Thursday, July 14, 2011

Istanbul: Great Expectations

Mezquita Azul

It all started with the novel Regards from the Dead Princess written by the French author-journalist Kenizé Mourad.

I desperately needed a vacation and a friend of mine, Kika Rocha kindly suggested Istanbul.

She would talk for hours about the Bosphorus, the Ciragan Palace, the Ottoman Empire and that particular book like only a local would do.

I always dreamed of the Middle East. I was not infatuated, I was obsessed-- but I confess I was afraid to jump straight to Egypt or Jordan, I needed an in between to begin with. So when Kika started with the Istanbul PR campaign it seemed like an organic choice.

I couldn't help it. I saw myself buying all kind of spices, even if I don't know how to cook, getting jewels and antiques even if I was broke and praying in the Blue Mosque even if I was catholic. In my wildest dreams, I never imagined arriving at 2:00AM to an empty airport and find out the driver forgot to pick me up. However, that is material for another story.

When it comes to travel decisions, I must admit that besides my gut, I look for specific characteristics in a destination. The far and away element by itself does not make a trip exotic or memorable. That's for rookies...

To me, there has to be a some sort of sea involved, delicious food, history, shopping of course, excitement, cultural richness and back in the day maybe romance, why not?
Things changed slightly after reading Esmeralda Santiago's The Turkish Lover. 

I decided that the only affair I would have was named baklava-the dangerous pastry made of layers of filo filled with nuts and sweetened with honey-enough said. I packed light and carried on.

I remember my first morning over there. I managed somehow to make it in one piece to the hotel.
I woke up to a beautiful Muslim prayer. It was so early that I really believed I was dreaming, but it happened again, and again and again. We weren't in Kansas anymore.

After a breakfast for champions that consisted pretty much in yogurt and bread, I decided to break the ice and walk this way. And so I did, I walked for hours until, like Cinderella, I had to return to my hotel because I literally could not feel my feet.

I did everything one could do...I had lots of tea, ate as many baklava my stomach could take, I drank turkish coffee twice a day, wondered underneath the Galata Bridge, got the kebab spices at the market, took the typical pictures with one hand, prayed at the Mosque, made some friends, ran like crazy because I had a man following me,  obviously visited a hammam and loved every second of it.

The stamp on my passport still brings back beautiful memories...To this moment, I don't know if I love more the Sultan Ahmed Blue Mosque or the Haghia Sofia but it doesn't matter,  by now I've learned it's perfectly okay not to be a know it all.

XOXO Jen A.K.A La Gerente

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