Wow. That’s all I can think. Just wow.
My first view of Istanbul is from the plane window. I crane my neck to look through the little glass box, over the shoulder of the woman who is sat next to me. The birds-eye view captures only a fraction of the city’s complicated personality. I see red house roofs all packed into one area, with countless minarets and domes standing out over the rest. So many beautiful mosques in one area. Subhanallah. Then there are tall buildings, towering over one another to overlook the water, which comes next, at the same time as a rather shaky landing and the emergence of my usually non-existent travel sickness. I stop peeking out from the corner of the window and try to hold back the content of my stomach. Very romantic.
The heat is actually cool, and the sky is not really that blue, compared to the southern coastal town we just travelled from. I’m literally too excited to even stand still to catch a taxi, and just spin around in an attempt to digest the masses of people and buildings, which is only just the road outside of the airport. The air is humid, with a slight breeze bringing the mixed up smells of pollution and greenery. Good afternoon Istanbul.
We caught a taxi quite fast, considering that it is rush hour. The taxi driver actually came to pick up a booked transfer, but they ditched him, so we took that one instead. The taxi driver is talking about the traffic and swearing at other drivers, whilst listening to a Turkish song on the radio. I tune him out and listen to the noises of the bustling city outside of the window. It is massive. I always knew that Istanbul is a huge city, but I did not imagine it like this. This is beyond huge. The main roads are three-laned traffic heavens, surrounded by ginormous billboards and tall buildings which serve as shops, hotels, apartments and everything else all in one.
I tune back in to the taxi-drivers babble, as three beautiful kids approach the car and ask for money. ‘Many Syrian refugees have come to Turkey’, he says. ‘Is that kid Syrian?’ I ask while pointing to one boy who was running to another car. He answers with ‘I don’t know. Some Turkish people ask for money too, and say they are Syrian’. The first strings are pulled. The girl on my right keeps smiling and knocking on my window, moving with the car, whilst the taxi driver tells us not to open the window, and horns to shoo them away.
There is a little trouble finding the hotel, as there are two with the same name, run by the same people, and actually look quite similar, but eventually we arrive and check in. The hotel in Dalyan was a small, family run hotel with beautiful plants and gardens, and the sound of crickets drifting through the window, and a view of mountains and a pool. This hotel is a typical city hotel, with 5 floors and the the sound of traffic and boat horns.
The street has more people than pavement space, and crossing the road is a skill in itself – dodging cars and trams and people all at the same time. We relaxed for a bit then decided that it is time to eat. The options are endless. Everywhere we turn, menus are being shoved into our faces. Literally! The restaurant workers stand outside trying to pull in as many tourists as possible. I smile and nod as I continue to walk past the calls of ‘hajji hajji’ (a term used to refer to somebody who has completed the Hajj pilgrimage, even though we never have. My husband has a beard, which many people tend to keep after completing Hajj, so the people kind of figured he had). I am a sensible eater and spender, and will not pay tourist prices for food which will taste better at a local price. However, I finally give in to one persistent man with a reasonable priced and a picture of a tasty-looking platter. A group of cats come to join us whilst we eat and drink turkish tea. One of them has the most beautiful eyes, and a persuasive ‘meow’, and I almost want to give it a bit of my food before the waiter notices my husband’s scared look (yup, cat hater!), and shoos them away.
We finish eating and make our way to the place I have always wanted to be – the spot where I can see Sultanahmet mosque (Blue mosque) on one side and the Hagia Sofia on the other. We continue down the busy streets, following the tram line, and I can’t help but notice the women and children with dirty, tattered clothes scattered on the street corners. Refugees. They mumble to us in Arabic, as we stroll past. Two children play coloured recorders, and look down at their money box. I definitely did not expect this.
The two buildings are beautiful beyond imagination. Wow. Wow. Wow. Fountains and trees and paths and people separate them both as they both stand tall in all their grandeur. I take like a million pictures, like the proper tourist I am.
The call to prayer starts, and we perform ablution and pray. After prayer, I get a proper look at the blue mosque from the inside. It is absolutely amazing! In fact, amazing isn’t even the word. It is more. Much more. I cannot even describe how surreal it feels to sit on the marble steps, staring at the perfect picture. It feels fake and real all at the same time. I am transported through hundreds of years, where so many others walk on the same marble I sit on, and the birds are still the only ones who can meet each other on the dome of of one of the most beautiful mosques in the world. Tears are streaming down my cheeks now. Another string pulled.
To be continued…
Everybody seems to need something in this city, even the cats.