Thursday, April 9, 2009

First Impressions of Istanbul

I was not sure that I even wanted to go to Turkey. Especially not sure that I wanted to go to Turkey with a toddler. It was a mysterious, strange land where people dressed differently and held different beliefs than me. My friend, Kate, went to Turkey a couple of years ago and I remember being in awe at her courage and go-get-em attitude for travel. Kate's photos were so mythical and foreign. I never dreamed I would have the opportunity to see it firsthand. And so when Kirk found a flight deal, I was reluctant to say yes. But then I thought - what the heck? You only live once. Plus there were a few "I will go, but...." points along with my agreement. One was that we would invest in private guide/drivers to make our short time efficient, more coordinated and in my mind, safer. Luckily things are pretty cheap in Turkey, so that was a happy compromise that helped me rest easier and focus more on Connor in the midst of our Turkish whirlwind. Cappadocia Tours put together the pieces of our trip with us. And sure enough, the treat of having a van ready and waiting and not having to look down at a map gave us the relief and comfort to soak everything in all the more while tending to Connor's needs.

My first impressions of Turkey were different from my initial fears and anxieties. I was struck right away by the flowers everywhere. Look out Holland....Turkey seems to be a big tulip country also! Tulips of every color lined the 20 miles from the airport into town. We rode right along the oceanfront - the blue, blue water was also surprising. Connor was excited when she saw all of the playgrounds. There must have been a playground with new, updated equipment every quarter mile or so. People were out and about and enjoying life. Things seemed clean and welcoming.

We stayed at the Emine Sultan Hotel right near the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia. I have stayed at a lot of places in my life - but honestly I have never stayed somewhere that anticipated and prepared more for our arrival. We were greeted warmly as we stepped out of the van and Connor was showered with small gifts. The owner came and met us and told us to please make ourselves at home. She encouraged us to take extras from the breakfast buffet as day snacks for Connor and they even put a large carton of milk in our fridge. Every afternoon they gave us wine on the terrace and even cold Diet Coke for me. No extra charge. And for ease they kept our stroller in their lobby so we didn't have to cart it up and down or jam it in our small room. Emine Sultan is a quaint hotel with only 20 rooms. The decor isn't necessarily earth shattering, but the service absolutely is.

Connor would flirt with the reception guy every time we passed. She and he especially enjoyed watching the 2 goldfish swim around in a small bowl with food-colored-blue water. Very touching.

The night we arrived we walked around to get the lay of the land. We were not far from many sites and to catch glimpses of the Blue Mosque, the Hippodrome and the Hagia Sophia was just the spark I needed to energize me for the days ahead. There just was so much to learn. And I was ready to be taught.

For dinner we tried a nearby place Ozen, the owner of Emine Sultan, recommended called Buhara. We had delicious marinated Turkish kabobs, meat and flat bread. It makes my mouth water just to type about it. And when I tried the fresh tomatoes along with my meal I looked at Kirk gaping. I had no idea that Turkey is also known for having yummy tomatoes. But it is.

Our first afternoon there, I was still struck by the differences. I can't say it felt comfortable to hear the Muslim call for prayer 5 times per day beckoning and reverberating around the city loudspeakers. The sounds were eerie and jarring. But that is why we travel, right? To learn and to grow. Somehow by learning more about how others live I feel like I strengthen my own faith while at the same time opening my mind to different ways of life. Two irrational opposites that become a logical yin and yang when in new places.

It felt a little like I was living in the first scenes of Disney's Aladdin. Turkey is a land of sultans and grand bazaars. It is a land of women covering all but their eyes, carpets (woven by hand) and a complex ancient history. Turkey is also a country that really knows how to roll out that magic red carpet for tourists. Over the next days I would learn that there are indeed intense differences, but also reassuring overlaps between the Turks and me.

1 comment:

Stacie B said...

The only thing I'm concerned about is that you seem like you are positively having a whirlwind adventure...will you ever want to come back??