They say that Istanbul is magnificent and before even setting a foot on its streets, I knew the saying would be true. In my heart and in my dreams I have already visited Constantinopol, I have walked in the inner court yards of the sultan palaces, I have smelled the scents of the street bazars and I have tasted the spicy cuisine, yet no books describing this fairy tale land, no imagination could compare to the live experience of savouring the splendour of the city with my own eyes.
We have travelled to Istanbul on a business trip and to our delight when the dutiful office engagement has been completed we were surprised to discover that we have been arranged to lodge in Pera Palace, one of the museum, one hundred year old hotels in the city. The hotel has been built to welcome the wealthy residents arriving from Western Europe with the Orient Express. The sight of the hotel was breath taking. Enjoying the luxury, we have spent the night having a dinner in a roof top restaurant, with a splendid view of the city enjoying a glass of wine, talking until late about the business consequences of our visit and feeling fortunate to be on such a place.
The second day, was a day of pleasure. Visiting Hagia Sofia, the Blue Mosque, Topkapi Palace, the Covered Market, walking through the sleepless festive streets until the early hours of the morning, surrounded by smiling people and bursting life. I remember the sun, I remember the light, I remember the bright colors. I have entered Hagia Sofia in a trance, knowing that this is one of the few recorded places where the Bulgarian kings have been noted to have actually been. I was stepping into their presence, I was stepping into history.
Topkapi Palace, had a different charm. One cannot enter its gates without thinking of the thousands of women throughout history who have been separated from their families and forced into the harem. Still, the palace is a place of wonder, a place of color and wealth a place of power and dominion.
The Blue Mosque, an architectural copy of Hagia Sofia, surprised me as well. I didn’t feel like an infidel, offending the pure worship with my gaze. On the contrary, I felt that we were welcomed like distant brothers and sisters, to witness the sacred spirituality of the local people and all that we saw were beautiful people with open hearts to God, who could stand beside us without hatred.
The covered market was a different story, the spirituality of the place had only one name and that was called money. Dealing with the traders was saga on its own. We drunk tea, we gave compliments, we spoke about the weather, we spoke about quality, we negotiated prices and at the end discovered that a copy of a designer leather handbag selling at 400 Euro could be sold for 40 Euro as well. We parted with smiles, happy with the purchase and happy with the sale.
On the street, life welcomed us with a sunny embrace, the window shops were inviting us with irresistible turkish delights, every street corner beckoning us to follow promising a new adventure. But time has been short. We felt light-hearted leaving for home, wanting to stay and not ready to leave, wishing that life would be gracious and let us be fortunate to come back again.