Shhhhh….It’s 3:00 a.m. in Turkey and I’m very quietly writing this post while the rest of the Six sleep peacefully in our magical cave hideaway in Urgup, Cappadocia. At home, I’m a creature of the night, but on the road, my opportunities for nocturnal activity are limited. By the time the sun sets, I’m usually exhausted and can do little but crash into my appointed bed/bunk/air mattress for a brief sleep before rising to meet a new action-packed day. Tonight is different though; we have found a wonderful place to hole up for a few days and do nothing but relax, work on schoolwork, and eat feta cheese. I can sleep in tomorrow, which means I can stay up and write this in the wee hours of the night tonight.
I’d love to tell you about Cappadocia (wow!) and our cave, but they will have to wait. First I must tell you about our brief encounter with Turkey’s magnificent capital, Istanbul. If, like me, you are old enough to remember the 1990 They Might Be Giants version of the classic song, you can’t say “Istanbul” without putting “not Constantinople” at the end. You remember, “It’s Istanbul, not Constantinople. Why did Constantinople get the works? That’s nobody’s business but the Turks.” The modern day Turks are descendants of the Ottomans who seized Constantine’s capital and Justinian’s glory in 1453. They renamed the city Istanbul to shake off any European associations and established one of the world’s great empires from its center. Today the bustling, elegant city, long known as the “Paris of the East” is a fascinating blend of traditions, architectures, peoples, and flavors, and so much more than any combination of eight silly syllables can convey.
We arrived in the city exhausted after our three day airline ordeal with no place to stay. We weren’t particularly worried. We had called a few hostel owners who explained that their establishments were full but that they would be happy to find us a place once we arrived. This has worked well for us before, so we went with it. We took a cab from the airport to Sultanahmet District, the heart of Istanbul’s tourist activity, and dropped our bags (the few that had made it from South Africa) on the doorstep of the Antique Hostel. We waited while the owner called his friend who ran a guesthouse down the street and were happy to learn he had space for us. As we walked the block and a half, we couldn’t believe how quaint and quiet the street was. Situated in the shadows of the Hagia Sofia and lined with brightly colored centuries old buildings, it seemed an anachronism, a page torn from a history book rather than a modern city setting.
Our spirits sank slightly when we realized we would be paying 90 turkish lira (about $70) per night for six bunk beds in a room with no heat, a single stool, and a grody bathroom across the hall, but even this unpleasant reality could not diminish our enchantment with the city. For two days we did nothing but meander through cobblestone streets, chat with ubiquitous but charming rug sellers who invited us to stay in their homes (anything for a sale), soak up the Turkish atmosphere, and stumble upon some of the world’s most magnificent buildings: Topkapi Palace, Hagia Sofia, and the Blue Mosque. This truly is a place like no other.
We were careful, however, not to enter any of the magnificent structures: we’re saving that distinct pleasure for our time here with Tom’s parents later in the month. Instead, we limited ourselves to a few exterior photo shoots and booked bus tickets to Cappadocia, the land of fairy chimneys and bizarre rock formations 11 hours to the east. Before leaving, we scoured the beguiling streets of Sultanahmet for a suitable yet affordable place to stay with grandparents, fully aware that bunks and moldy tiles would probably not be their first choice. We eventually passed up the neighborhood’s many hostels and scored a great deal with a little boutique hotel that’s just opened for business. We have high hopes for our time there when we return to the city on the 20th.
As we were with Hanoi, Tom and I are fascinated with Istanbul and can’t wait to explore it further. The kids are less impressed, but they’ve become tough judges after all the places they’ve been in the past seven months. The only down side their parents can find so far is the cost. Turkey has high hopes of being admitted to the EU and as such has taken on the annoying habit of pricing things in Euros rather than lira. Given that the Euro is currently kicking the dollar’s butt, this makes things all the more expensive for Americans. We heard stories of Southeast Asian-like prices but have found things here to be more like Australia, i.e., almost as expensive as home.
Oh well, nothing’s perfect…except maybe this view!