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Istanbul: A city of crossroads across two continents

We grabbed a chicken and lettuce wrap for lunch. We had just taken a very comfortable position spreading out in the little lounge corner of the office. As I spread some mayonnaise across my wrap, Nazia lifts the ring pull of her Diet Coke as she digs right into hers, chewing lightly and making conversation specifically highlighting that she was itchy to go away in October. I asked her what she had in mind as I took a big wide bite. She said Istanbul. Hmmm I had not thought of Istanbul as an immediate priority city on my travel list. It was on there but clearly so far down the list. There was no particular reason but when I think of it, some of the contributors could be as a result of a general lack of promotion of Turkey. I didn’t think it was one of those cities that featured highly in the travel community or even more factual, the security and conflict situation there had put people off. Naz asked me if I would be her travel partner as she was keen to go. I responded. “Of course, never been so would love to”. Naz was super excited. I smiled at her excitement. She said “June, we are going to have a great time”. I replied “as if, of course we will, I am coming”. She gave me the middle finger. After a little blether over lunch, I went back to my desk, checked the travel advice and guidance page of the FCO website and it recommended that Istanbul was relatively safe. However, they advised that tourists had to be on high security alert. With my chronic wanderlust syndrome cooking and my feet beginning to itch, I started to research this ancient city positioned on the blue ribbon of the Bospherous strait, a city which borders between Asia and Europe with stunning historic sites and a heck of eastern influence. Few weeks later after discussing with Neil about how I was going to ditch him in London and hop on a girly weekend city break, I bought my plane tickets, booked our hotel, packed a little suitcase and off we flew. Neil had prepared me, advising on interesting things to do when we got there. He visited a while ago so that even made it easier to have a premeditated itinerary of activities. He knows what I like so his recommendations are always my guide. As we landed and got our luggage from the over head compartment, I thought about the most profound truth of Turkey; a place where literally east meets west. It excited me. A city named in 2015 as European’s Capital of Culture. A city of artistic treasures, frescoes and mosaics successfully persevered by the Ottomans Turks. A city rich in legends, tales of love lost, involving mtylogical gods and medicinal prophecies. The city of Egyptian obelisks, one of culinary excellence and soul food varying from sizzling mezes and kebabs to perfectly cooked grills and glorious meat fests. Not to mention the Turkish delights! Few days into our trip, I wrote a little email to Neil and it read: Hey buh, It’s been great. Weather just perfect as you said. So far I have visited the Blue Mosque, absolutely stunning - Naz loved it. She is Muslim so she could connect with a lot of stuff in Istanbul. I have had a proper Turkish bath and spent a day pampering our bodies to a local Hamam at the world famous Aya Sofia spa. It was divine. The women bathed us, scrubbed us, splashed us and massaged us to a climax of relaxation and glow. Highlight of my trip. I have visited the Basilca Cistern, the Hagia Sofia and the Galata Tower, the museum of Islamic Arts, the world renowned Topkapi Palace, the Archeological Museum, the famous Nus-ret Turkish chef/restaurant. I have had a spa treat for free at the Swiss hotel with lots of freebies including Turkish delights and Aya Sofia take aways. I have had local Turkish teas and coffees. Not loving the coffee at all. Nah. It’s the only coffee in the world I don’t dig. Preface: Recently I stumbled on this article that talks about the demise of an empire by the Turkish coffee. Of course you know I would have been to lots of local Bazars and got some spices, loose tea and bits and bobs. I have done a bit of wandering around Istanbul. I had a chat today with their police men (who were clearly and outrightly flirting). Shameless men! 😊 Even had some soldiers wave at me. Aren’t men in the army supposed to be stoic, deadpan, stonefaced?

I mingled with the locals. I have been called all sorts such as “Chocolate”, “Michele Obama”, “Naomi Campbell”- it’s their way of identifying with black women. They name you after the famous black women they know. Apparently a couple of black ladies I met here have said the same. It’s funny though. It’s the way they even yell it - in a lyrical way. Choooo-cooo-lete!!!

I always give them a little wave like I am some celebrity. Ha!

They can’t seem to wrap their heads around a British or European black woman visiting Istanbul. They see many black American women tourists so it seemed a little quirky that I was Black and from London. Anytime a local wanted to strike conversation, the first question they ask is “Are you from the US?”. Naz is still shocked at the number of times I have been stopped randomly by tourists to take pictures with them. A Russian, an Argentinian, A Costa Rican couple and of course the Turks!

So if you see my photograph on a random person’s social media account. It would have been taken in Istanbul. Someone even took a random photo of me on the tram today without permission. But you will know this, we took the boat ride to the Asian part of Turkey (via the Bosphorus) as we are on the European side of Istanbul. Isn’t it fascinating that Turkey is the only country in the world which borders on 2 continents?

Oh and without going into politics, apparently, they have been trying so hard to join the EU for so long but no luck. The irony eh? They are trying to join, we are striving to leave. The country’s leadership is an absolute joke, quite similar to British and American politics. They call Taxis “Taksi” and have the yellow New York cabs. Can’t even begin to talk about the food culture here. Kebabs and all shades of meat! I need a major detox when I get back. Oh my! Nazia has been a wonderful travel companion. Didn’t envisage things will go well. You know how I get when I go away with girls. Major anxiety for unnecessary drama.

But I guess it’s good to try new things and do stuff with someone new. She does like her Instagram though. Permanently on it. What an absolute diva👨‍🎤 We even did some window shopping for high fashion in the Bospherous. From Chanel, to Hermès, to Tom Ford. We both saw a TF bag we both loved but couldn’t afford to spend £2k on a bag so we quietly and shamelessly snuck out of the store and laughed so hard at how broke ass we were. Tomorrow we have the Dolmabahce Palace next to the hotel to explore before headed to the airport. This hotel is absolute bliss. We have a Nespresso coffee machine in the room. My joy! Massive tele! Beautiful sea view, hot stone shower and steam room, and an amazing luck of hotel facilities free. There is a lovely little park next to us and we played with a number of pretty dogs running round the park with their owners. We had jazz night 2 nights ago at the hotel bar. The pianist was great and the artist sang so beautifully. She was proper fit. I thought about you the whole time as I sipped a really nice glass of white wine listening to love songs. Security is very tight everywhere - with scanners in most buildings including the hotel.

It’s been a journey. Probably not somewhere I would revisit relatively soon but glad I can count it as my number 34! Pictures coming up! Anyway above all, I have had a great laugh and a great time here. We are flying back home tomorrow so look forward to seeing you. It’s been another beautiful travel experience. an exploration of the world and the creation of God. Call you later buh, I love you xxx 9th October, 2017 As I finished writing the email and sending it, Naz tells me I am being anti-social. I am like “You can talk eh, for someone who practically has her mobile surgically glued to her hands, Its very rich coming from you”- and we had a good laugh over our last dinner in Istanbul. The next day after exploring neighboring sites local to us, we jump back on a plane, home bound. Istanbul, an adventure of people, history, art, food, travel, culture, and soul.

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