by M.J. Hearle
çok teşekkür ederim means thank you very much in Turkish. When spoken aloud it sounds like ‘two sugars and a dream’. I use the phrase frequently while visiting Istanbul and every time the locals grin. I suspect my pronunciation may be off. This is the last stop on our journey before returning home to Australia. It was also the first, however the memory of that initial visit four weeks ago is clouded by jet lag.
I remember wandering through the expansive courtyards of Topkapi Palace, staring up at the mosaicked ceiling of the Blue Mosque, taking moody photographs in Hagia Sophia, and searching the cool dark of the Basilica Cistern for its twin stone Medusa heads, but these memories are like a dream remembered – hazy, out-of-focus. This time I’m alert, which is a good thing as we intend to spend most of our time exploring the city outside the relative cobble-stoned calm of the Old Town,
Here, decent reflexes are mandatory if one is to survive. Cars, buses and trams careen through the streets changing lanes and direction without indicating. Street signs are suggestions rather than rules. Crossing the street requires a leap of faith. Car horns are used not only to berate, but to suggest, encourage, thank, and warn. However, like the rest of Turkey, what appears to be chaotic and disorderly is actually a system of sorts. A system I have no hope of understanding.
Our first day beyond the Old Town, Greta and I take a ferry cruise beneath the Bosporus Bridge. We meet an American musician named Truman and his lovely wife, Neridah. He teaches me things about photography, and we talk and philosophize about life and love. That night Greta and I eat dinner on a rooftop terrace and watch the sunset.
The next day we visit the market in Otokoy and eat kumpir which sounds exotic but is only baked potato. A collarless kitten nuzzles my ankle. I give it some meat. There are cats everywhere and no rats. Later, I dream that the city is actually ruled by cats and we humans are barely tolerated guests. Must stop reading Neil Gaiman before going to sleep.
The third day we visit the Grand Bazaar. Smiling fellows and fellowesses call to us from doorways, inviting us to inspect their wares. We decline, stopping only to buy some turkish delight. I get called ‘cowboy’ frequently because of my wide brimmed hat. With all the corridors, stalls, markets and mini-markets it’s easy to get disorientated. The Bazaar seems to go on forever –maybe all of Istanbul is a bazaar? The delusion has merit. Vendors lurk on every street corner, goods spread out on dirty blankets. You can still find them after midnight, trying to make a sale. In fact, vendors aside, I’m not sure if anyone in Turkey actually sleeps. I’ve certainly seen no evidence of it. The young man at the desk in our hotel reception sits there twenty four hours a day. He always has a smile and never seems tired.
The fourth and last day we explore Beyoglu, one of the trendier suburbs of modern Istanbul. I buy a couple of cheap t-shirts and we eat in a vegetarian restaurant. There are students and backpackers everywhere lending the area a charming bohemian vibe. Groups of them gather beneath Galata Tower laughing and drinking beer while the call to prayer rings out. I thoroughly enjoy my time. If I was to return, I’d skip the Old Town and find accommodation here. Beyoglu feels like the real Istanbul – brimming with life and culture.
For our final night we have a disappointing meal (our only really bad dining experience during the trip) that is rescued by the Turkish band serenading us. There is a violinist, a keyboardist, a drummer, and a clarinet player. The songs they sing sound terribly passionate even though I don’t understand the words. They might be singing about a clogged sink but it doesn’t matter. The music is big and colourful and very enjoyable. Turkey in a nutshell.
Tomorrow we hop on a plane and fly home. Back to the real world – desk jobs, mortgages, bills, responsibilities. Also friends, family and familiar beds. My feelings are mixed. On the one hand, I miss my usual life – on the other hand, I was just getting used to the thoroughly unusual life of the traveller. A new experience every day might be exhausting from time to time but it’s also incredibly stimulating. Thoughts have occurred to me that never would have back home – big thoughts, little thoughts, mainly thoughts about stories I’d like to write. In a few years I might look back on this trip to Turkey as a defining moment in my life. If not, then at the very least I’ll have a collection of warm memories.