In mid-March I spontaneously decided to go to Istanbul to participate in a yoga retreat that a friend was leading. For all intents and purposes, this was an early birthday gift to myself, a way to reconnect with my soul, and an excuse to get away from work (where my soul is constantly being sucked right outta me). The retreat was incredible; it gave me the opportunity to connect with an amazing group of people, explore a culturally rich and diversified city, and learn a few things about myself. The decision to go to Istanbul was more or less a spontaneous one that I didn’t spent too much time thinking about. Had I done so, I’m sure that the little voice inside my head would have found a way too talk me out of it. I didn’t know anyone except Bram. I’d never traveled that far on my own. What if disaster struck (it did – in the form of United Airlines – more on THAT later!)? What if I didn’t connect with anyone? What if I was left on my own in a city I knew relatively little about? What if, what if, what if? The problem with what-ifs is that you never end up taking any risks and thus, you miss out on all the amazing opportunities that are out there waiting for you. Fuck that – I went to Istanbul and LIVED an incredible experience.
The Turks were warm and hospitable, and even more-so when you spoke to them in their language (I spent a few weeks practicing my very limited Turkish before going to Istanbul). I saw incredible sights and feats of architecture, ate great food (including lamb – hello, I don’t usually eat meat), risked my life every time I crossed the street, learned how to haggle in the Grand Bazaar, experienced the ultimate scrub-down in a hamam (where my masseuse treated me like a daughter, kissing my cheeks each time I spoke to her in Turkish, ha ha!), topped off my metro card more times in a week than I would in a month at home, saw Whirling Dervishes and felt a warm and bubbling silence in my heart each time I heard the ethereal sounds of the Muezzin calling the faithful to prayer.
In my mind, I truly believe that this trip is the catalyst for all of the awesome things that will happen from now until the end of 2013. When I left Istanbul, I left knowing deep in my heart, that I had closed several chapters in my life, and thus, I am feeling lighthearted and liberated. I have returned home feeling restored and grateful. Thank you to Bram, my friend, teacher and mentor, and to the wonderful group of people that I connected with while in Istanbul.
So, having said all of that, I’ve got a few musings to share with you about Istanbul (=-D
1) In a city where multiple forms of public transit are offered, I don’t understand why all methods of transportation can’t simply be connected. Every time I switched over from (i.e.) the metro to the funicular or tram or bus, I had to pay a new fare. Um, hello? Just give me a transfer or let me travel on one fare for a set period of time like one or two hours, and that solves the problem. The up side is that you can use your transit card to take the ferries as well and it’s pretty cheap.
2) Public transit fares seem to be random; for the same commute, I might pay $1.00 while someone else will pay $1.25 or $1.95. It’s like the Turkish lottery every single time. Up side? Cheap fares, either way!
3) Stop signs would be helpful. Actually, any type of road signage/ regulations would be helpful. Apparently, in Istanbul you can drive anywhere (including on sidewalks, medians and people), tailgate, cut drivers/pedestrians off, weave in an out between parked cars – WHATEVER – and you don’t need to worry about getting fined. I thought Quebec drivers sucked but compared to Istanbul, we are angelic. Oh, and if you’re a pedestrian, heed this warning: look where you’re going because drivers won’t stop for you. They will give you a warning honk but if you don’t get out of the way well, too bad for you!
4) The stray dog/cat population is staggering. I’ve never seen so many cats in one city in my life. As a result, most of my photos seem to include cats. Hmm…. The up side (if you want to call it that), is that stray dogs are vaccinated, so if you see a stray with a tag on its ear or other body part, it means they’ve had their shots. I would prefer it if they had homes but you can’t have everything.
5) You have to pay 1TL to use the crapper. Now, I’m OK with that if it means I can pee in a bowl instead of a hole and have access to toilet paper, because this means there is no shortage of public tuvalets in Istanbul. However, in some cases, not only did I have to squat over a hole, but there was no toilet paper. My entrance ticket to the Hagia Sophia is not an adequate replacement for T-P. Just saying. In this day and age, I really think it’s time to forgo holes in favor of bowls. The up side is that you can work on your quads while squatting if you are lucky enough to walk into a stall with a hole in it.
6) The Blue Mosque is positively stunning, inside and out. But it smells like feet. Wear a mask.
7) There are 20M people in Istanbul. That’s all of Canada in one city in Turkey. There are a LOT of people. You will be walked upon or possibly trampled almost everywhere you go if it’s a tourist area. People will cut ahead of you in a line without apologizing for it, sellers will frankly ask you to give them your money (or ‘help’ you spend it – at their kiosk of course). You just have to roll with it. The up side is that if you generally dislike people, walking around Istanbul is really great therapy!
8) My hotel needs to invest in a vacuum cleaner. Just a suggestion.
9) Be open. You will experience amazing things. Especially if you go to a hamam and speak Turkish to your masseuse.