I was talking to him for about 20 or 25 minutes which ended up costing me almost $250.00 for the phone call. But I did not regret a thing. So yes, my WanderLust did start in Sultanahmet. Going back to visit after two and a half years felt, strangely so, like I was meeting an ex lover again. I was excited and nervous at the same time.
When the tram stopped I knew exactly where I was. I couldn’t wait to see the Hagia Sophia again. She is so, so beautiful, and she is my favorite architectural wonder in the world, even surpassing The Colosseum in Rome. Because I visited the Hagia Sophia twice on my first trip, I decided that I would just take pictures of the exterior this time, although if the lines weren’t so long I would have gone in. After some time taking pictures of the Blue Mosque which is directly across from the Hagia Sophia, I decided to visit the Basilica Cistern. Built in the 6th century the cistern was a water filtration system for the royal residence as well as some other surrounding buildings. Because so many people mentioned that this was their favorite for site seeing, I guess I expected too much since I wasn’t enamored like I was with the Hagia Sophia and Topkapi Palace, for example.
I meandered to a quiet street away from the busy square looking for a restaurant or a place to have tea at some point during the day. There were nice looking shops and restaurants, and I happened to walk into a boutique named Yörük Collection. As with many things in Turkey, the beauty and craftsmanship are noticeably unique and beautiful, and I couldn’t help but notice the jewelry that just arrived. The pretty things were seductively calling out my name while they were waiting on top of the glass cases to be tagged for sale. The shopkeeper was friendly and spoke fluent English which made it easier for me to be in the buying mood, although I didn’t want to buy a single thing until I could visit the Grand Bazaar. But a lovely cuff bracelet spoke to me, and as I thought about the likelihood of this trip being my last one to Istanbul, I took out my credit card. I wanted to celebrate my memories, and this would add to my other souvenirs from my first trip to Turkey.
When I left the shop, I made note of where it was located making sure to take two business cards. For some reason at that moment I had a strange feeling that I would be back on that street again some day in the far future. It was lunch time, and I wanted to visit the Four Seasons Hotel. I couldn’t afford a room there but at least I could have lunch and tea, and I have been wanting to visit the place after seeing numerous pictures, and rave reviews earned them the #1 hotel in Istanbul. The rooftop was closed for reasons I did not know why, but the outdoor garden was open which was absolutely beautiful. I started with a nice glass of Turkish white wine while I leisurely read the menu. A delicious bowl of red lentil soup started my meal, then an eggplant pizza which was ginormous and delicious. Near the end of my meal while I was enjoying my Turkish tea, I noticed two women walking in and being seated right next to my table. They seemed to be in a hurry as they told the waiter that they must leave in less than 30 minutes. I was so glad that I was on my own time without any worries at all. Then, one of the women got up to use the ladies room and asked her friend how much time they had before they had to leave to catch the Whirling Dervishes. The Whirling Dervishes are Sufis , wearing all white, who whirl into religious ecstacy as a remembrance of God. I didn’t have the opportunity of catching the show on my first trip to Turkey so when the one woman was there by herself I asked her where and when the show was since I didn’t have any plans that night. As I expected the woman to give me directions and the starting time, she, instead, invited me to join her and her friend to the show. This is a perfect example of why I love to travel solo. You meet strangers that are immediate friends, and I swear, something magical happens. When I travel solo, I feel like kind souls appear as characters in my life just so I can tell a better, more interesting story. Of course, I am reminded of the Turkish doctor and Carla from my first trip to Istanbul, as well as the gay man from London whom I met in Barcelona.
The three of us took a cab to the place where the Whirling Dervishes were to perform. It was dinner time, and with the traffic we were told that we wouldn’t make it on time. Luckily, my new friend was Turkish, and so the cab driver told her that he would take us toward the back roads which were not allowed, but he would take us there. When he dropped us off, we only had to walk about a block or so. It was evident to me how confusing directions could be, especially in a foreign land, because my new Turkish friend was fluent but received two completely different set of directions. After being misdirected by the second set of directions, we agreed to take the advice of the first guy, even though the road ahead was dark. We decided to risk it. Of course, it was easier to do so because there were three of us. If I were alone, I wouldn’t have gone that route as it looked like a shady, dark street. So when the three of us finally approached what looked like a train station, we realized it was THE original train station of The Orient Express! I didn’t know the original endpoints of the famed route were Paris and Istanbul. I thought is was so cool that I was at THE famous train station and was about to watch the Whirling Dervishes. Again, the adventure of traveling solo fueled my WanderLust.
A group of much older men wearing bee-hive like hats approached the humble room and started to play their instruments. After a few songs five younger men entered the room wearing black cloaks underneath their all-white garments. After uncloaking they slowly started to spin looking upward. They were in a trance, and I must have been, too, for the hour performance seemed like a minute. Their spinning white skirts were gently fanning me as I was very close to them, and the slight breeze somehow comforted me. I wondered how they didn’t get dizzy or fall on the floor. When the performance was over I thought we would all get drinks or tea somewhere but instead, the ladies wanted to go home so we parted ways. It started to rain then, and with the few raindrops on my cheeks I was somehow consumed with utter sadness. A flood of memories suddenly enveloped me, and I started to cry. The last time I felt raindrops in Istanbul was from my prior trip to Turkey some two and a half years prior. That day is so clearly imprinted in my mind, and it is one of the saddest days of my life. It is the day the Turkish doctor and I said our last good bye. After we had tea by the Bosphorus it was getting cloudy, and we knew it would rain very soon. He held my hand as we crossed the busy intersection, hailed a cab, and because there was traffic we didn’t have time for a long goodbye, although the tea we shared was his way, I believe, of delaying our farewell. It was too abrupt, our goodbye. When the cab pulled up we quickly hugged, and as the door shut and the cab was pulling away, me looking back through the rear glass window while rain poured suddenly, my heart sank to the floor. It was palpable…even the cab driver looked back at me and knew that I was crying. I felt a deluge of tears as my vision began to blur, and I don’t know if I cried more in the back seat of that cab or more now as I’m writing this. It is amazing the clarity of my memory (as well as my utter sadness) of that day, and it amazes me more that a few raindrops could unlock such vivid details.
When the tram stopped near my hotel, I wanted to keep walking even though it was raining, and even though I had no umbrella. Who would see my tears, anyway? I walked around near my hotel but it was all uphill. I kept on going but it started to rain really hard. A little shop that had pretty sweets by the window greeted me, and I got a baklava and another pistachio pastry. By the time I had some tea and the sweets I wasn’t sad any longer. I was in Istanbul, after all, and my second day was pretty magical. When I checked the weather for the following day, it was supposed to be sunny. I smiled inside as I wondered what I would do the next day. Freedom was awaiting me in the morning along with some more Istanbul magic…