Touching Down In Istanbul
A long trip like the one from Panama City to Istanbul, requiring connecting flights and layovers and taking you across many time zones, is like a system reboot. Arriving at your destination, your mind is fuzzy, muddled. What time is it? What day is it? Should I have something to eat…or maybe take a nap? You can’t quite commit to answers to even these basic questions. More substantive decisions are inconceivable. Finally, out of desperation, you give up and give yourself over, simply, to what’s in front of you.
So here I sit, on the rooftop terrace of our hotel in Istanbul’s Old City, looking out over the Sea of Marmara and at Asia across the way. No sense trying to be productive. Better just to soak it all in.
The sea spread out before me is ink blue. Above it, the sky is clear, the sun hot. A steady breeze and the red clay tiles of the terrace roof keep the temperature comfortable enough, but, without cover to shade you, you know it’s summertime. Weather projections we Googled before departing Panama City convinced us to throw sweaters and jackets into our suitcases at the last minute. Just goes to show you can’t believe everything you read on the Internet.
“Look at all the traffic out on the water,” Kaitlin remarked, taking in the Marmara for the first time. Indeed, the waterways here seem as busy as the Panama Canal. Ferries, cruise ships, sailboats, private cruisers, coming into port and going out, dispersing passengers and taking on new ones.
Istanbul owes its place in world history to these waters, which, since the days of Byzantium, have meant tolls, harbor fees, trade, and prosperity. Today, this metropolis with such a unique and enviable geographic situation is again thriving.
Officially, the population of Istanbul is 14 million, but some estimate that the city’s true current population is closer to 20 million. I read one report that suggested as much as 60% of the population, whatever it is, is under the age of 29. I can’t confirm that statistic, but I can tell you that, wandering around the neighborhoods nearby our hotel, young people are everywhere…in the parks, gardens, markets, and walkways, enjoying their city.
What else can I tell you after fewer than 24 hours on the ground?
Conversation is all about next month’s presidential elections and also the situation as it’s unfolding in Iraq. For the people of Turkey, this mess is too close to ignore.
As well, it’s Ramadan.
“For me growing up, Ramadan was about becoming a man,” I heard one young man explain. “It is not easy to fast all day. As a boy, I was hungry, I was thirsty. But so was everyone else—my father, my brothers, my friends. If they could do it, I told myself, I could do it, too. When my friends and I would get too hungry, we’d go outside and play football until it was time to break the fast.”
It is that time now, late afternoon. I hear the calls to prayer.
My own family and I are sitting down now, too, to dine. We haven’t fasted all day, I have to admit, but we have traveled a long way and are looking forward to our first dinner in Istanbul.
“Do you have any sparkling wine on the menu?” I asked our waiter.
“Yes, we have two,” he explained, showing me.
Both, it turns out, are Turkish. Turkish sparkling wine? We had to give it a try, and I’m pleased to be able to report that it’s not nearly as bad as you might imagine. In fact, I recommend you try it, too, your first night in this grand, historic city.
More later…after I’ve had a little shut-eye…