I came to Istanbul to get over a boy.
That may seem a bit insane but I had always wanted to come here. Then I woke up ‘the-morning-after-the-heart-breaking-night-before’ and just thought running seemed like a good idea.
I wouldn’t advise it.
Because at first it was an absolute disaster! I was not in my right mind at all so I encountered many mishaps simply from not thinking straight… For example, at Istanbul airport I sauntered onto the white Havas bus out of the searing heat, comfortably cocooned in this air-conditioned womb that was going to drive me to the safety of Taksim Square.
Only it wasn’t the right Havas bus.
I didn’t know they went to several different locations. And I was so wrapped up in my issues I never bothered to ask. So when the bus stopped in the middle of no-where and no-one could understand me I realised I’d better start paying attention… They took pity on me, drove me the hour back to the airport then physically put me on the right bus.
So several hours later I crossed the Bosphorous, finally, into the City.
And the hotel was awful! Of course I hadn’t researched it properly - it was so last minute. But there was a redeeming issue. I had opted to stay in the Old Town: Sultanahmet, and eventually, despite the madness and multitudes of tourists and taxis speeding down too-small, cobbled streets I found peace.
Because in my street, in this quaint part of Istanbul, I was nestled in the bosoms of two of the most famous holy places in the world: Aya Sophia and The Blue Mosque.
With Aya Sophia on my right, all soft brown curves like an accepting, sympathetic mother, and the Mosque on my left with its six magnificent minarets pointing to the heavens with authority, like a stern and protective father, I felt my troubles melt away. I felt the burden lifting as my mind became embroiled in issues that seemed more worthy: Spirituality, Philosophy, History.
And as my short-break continued I began to understand that these positive qualities don’t really come from the buildings themselves but from people, as my stay was accentuated by the kindness of the cities inhabitants. Like the man in my new hotel who cut me a deal on a lovely room, then rang my airline to find out exactly where I was flying from…I didn’t want to end up in the wrong place again! This kindness took many other forms: free plates of fruit after meals, friendly chatter, help with other issues that were causing me to hyperventilate, and constant compliments.
Having visited many souks in The Middle East I braced myself for a similar onslaught in Istanbul’s ‘Grand Bazaar’…but it never came, thanks to their “Hassle Police” keeping an eye on the merchants. On one rooftop restaurant I’d waited patiently for nightfall so I could observe the many mosques and the boats on the Bosphorus by twilight. But I’d underestimated the chill that would infuse the air as the sun went down. However, just as I began to regret not bringing clothing more substantial than a cardigan I felt something soft being laid across my shoulders: a blanket, compliments of the management.
Here, I can drink house wine, in a café on a cobbled street, that tastes as strong as brandy and not care, as I’m busy watching cats playing with each other and watching scooters piled with people speeding by. Here it’s okay for the woman next to me in the ladies to wipe her underarms with a tissue then take a sniff - I see her interested expression in the mirror and it makes me smile. And it’s okay for me to be woken up at the crack of dawn because it’s the Muezzin and I’ve always loved the sound carried on a gentle breeze. Although here, the mosque is next to me and the muezzin isn’t just a background noise but an insistent old granddad telling me off five times a day, demanding that I consider something more spiritual than the earthly issues which keep me chained in sadness, like Jacob Marley in ‘A Christmas Carol‘.
Yes, I came to Istanbul to get over a boy.
And I’m glad I did.
I came because I was broken and Istanbul fixed me. I came because I was tired and Istanbul energised me. I came because I was burnt-out and Istanbul filled me with fire.