For some reason, I woke up this morning thinking about Istanbul, one of my favorite cities. In fact, it was one of my favorite cities before I had the opportunity to visit Turkey.
When I was a kid growing up in Los Angeles, my family rarely traveled outside of the city and never outside of the state. Travel outside of the country was inconceivable!
My Dad had died in a car accident when I was very young and my Mom never quite recovered from his loss. And since he died returning from a fishing trip in Mexico, well, for her, travel just didn’t have its allure anymore. I guessed there was no way I was going to travel for a few years, so, I did the next best thing and started to read about all of the places that I hoped to see whenever travel was going to enter my life.
After all that reading, at 10 years of age, I had somehow decided my life list. It was short, my horizons had not yet expanded. Of course, there was the matter of money for traveling and I did not have any nor any prospect of getting any. Fortunately, lack of funds was never a reason not to plan, at least for me, so I decided I needed to do some homework and planwhere I really wanted to explore, just in case some unknown relative bequeathed me with a fortune.
London, of course, was a must – just on the basis of Sherlock Holmes, Baker Street, the Tower of London and Paddington Station (you bear fans will know what I mean). Unfortunatelly for London, I had two posters of other, more desirable places tacked to the wall of my bedroom.
One old, cracked, poster was a drawing of Mont St. Michel, while the other was a stylized graphic of Istanbul, complete with minarets. Mont St. Michel was there because I had read some great kid’s mystery that involved Mont. St. Michel, the mysterious, medieval abbey somewhere along the coast of France. Istanbul deserved its place in my small room, because of its history and its role as the place where “East meets West”, although I wasn’t quite sure what that really meant – I was sure that it was important! Of course, the stylized, garish poster adorning my wall was labeled both with Istanbul and Constantinople, making this ancient city even more mysterious.
Fast forward a few years and my travel list was growing. I really enjoyed visiting London and was thrilled when I was able to explore Mont Mt. St, Michel, but for some reason Istanbul left me with a deep need to return again and again. The attraction is so strong that it makes me want to stop-in anytime I am reasonably (or unreasonably) near.
I first saw Istanbul from the deck of a Windstar ship, at the end of glorious cruise of the Greek Islands and parts of the Turkish coast. I had never been a fan of cruises, so it came as a surprise to me that the Windstar experience was so enjoyable. Maybe it was the small-sized ship, perhaps it was the customized itinerary – but even the considerable enjoyment I had on the cruise paled in comparison to the jolt that I received when I saw Istanbul from the Golden Horn.
Topkapi Palace, the Blue Mosque, the Suleymaniye Mosque, and Hagia Sophia seemed to dominate the horizon and I knew that I had finally arrived at the edge of my boyhood dream, exploring the city where East meets West. I guess there are places like that for every traveler, but it was love at first sight for me.
The historic monuments were stunning, the Turkish Classic Architecture of the Blue Mosque and the Suleymaniye Mosque were exceptional in their complexity and superb in their execution. The Spice Market was smaller and more aromatic that I had expected, while the covered Bazaar was larger and less mysterious than I had hoped. Hagia Sophia was breathtaking and I spent much time thinking about the Emperor Justinian, his dome and the earlier Byzantine era. The Topkapi Palace was excellent, but too large and complex to take in during a single visit. The Bosporus proved to be an exciting, energetic highway to Asia and beyond, always beckoning and always delivering a new treat just just ahead.
However, the greatest treasure of Istanbul for me was its people and their important culture. While there are many notable thing about Istanbul, it is a small memory that might help you understand my romance with this timeless city.
I remember especially their flat bread. called lavash. One night we were eating at a particularly good restaurant and I was consuming massive quanities of lavash. The owner laughed with me as I asked for more and then, he asked if I would like to tour their bakery. Off we went into the depths of the restaurant to a large and spotless room equipped with a large ceramic kiln, being fed by a crew of five who were as proud as could be to welcome us to their workplace. Istanbul was a continual series of meetings between old friends I had never known before, but who became important to me the minute I walked into their store or restaurant.
I guess it’s time to go back – I need some Istanbul. If you can’t get there now, take a look at our guide to Istanbul. After all, thinking about travel is the next best thing to doing it.
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