Tuesday, 25 December 2007

Four days in Istanbul

9.25 pm.
Sitting at a small table by the glass ceiling-high window, cozy café on Istiqlal St., Istanbul. Eating warm brownie and neglecting a strong cappuccino. Feeling so tired having walked for over nine hours. Glad I had recently started the habit of carrying my notebook around. I opened it, rested it on my waist and the blue pen started writing everything on my mind now.

-Arrived at Istanbul on a charter flight full of Egyptians. Amazing how they followed rules once they were outside their country.
-Bus to hotel: Istanbul by night brings me memories of parts of Kuwait and Dubai. It’s less crowded, cleaner, and more civilized than I expected. Fresh air.
-I loved the narrow steep streets. (They were good exercise)
-First morning there. Wooow .. I am in Europe.
-No one is staring at me in my curry yellow head scarf. Now I know how foreigners in Egypt must feel being scanned everywhere they go for simply being different-looking.
-I feel cold and lonely.
-Elegantly dressed people walked up and down the main shopping street.
-Things I have never seen on Cairo street: people kissing and hugging, a gay man in female dress and full makeup, people playing music and singing for money, a cute red street car I had always wanted to ride-and I did, a flag marking a gay club, Christmas lights everywhere.
-Galata Tower: climb in the elevator and view Istanbul by night… as if a sky full of colorful twinkling stars decided to come down and cover houses and streets.
-A cozy shop/cafe by the tower sells female accessories and clothes, has warm decoration, and is owned by an elegant lady in her mid-forties who makes good turkish tea. She speaks little English but can communicate perfectly well with her eyes and smile.
-For some unconscious reason I thought I’d understand Turkish and everyone would understand my Arabic. All attempts failed on both sides.
-All signs are in Turkish. Hmm .. now I need to use the bathroom. Shall I walk where it said ‘Bay’ or ‘Bayen’ ? The latter is safer. I was right.
Four more words: evet ‘yes’, giris ‘enter’, cikis‘ exit’, su ‘water’.
-Aya Sophia. It was great to see a wall painting of Virgin Mary carrying Jesus hanging above the word “Allah” written in gold Arabic calligraphy.
-The Blue Mosque. Must have been designed by a genius. I felt so peaceful inside it.
-Alcohol everywhere.
-People are the same wherever you are - they smiled, laughed, walked, loved and cried the same way.
-One big difference between cafés in Cairo and those of Istanbul: majority of customers in Cairo, as noted by a French friend, “are teenagers dressed and looked the same, walked around the café talking on their cell phones in English”
-Turkish music came out of bookstores and music stores. Filled the air with a special charm. I don’t remember any of the songs and can’t forget their effect.
-I need to change some money. ‘Please sir, LE 100’. He handed me 16.5 Turkish liras. I was too tired to think this was true. Took the Egyptian banknote back and handed him $50.
-A side street had a number of restaurant designed similarly. People sat there talking and having dinner. Three musicians carrying lute, violin and drum walked around table singing to diners. Lovely strong voices.
- Still have 4 hours before going to the airport. OK. Take the subway.
Excuse me. How long is the trip?
Two minutes.
No. I know there’s one every 2 minutes. (miming) How long is the trip?
Two minutes.
OK. Whatever.
I got on and sat by the window. After two minutes the car stopped and everyone got off. I looked at the driver. He figured from the look on my face there was a mistake, waved me sit-down and refused I paid any money. Glad the man who sat opposite me kept looking at my face while I was crying-it felt good that someone understood something was wrong.
-I passed by a woman selling bracelets on a dark side street. She started shouting as walked by her. I got scared and thought she might have wanted me to buy something. Didn’t even look back and walked to my hotel.
-Brownie tastes great.
-I wish I could sit with the six young Turkish people having coffee near my table now. I would love to make sense of whatever they are saying. I want to know you, people.
-Now I wonder how other European cities are like, how they looked especially around Christmas time. I wonder if I would be comfortable and happy living in one of them.

11.05 pm.
I sat on the bus heading towards the Airport. Not sure how the four days really felt. One thing I am sure of, though… for some reason I am not going to be the same after this trip.