Around the world travel, Backpacking, Bucket List, Istanbul, long term travel, Travel, Turkey

Homecoming…Sort Of

I arrive in Istanbul a couple of hours earlier than scheduled and make my way back to Cheers Hostel via public transport. It’s 6am and the city is slowly coming to life. I feel that welcomed sense of familiarity, which can be rare on the road. It’s a beautiful thing to pass through the same place twice, to be greeted with friendly smiles, to know someone’s looking out for you and to be handed a warm cup of coffee and asked to sit and tell all about your recent travels.
This feeling pushed sleepiness from my body, and a warm sense of being back in a familiar place replaced it. After a couple of cups of coffee, I ventured up to the cafe area, found a quiet corner and took a short nap, so that later, I could try and make something of the day.
Around breakfast time, I headed down to the common area and began chatting to Rodrigo. He asked me my plans for the day and I told him I was headed to Asia to see the other side of Istanbul. He said he would join me. Rodrigo is like the character Fez from That 70s Show – same accent and similar looks. He comes from Mexico City and is currently living in Iceland and working in the art history field. He is a shop-a-holic, a bookwhore and tells me he is addicted to milk and Coca-Cola…I can tell today will be an adventure.
We set out with loose plans to get a boat to the Asian side of Istanbul, walk around, soak it in and get a feel for the “other side,” then head back to Taksim for dinner and to search for an English bookshop- I need a guidebook for Israel.
We head to Asia. It’s a beautiful day on the Bosphorus – typical Autumn weather- clear and crisp. We leave Galata Bridge in the distance, and no more than 20-minutes later, we are in Uskudar, the older side of Asian-Istanbul. We’ve shed our guidebooks and maps and just wander aimlessly.
The first thing I notice are the number of mosques on this side of the city. We begin with a few visits. Each new mosque is like studying the art on a faberge egg- so detailed and intricate. The atmosphere is ever so peaceful, people coming and going and saying their prayers between the ezan, or formal call to prayer.
We stroll through a market that has made its home in a historical hamam. Then, we hear the fourth daily call to prayer and stand outside another mosque as men file in to pray. We stroll through the back streets of Uskudar, which is more residential and less-touristic than all of the European side. We are just wandering and stumble upon a smaller, beautiful mosque, Azi Camimi. The grounds alone and steps leading up to this mosque are beautiful and inviting, but the door is locked.
Rodrigo takes a second look and pulls a chord enabling us to push open the wooden door and enter into the smallest mosque I’ve seen so far. No one is inside and it’s end of day, so the sunlight is filtering through the west-facing windows, casting golden squares across the red carpet. Chandeliers and candelabras hang in each corner of the squared room, and as you follow their cords to the mosque’s domed ceiling, your eyes begin to dance in and around the almost hypnotic blue, green and pink painted designs that resemble musical notes in a way.
It is a treat for the eyes and food for the soul. We spend a few moments taking everything in and leave quietly. I feel moved by this little mosque and I mention it to Rodrigo when we go. He is pleased we found our way in and tells me that in certain churches and homes where he grew up, they used to have the same cord method to open doors. But now he lives in Mexico City and looks at me in the most serious manner and says, “If you have a cord on your door in Mexico City now, you leave for 2 minutes and your whole house would be gone!”
We venture down to the Bosphorus and walk along to get a better view of the Maiden’s Tower, the remains of a Byzantine lighthouse. Tea vendor stalls dot the waterfront. It’s getting cold and the sun is beginning to set, so we take a Turkish tea and sit ourselves on pillows propped along the steps leading down to the water.
From Asia, we watch the sun set over Europe, dropping behind Topkapi Palace, leaving us with only silhouettes of Istanbul’s many minarets.
From here, we make a quick trip through the Spice Bazaar and head to Taksim for a warming dinner of Manti, Turkish Ravioli. We find a brilliant bookshop with a vast collection of Turkish and English Literature. I manage to find a guidebook for Israel and I pick up “One Hundred Years of Solitude,” for reading and to later swap in Nepal (apparently you need good material to swap there). Rodrigo highly recommends it and says it would be a much better read if I knew Spanish (I’m working on it buddy!)
We head back to Sultanahmet, down the many steps to the Galata Bridge- happy with our purchases, full from our meal and content with the days’ adventures. We cap off the night toasting an Efes, and for the first time all day, I feel tiredness creep into my body. I crawl into my bunk and immediately fall into a deep sleep.
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