| Blue Mosque, Istanbul. // All photos by me or Mr. SMC |
Second only to an ill-conceived, 24-hour adventure in Tangiers in my 20s (buy me a couple of drinks sometime, and I’ll tell you a tale), Istanbul is bar none the most “foreign” place to which I’ve ever traveled. By which I mean I don’t speak the language, don’t know the culture, the food, the traditions…did I need head scarves? Long sleeves? Was I allowed to wear jeans? Because, let’s be honest, inadvertently botching a cultural norm in a country I’ve already admitted was utterly foreign to me (in every sense of the word) sounds like an intimidatingly easy thing to do.
And yet. Once I arrived, much like my time in Morocco, I knew immediately I’d worried for nothing. I found the people in Istanbul to be unfailingly, overwhelmingly friendly, helpful and welcoming. On the rare occasion someone didn’t speak English, they either found someone who did, or we successfully (and cheerfully!) mimed to each other until we sorted it out. The 3 Turkish phrases I frantically committed to memory on the plane elicited so much appreciation from locals that you’d have thought I mastered the language. It is busy, and crowded, and…well, foreign, but I didn’t see a single act of protest, let alone violence. Some people wore head scarves (you do need one to visit mosques), but my tour guide showed up the first day in a tank top.
I honestly don’t know whether this is a case of low expectations being exceeded or whether I really loved Istanbul as much as I think did, but truly – it was unforgettable, and I’d recommend it heartily to anyone at all! Read on