Merhaba (hello in Turkish) and bonjourno (good morning in Italian)!
We have just arrived to Italy after 12 pretty cool days in Istanbul, Turkey. Wow, what a feast for the eyes, especially after being in New Zealand for 5 months. The city is beautiful, busy, colorful, chaotic, loud, alive 24 hours a day. The Muslim calls to prayer could be heard from almost any corner of the city. The culture is rich and deep. The architecture, incredible and the buildings so very very old.
After recovering from jet lag (we traveled over 28 hours from New Zealand to Istanbul) we easily navigated throughout the city on the incredible subway/bus/tram line system they have in place to get the 25 million people that live in Istanbul moving. We ventured out to visit the island that our dear friend Julia grew up on via ferry. On the ferry we loved hearing musicians play their instruments for a few Turkish lira that the crowd would offer when they were done.
But it definitely felt very different to any city that I have ever traveled to. The Turkish language was very difficult to pick up, the Turkish people we encountered were friendly but guarded, and we were often hassled by “tour guides” and merchants whenever we wandered into the more touristy parts of town. Being a city with a majority Muslim population, we had to be careful with what we wore, both on our body and our feet. Smiles were difficult to elicit from the locals. Heavily armored police and metal detectors/x-ray scanners are a part of daily life. Bars on apartment windows and doors everywhere.
We rented a 3rd floor apartment through Airbnb in a trendy, but not touristy neighbourhood. The place was perfect for us, with restaurants and a grocery store just down the street and a convenience store just below us. The kids loved doing the grocery shopping for us and were thrilled with the numerous cats that lived in the neighbourhood-not strays as they had little homes to sleep in and were fed by the locals (and cars always stopped for them and dogs if they ran out into the streets). It was wonderful to have a home base for 12 days straight and to only have to unpack once. Thinking about it, 12 days in one spot was the longest we have stayed in any one place in the past 9 months. We enjoyed turkish food, turkish tea and sweet baklava. We loved the wonderful strawberries so perfectly ripe.
Our travels around the city brought us to the famous Blue Mosque, the Grand Bazaar, the Basicila Cistern and Topkapi Palace. We loved the Istanbul Modern Art Museum. We also found our way to the Galata Tower, a beautiful library called Salt Galata and different neighbourhoods along the waterfront. For Jamey and Becca, we visited a place called “Miniaturk”, a minature garden full of the amazing buildings and ruins and landmarks that are found in Turkey. Becca and I went to church at St. Antoine Cathedral as mass was offered in english at 10 am on Sunday. It was so beautiful and lovely to be there in the midst of that large, busy city. We found some peace and time for reflection. We then experienced a turkish bath-something that we will not quickly forget and made all the more hilarious because of our language barrier.
We all got our feet wet again into being back on the road, amongst people who don’t speak english, who eat differently than us, that are different from us. There were some trying times, for sure, for each of us at different times while we in Istanbul but the treasures we found, saw and experienced will keep us going, one day at a time, until we get back home again.