SCHWAPPING AROUND IN ISTANBUL
I finally got my dream trip in March 2015. I was able to travel to Istanbul, and everything I had heard was true! – the beauty of the eighth wonder of the world, the Hagia Sophia, rendered my jaw slack with awe; the grandeur of the Blue Mosque (Sultan Ahmed Mosque) stood like an ethereal entity in the midst of the Ayasofya square, with its melodious prayers reverberating over the city throughout the day; the brightly coloured rugs, cushions and pottery displayed from shop windows reflected the finery and dynamic history of the Ottoman Empire; and the food… the food!!… each street buzzed with carts of roasted chestnuts and corn (with kernels so huge that one ear was as satisfying as a full meal), chicken and lamb shawarmas roasting on vertical spits, and bright red pomegranates waiting to be freshly juiced.
Everything I was told about Turkey was true, but there was something that I was not told. There was something underlying the culture of Istanbul that stood out much more than the architectural beauty - the humanity. It was so ironic that the fears of violence and terrorism that would have prevented me from visiting Istanbul instead exposed me to a very genteel nation. The history of the Ottoman Empire is based on tales of extreme cruelty, but the people today have obviously rejected these traits. My husband and I dined in many of the little local restaurants within the narrow cobblestoned streets of the city, restaurants where family members all worked together and welcomed us warmly with tea and dessert on the house. We watched as on those same streets, children and women sometimes paused to beg, and instead of being shunned by the owners, were gently held by the shoulders and ushered away with glasses of hot tea. Each greeting between citizens was begun and ended with a touch to the heart. Families were a major part of the sights – fathers with their burqa clad wives, happily chattering with their children as they lounged in the squares, restaurants or at the historical sites. Even the stray animals were treated with such love – older women could be seen walking through the streets with bags of chow, stopping to feed the fattened dogs and cats who slept contentedly between the throng of pedestrians. The bottom line was that in Istanbul, I was acutely aware that life was not perfect, but there was an underlying joy and peace that seemed to add a special light to the city.