The only city in the world spanning across two continents with a great divide, yet such unity. This paradox is within Istanbul. The city was quite different than what I had initially imagined it to be.
On our way to the hotel, the sight of children playing along the seaside by the ancient city walls of Constantinople created a contrast of old and new that isn’t present in any other place.
â–º Quarter Finalist 2011 Teen Travel Writing Scholarship
The first night, we walked around Sultanahmet and absorbed the sights and sounds of our surroundings. It seemed surreal – exotic, yet strangely familiar. As we looked for something to satisfy our grumbling stomachs, the shopkeepers enticed us with a colorful array of mezzes. They welcomed us into their family business as if we were old friends, giving “hospitality” a whole new definition. They wore genuine smiles as they fed. It was heartwarming to see such modesty and happiness within a simple family business. Within one night, we had fallen in love with the city. Nothing could take away from the moment…except sleep.
The rest of our week in Istanbul had many more exciting things to offer. Each day, we looked forward to enjoying delicious goat milk ice cream. I know that sounds gross, but eat it! The ice cream vendors can get very entertaining. We entered the abodes of Ottoman Kings and peeked into their extravagant lifestyle. We watched the Ottoman Military Band perform – their music, still rings in my ears. In comparison to the rest of the wonders we had witnessed, the Grand Bazaar was a disappointment. The only “attraction” there was 5,000 sweaty tourists eagerly waiting to get ripped off. Our week in Istanbul went by quickly and it was time to explore other cities.
The next week was filled with more historical marvels. I treaded upon the soil of Homer’s Troy, crouched in the trenches at Gallipoli where WW1 was fought, and spent the night at KeravanSerayi, once the residence of an Ottoman judge. I walked through the ancient streets of Ephesus, strolled through the house where Virgin Mary is believed to have spent her last few years, and swam in a spring that once belonged to Queen Cleopatra! Even the village of Selchuk, where a mosque, a church, and temple were present all in one eyeful managed to bring contrasting religions together.
Our last stop was Cappadocia, a region formed by volcanic eruptions 12 million years ago and famous for their cave dwellings. We immersed ourselves in the culture by staying in a charming “cave hotel” – Urgup Kaya. To experience the splendor of Cappadocia, we invested in a hot air balloon ride. The hour spent over the skies and through the valleys just wasn't enough, but every moment was savored.
The people we met along our journey will stay with me forever. The waiter in Istanbul who exchanged our Altoids for delicious Turkish treats, the little boys parading around in Sultan costumes, and the beautiful lady in Pammukkale who made the effort to converse with us despite obvious language barriers. We were welcomed into foreign lands with open arms. For two weeks, Turkey was our home.
As our plane ascended into the sky on the journey back home, I fondly looked down for one last glimpse. What a privilege to take a journey into the past! The people of Turkey had done it just right…there was the perfect mix of ancient and modern to create a country open to progress . A part of me will always be there.
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