#FBF: Istanbul

Istanbul, jewel of the Bosporus. This city founded by Greeks as “Byzantium,” became Κωνσταντινούπολις – “City of Constantine;” in 330CE when Constantine the Great made it the capitol of the Roman Empire he put his name in this city. In the fateful year of 1453, the Ottomans conquered the city and made it its capitol, and it remained so until the founding of the Turkish Republic.

The magnificent skyline of skyscrapers and minarets is an unforgettable sight.

Unless you’re one of those people boasting your ability to commandeer private jets to fly anywhere within hours, this city is unique that it is cross-continental. One of the few boarders perhaps even the Ottomans couldn’t change. This city straddles Asia and Europe, and it was here we had breakfast in Europe, took a casual boat ride to Asia to have lunch. #LikeABoss

Hagia Sophia – the former Patriarchal cathedral of the Ecumenical Patriarch, became the crowning mosque of the Ottomans in 1453. Today it is a museum and unique in the sense that it is one of the few places where Islamic art and Byzantine icons coexist in the same building.

There are many ways to travel, and I respect people’s choices to travel how they would like. But for me I enjoy a little adventure when I travel, the idea that I spent money to stay on a resort where the only way I knew I traveled is the fact that I have a stamp on my passport is not the least bit attractive. To each their own, but there is nothing unique about my perspective that travel is about leaving the familiar behind, go to places and experience things not available at home.

Some people travel to places or do things essentially what they do at home, the only difference is they’re doing it in a foreign country. It raises the question why travel at all? I for one enjoy the house I have with my lovely wife, with our cats and comfortable bed. All the homely comforts at my fingertips or within minutes drive. The familiar is right here, and you don’t have to deal with that nasty thing called jetlag.

Paying tribute to Assassin’s Creed Revelations and enjoying a nice cup of Turkish tea. All in a day’s work.

One of my favourite memory of this 2012 trip is that my friend Adem and I got lost… sort of. I had an idea of our direction and Baruch Hashem, the city’s many towering minarets do help you get a sense of direction. We were wondering the narrow streets looking for the Galata Tower at 8:45pm, it is dark and we were joking “oh man, if somebody were to kidnap us and kill us, our naked bodies won’t be found until tomorrow morning.”

Just as we walked and laughed, we saw a group of black clad men with menacing beards smoking cigarettes in the back of a shop… to be honest, we were nervous. When we first arrived at Istanbul, the locals had no qualms showing their proud Turkish nationalism in the form of mild racism in telling us not to trust the “dark-skinned Kurds” as they described Kurdish “propensity for crime” and what they would look like.

Here we were, walking down a back alley with a group of men fitting that description, we continued talking casually while I used my peripheral vision to keep tabs on these men. One of them put out the cigarette on the ground and stepped on it with his quite fashionable gator shoes… and my mind told me “oh sh*t here we go!” as my body ready for the fight of our lives. But lucky for us, he went back to the shop and we continued onto the tower.

Galata Tower – you can’t miss it. You can walk there from the bridge, or you can take a ferry across the river.

Despite of what we thought was our brush with a lifetime of sexual slavery at the hands of the local Kurdish mafia, although if I may say they are not ready for this jelly; the fact was that everyone in the city regardless of ethnic backgrounds were incredibly friendly. I learned the proverbial greetings of “Merhaba” “Salam Aleikum” and “Teşekkür ederim” and you’d be surprised how welcoming they are when they hear that even as I probably butchered it with an atrocious Anglo accent. At one point, we ran out of our daily Lira and the owner of that restaurant wase more than ok letting us eat for free. Of course, we promptly asked for the nearest currency exchange, returned and paid for our meal. Many saw Islam’s vicious face on TV, but my trips here and subsequently Israel showed me Islamic kindness.

There are Ottoman mosques of all sizes are in this city. This small mosque near a 200 year old cemetery is quite charming.

This trip was as much leisure as also a pilgrimage. 2010 was a rough year for me, without going to details I will say it was a year of disillusionment. I had graduated with my bachelor’s degree from SUNY, and I had also studied to be an emissary for G-d. I faced a crisis of faith: for years I had lived according to a strict religious code as I studied to minister onto the souls whom I was told needed the light of G-d. I knew my mission, I had the vision…but that dream had came crashing down, what I thought was true was not true and could not stand up to the facts.

…here I was, freedom had came on somewhat a fitting day – Independence day. I was looking towards to future…lost.

Eeee!!! #CatsOfIstanbul!

Fast forwards to 2012, here we were wondering the streets of Istanbul, I was looking for myself (and something to eat actually) and we stumbled on a Sufi sema that was about to begin. We walked in and sat down. The food was tasty but what I tasted that night changed me forever.

“Lovers don’t finally meet somewhere. They’re in each other all along.” – Rumi.

For 30 minutes, or maybe longer because I actually lost track of time, the Mevlevi dervishes whirled with the sound of the ney flute that resonated with my soul. I was entranced, and no I didn’t say that as a metaphor, I was truly entranced with them as for the first time in 2 years I felt something deeply moving within me. In a manner of speaking, I felt G-d. I took the photo you see to remind me of what I felt that day, and it inspired me to move and became who I am today.

My friend Adem, on the other hand was quite happy with the belly dancer that came after. Who am I or you to judge eh? Who is to say the sensual is not divine? I digress.

“New Mosque” built in 1665 is a beautiful mosque in the Eminönü district; a section of the city that back in the 1600s was predominantly Jewish. This was a mosque perhaps to remind them who was ultimately in charge.

Rumi once said “Travel brings power and love back into your life.” And this trip brought back both to my life. It empowered me with the reminder that the world is larger than our troubles in our microcosm that I called “my life” and brought back love in my life – or the hope that despite any loss of hope, life is what we make it. Therefore if we want love, we go get it.

I’m gonna need a larger check in bag.

So if doing what you normally do, eating what you’d normally eat, and learning even the basic phrases in a tongue not familiar to you does not sound enticing? I say so let it be. But those of us who enjoy getting a little lost; who don’t mind being the only English speaker for miles; and who are willing to try some foods that we have a hard time pronouncing with spices that may prove to be challenging, let us receive the power and love we get from truly traveling.

“No matter what happens, travel gives you a story to tell.” – Jewish proverb
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