Istanbul is not what I expected. I say this every time I travel somewhere new. That's the beauty of travel, it's never what you expected, but often what you need. I arrived late last night, my bed called me like a siren. I succumbed to its embrace.
Today it is hot. That exotic heat that only seems to greet you in a foreign country. The sky is a steel blue beating down upon me as I explore old town Istanbul. It’s beautiful, clean, and much less frenetic than I imagined. It feels like a European city with a middle eastern influence. I guess that is exactly what it is - situated between Asia and Europe.
The smell of corn and roasting nuts - the stable of any tourist destination - permeates The Hague Sophia and surrounding boulevards. The streets, narrow and winding, are filled with cafes, art stores, and carpet sellers. There is a French vibe to many of the streets. Istanbul is truly a melting pot of cultures. Trees offer brief respites from both shady and hawkers. I find both pleasant, but need a break from them. More than once a hawker approached me speaking Spanish. When they discover I am from Australia they were surprised. Perhaps I have spent too much time in Spain, on the Camino de Santiago, it's beginning to rub off on me. That's not a bad thing.
I find a small cafe and order a coffee. Not the Turkish variety, I'm waiting for the best location for that. I choose a latte and sip slowly. It’s bitter and aromatic. It feels good to stop. Yesterday’s travels were long, with numerous mechanical delays. I’m really not a fan of flying. There is no experience, like when you hike or travel by land. When you fly cultures just cease to exist until you exit through immigration on the other side. Everything is sterile, boring, and the same. When you do arrive, there is no warming up to the new location, or a gradual introduction. The glass doors slide open and dump you unceremoniously into your new environment. Sink or swim. It makes no difference. Airport doors are one way. You’re on your own.
It’s been so long that I’ve considered the overwhelming shock which must come crashing down on new travelers. It's good to have the occasional reminder. Traveling takes courage, especially at the start, but everyone that does it come out a better person. Changed. More worldly. Accepting, and tolerant.
I sip my coffee. Tourists in light, flowing sundresses pass by, followed by locals in burkas, their eyes as exotic and mysterious as the city I now explore. A stray dog, with mattered rust brown fur, attracted by the smell of food cooking in one of the many cafes, slumps down panting. It’s hot for them too. Before long, the dog moves into the shade and falls asleep, ribcage rising and falling in a slow, peaceful rhythm. I watch the dog for long minutes. I feel my own heartbeat. The world moves past me. I let it wash over me. I have no need to move yet. So much of travel seems to be about moving, but it's really about sitting still. Only then do you become one with the place you are visiting. Did I mention how good it is to stop and slow down?