“Whatever you do, please don’t go to Egypt or Turkey!” Those were a few of the messages left on my cellphone a couple of days before we left, a little on the late side since our flights were already booked and we were charged to go, but concern duly noted. I’ve seen plenty of travel warnings before a trip and they have most always been exaggerated. Here we are flying into Istanbul, peacefully taking the subway from the airport into the old part of town and all is just fine, in fact, beautiful, romantic and bustling with life! Since we found outrageous hostel prices online for Istanbul, I thought it might be a good idea to try out the dorm thing. As soon as we took one look at the dorm we made a reservation for we realized what an absurd idea it was of mine! Why on earth would we want to share our room with 2 other people? We turn around, headed down the street, hot and sweaty with slightly over packed packs on and conveniently ran into Amid, who is feeling very generous today, enough to give us a great deal on a new room. This is the kind of luck we keep having, and we look at each other and just laugh! Settled in, showered and happy, we take off to explore the town, but don’t get very far when a Happy Hour sign stops us right in our tracks. Beer, nuts, spinach pancakes made by this wonderful woman sitting up above us slaving over a hotplate, great story telling by the Turkish waiters, they literally have us tempted to stay the rest of the evening. Overwhelmed by the romantic-ness of it all, probably because we just came from filthy Cairo, we decide to make a break for it and try to absorb a little more before the sun goes down. The protests in Tahrir Square have taken a toll on tourism and every establishment seemed hungry for business. The harassing was nothing like in Egypt, but they definitely made it hard to say no. We met a waiter from Syria who told us his whole life story in about 15 minutes. The first thing he told us was that he misses his very pregnant wife’s smell and took a big whiff with a dramatic waving hand gesture and looked at Simon and said: “I’m like a bottle of water – when you’re thirsty you can drink me…” and smiled and pointed to me. Lol. His wife has to stay in Jordan with her family while he works day and night in Turkey to save money for the baby and is clearly in need of seeing her! He was so passionate about food and swimming and the ocean and life and love it was heartbreaking to have to tell him we weren’t quite ready to sit down for dinner just yet. The Turkish were way more laid back and so far we were having a little love affair with Istanbul. After walking around for a couple of hours tasting local treats we ironically end up right back at our Happy Hour place and splurged on a fantastic lamb dish with a bottle of red. After Egypt, no doubt we earned it!
No decision was made yet on our destination move after Istanbul, it was either to head to Greece via Efesus or south through Cappadoccia. Amid was from Cappadoccia and he didn’t need to do much convincing, he made it sound like an unbelievably magical place and we found a $60 flight, so sweet, done! Booking flight arrangements was enough organizing for me, but Amid highly recommended we make all of our arrangements from Istanbul. I start to slowly feel a panic attack coming on. It’s been nothing but big cities and sight seeing since the Blue Voyager and I’m getting a little claustrophobic craving some rural, non-touristy country time. I try to explain that that’s not how we travel and we can figure it out when we get there, but once again, we’ve come across another very persuasive hotel owner. He insisted on taking us over to the travel agency and Simon thought it couldn’t hurt. He had us booking our airport shuttle, hot air balloon ride, some stupid underground city tour and god knows what else. Simon looks at me like sure, why not, makes it all nice and easy, and I’m shaking a big fat no! To me, traveling is not necessarily about everything you get to see but about the incredible experiences you have with the people you meet along the way. Sitting on a tourist bus crammed like a herd of cattle is not my idea of a fun way to see the sights. I’d rather not see them then at all if that’s the only way to see them. I said no to just about everything but the balloon ride but still felt it was idiotic for us to pay that in Istanbul and thought there’s no way possible we were getting a better deal from a city that’s 9 hours away by car. I got upset and felt uneasy about our view on traveling. I’d like to make my money last a little longer, and when you take the local out of backpacking things start to add up and the adventure goes out the window. Here it was, the dreaded moment. Simon went up to the room because his stomach was still bothering him from the bad water incident in Egypt and I sat downstairs to have some tea. Amid walked over and asked what was wrong? He was in the travel office with us and saw my very unhappy face. I just told him that we’ve never traveled before, and that this is Simon’s first backpacking trip and I’m stubborn about the way I like to travel. He starts telling me that his last girlfriend was just like me, likes to travel the same, and that he enjoys the finer things, like Simon. He told me to back off and compromise and I laughed. Did I just get put in my place? When Simon came down Amid pulled him aside and told him to keep in mind that without me, he would die! Hahaha. So there you have it, life lessons from the Turkish owner of the Lamp Hotel! We sat down, had some apple tea courtesy of Amid and figured out a way to travel with a little of both! Then we took off for his recommendation of a Turkish Bath ( Hamam ) – kind of like a Korean spa but with a soapy bath massage on hot marble stone and then wash your hair and shower you down. A first experience for both of us, and it was exactly what we needed! Then it was date night! Simon had this grand idea of getting dressed up at least one night in every new town and Istanbul was date number one! Cobble stone streets didn’t lend well to high heeled wedges, but I still worked my nice long dress and Simon rocked his matching green shirt, all wrinkled from our packs, we styled the streets of Istanbul and ate at another one of Amid’s recommendations: local fish restaurant that left us speechless and me trying to feed all the kittens at the end of our meal. Baklava treat on the way home and then more tea with Amid. Three days in Istanbul with still intermittent rough patches from our bad water bout, but not enough to keep us from thoroughly relishing the food, people, mosques, artwork and looking forward to much more Turkey! Amid woke up at 5am the next morning to send us off with well wishes for a safe and happy journey! Gewle Gewle Istanbul!!
Picture credits: Simon and Alice