We drop our little car off at the airport and take the bus to the train station. There were meet an amazing couple, Jen and Steve—teachers at a charter school in Oakland. They’d been traveling all over Greece and now were about to take the train into Istanbul as were we. Great to share experiences of traveling and teaching. Meeting fellow travelers is always a beautiful gift on the road.
The double bunk train berth is fun—although I can’t sleep with the rolling of the wheels and the roaring of the engine. An old Turkish conductor stops by our cabin again and again to check on us and make jokes. He actually sits down to look at pictures on my camera. I get the feeling that Turkey is a place of slow moments and flexibility.
My hunch is right. After hours of breathtaking sunflower fields outside the window, night falls and in my half-stupor, I realize the train has stopped. I finally fall into deep sleep. But then wake after the sun has risen to find us still in the same place. There’s been a problem with the train—and Nic and I freak out a bit. They’ve taken our passports and our tickets, and here we are in the middle of nowhere, Turkey. Finally, the train moves along. We stop at a tiny duty free shop at a station somewhere that just happens to have an office to buy visas. We sign our name, pay $15, and hours later get our visa stamped in our passport. Oh the interesting ways of Turkey!
After a bus ride at the end of our train trek (a tunnel had collapsed onto the tracks before we’d left,) we take public transit into Istanbul with Steve and Jen. After a bit of walking, and walking, (lost in the rain!) we find our hotel—Zeynap Sultan --a quaint, friendly place just down from the Hagia Sophia. A great roof-top cafe and kitties galore. Istnabul is a place for cats. We put our feet up and sleep and sleep.
Later that afternoon, we meet Andrea from Wiesbaden and walk over the Galata Bridge—where east meets west, Europe meets Asia. go for dinner at a lovely outdoor café. We chat with our Turkish, prone to motion sickness waiter who is bored and looking for a Western girlfriend (not here, sorry.) He sits down with us and discusses Turkish culture and Western ways. I gorge on cheese borek, lentil soup, Tziki, bread, and wine. It’s another happy-belly moment.
Hagia Sofia and the Blue Mosque day. We take our shoes off, and cover our shoulder and head. Entering through the visitor’s entrance, the Blue Mosque right away smells of a purity and a coolness that soothes me, even in the crowds. Old chandeliers lit with bulbs and amazing colored windows. People praying in the corner or snapping pictures in the chaos. It’s a place of quiet energy, yet bits of dark and light, electrical, yet soothing at the same time.
Hagia Sofia—Ah! The grandeur once again of this ancient marble structures, designed and attended to for hundreds of years. A mosque now retired into museum. The Christian and Muslim presence is strong here—and bit by bit, you cans see the connection and struggle to between the two. The colors are warm and surround me in a sense of wonder and magic. It's a clear feeling--an earthy purity I sensed back in a mosque/church in Toledo, Spain a few years ago. I often wonder about shared sacred sites and the connection it brings. A time and a place where walls dissolve and the spiritual origins remain. We are all touched. Seems to be the ultimate beauty.
A bus tour around Istanbul clearly reveals the fortress that once surrounded this important, port town. Once again, I marvel at the mix between old and new, and the Christian and Muslim faith. We pass Takshim Square--a hip and crowded spot rejuvenated recently with shops, cafes and bars.
Later, Nic and I decide to return to the shore. We take the train to what we think is the right spot--but then proceed to walk on and on through "siesta hour" empty and dank neighborhoods. We know we're close, but can't quite figure out how to get to the ocean. A wall divides us--train tracks on one side, the sea on the other. Finally, an opening comes our way and we make it over. It's a warm Sunday, and people picnic, relax, eat and drink. We pass a few stands set up with balloons and soon realize it's a shooting range--pay a few Turkish Lyra and shoot a BB gun to pop the balloons. Watch out for pedestrians! LOL! Men selling chai, watermelon, kids playing and enjoying the day. On the way home, we find a quaint little spot to enjoy our own chai--and it's another moment, a sacred spot in time and place that fuses into my soul. Thankful to be here--thankful to be alive.