I got back late last night from five days in Istanbul – I miss it already. It’s my new favourite place in the world (well, definitely top five). I can’t wait to go back.
I went with my best school-friend, who I have known since I was 12. We both needed a break and this was the perfect one. Istanbul is a kind city, with people to match; it treated us gently, and we felt safe and looked after. We felt happy, relaxed and comfortable in our skins in Istanbul, and perfected our Turkish look, which we christened ‘The Istanbul I-don’t-care’ (consisting mainly of many layers and running shoes for pounding the streets all day – we walked and walked, didn’t use public transport once).
We have come back with our suitcases and bellies a bit heavier, our spirits a little lighter.
Breakfast feasts of eggs, cheese, olives and pastries that would last us nearly all day. Baklava and tiny coffees, sweet tea served in little glasses. Our favourite café, with embroidered sofas and lanterns out in the street, blazing sunshine and incongruous 50s rock n roll.
Lighting candles and wishing on ancient relics. The call to prayer that echoes through the city five times a day, mournful somehow.
The beautiful people we met, who chatted endlessly, asked interesting questions, looked after us, shared their bread/tea/culture, were sweet about our valiant attempts to speak Turkish and our questions about Islam. My affinity for the Turks seems to be so great that it manifested physically – nearly everyone assumed I was Turkish; rarely guessed that either of us was English. A nice holiday from identity.
The cats that dart around every corner, lying in the sunshine, jumping from the roofs. They are well looked after here – unlike in Greece. They are good luck charms and treated accordingly – many of the shops have water bowls outside; the restaurants leave their leftovers out. We saw gangs of friendly cats eating cold scrambled eggs, chopped up salami and plates of chips. The special kittens with David Bowie eyes.
The Grand Bazaar and its treasures. The superstitions that appealed to me everywhere – I came back excessively armed with amulets, evil eyes; as well as Turkish slippers, rug, throw, bowls, scarf…
The heat and steam of the hamam – built in 1584, feeling the communal spirit and the history of all the women before us. Being scrubbed and pummelled, easing our feeble Western bones.
We arrived unnecessarily timid, tired, unsure of the lie of the land. We left feeling more at home than we could have imagined.
We will bring home from Istanbul: a spirit of adventure, confidence, security in ourselves. My post-holiday resolutions: yoga, kindness to self and others, health and saving.
As I said, I flew home late last night – and came back to work at the crack of dawn this morning. I will write about Istanbul more, I know. My head and heart are so full of Istanbul, I still have a lot to process. A little sleep first, perhaps.