Saturday, July 11, 2009


Forget first impressions. I spent my first hour in Istanbul lost in pouring rain, trying to negotiate myself around hooting taxis, maniacal tour groups straight off the cruise ships, and touters of every kind.

When the drizzle cleared and my backpack was finally dry, I found the nearest kebab shop and sat down, relaxing my limbs and nose to the senses of the city. The first hit wasn't what I was used to. Not a tepid sewerage, acrid sweat, South-East Asian kind of hit, but more like a shrieking mosquito in strike mode, approaching from every corner to try to suck me into its carpet shop.

Once I was fed and somewhat closer to human, it didn't take long for the carpet sellers to figure out that I had the greatest repellent of all- a backpacker budget- or for me to find the best way to deal with the one-liner conversation starter, 'Where are you from?' when the repellent wore off. Somehow, every man in Turkey seems to have a relative in New Zealand, Australia, U.S.A, Ireland, South Africa, or whichever other country I tried to convinced them I'm from. It was 'Iceland' when I was in a bad mood, and 'Space' when I was in a good one.

The hair also helped. Being blonde in Turkey is preferable to having a diplomatic passport, as long as you don't mind your boyfriend/husband/father being offered camels for your livelihood. After visiting the main (and truly magnificent) sights of Sultanahmet- the once Christian-church-turned-mosque-turned-museum of Aya Sophia; Topkapi Palace; and Istanbul's stunning landmark, the Blue Mosque- I gave up on royalty and religion for awhile and decided to do what I do frequently and well- get lost. Descending the steep and ancient alleyways towards the sea, I was followed by a harem of well fed and friendly street cats. There's a story in Turkey about Mohammad who cut around his tunic to avoid disturbing his cat, and it's easy to see that this reverence of felines prevails, even in the cities.

By the time I reached the Galata Bridge over the Bosphorous, my stomach full with fresh fish and Turkish cay (tea), it was difficult to imagine a place I would rather be.

If you don't mind being woken by wails from the minarets at sunrise, or the occasional terrorist insect in your hotel room, it's easy to give a little of your heart and even your blood, to this city.

I fell for Istanbul, and even almost for its mosquitoes.

No comments: