Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Byzantium Bliss

Turkey came and Turkey went. It flew by- like all things in life too good to last. And now, back in Barcelona, once again absorbed in our roles as diligent students between classes and group meetings, the images and sounds of Turkey seem too remote to be real.  

It was one of those trips that you plan to a tee- that you anticipate- that you know will be fantastic- but the reality of it far exceeds any expectations. 
It was one of those trips where all the plans and all the preparations are edged out by unanticipated surprises far too astounding to have been intended or imagined in the first place.
Turkey was one of those trips where you step off the plane and your plans go out the window. It was one of those trips where your world changes colors.

We headed east not only to escape Barcelona, the MBA, and any hint of the lives we have been living- but we headed east in order to discover something fresh and unknown to our curious minds. Moreover- we left in order to discover something we could never learn within the walls of our school.

We threw ourselves directly into whatever the country- the dividing point between Europe and Asia- had to offer. We entered with no preconceptions, no fears, no expectations- only the desire to explore fueled by the longing to learn.

We new immediately that we had found what we were looking for and were instantaneously welcomed by the glistening turquoise waters of the Bosphorus, lapping at the shores surrounding the chaos of bazaars, hammams and hundreds of domed mosques. 
We snaked in and out of alleyways, over the Galata bridge spanning the Golden Horn, crawling up and down the crowded lanes reminiscent of San Francisco’s hills. We roamed the unfamiliar stretches of road and hidden alleyways and found far more than just the sprawling parks, astonishingly impressive domed mosques ranging from the Ayasofya and Blue Mosque, and bustling bazaars- we found what we were looking for...

We read the history of the Byzantines and Ottomans over Nargile pipes with their burning coals lighting our faces. We spent an afternoon in Istanbul’s oldest Hammam and later, toasted Martini’s overlooking the city, radiant under a full orange moon.

Istanbul is exquisite. We never oriented ourselves- we never wanted to. We practiced our Turkish “thank you”s and “ok”s and had our fortunes read from the grinds of our coffee in the ubiquitous cafes full of smoke and sound. We strolled without stopping, getting lost within the steep alleyways, bright elaborate graffiti and ornate mosaics lining the walls and ceilings we encountered. We stuffed ourselves with Baklava sprinkled with bright green pistachio grounds drowning in honey and drank apple tea in the traditional teahouses.

And then Istanbul was over and we headed to the airport for our plane to Bodrum.

We flew south in silence as images of the minarets rising above the intricate structures and their daily prayer calls still rang in our ears and haunted our thoughts. We were picked up from the airport only to learn that due to the rain, we would be spending the night in a little hotel on the Marina. 
The sudden switch from cosmopolitan bustle to the calm of the Aegean Sea and harbor lined with wooden boats with their sails swaying with the wind and the rain was both a welcome change and a challenge. A challenge because we had fallen in love with Istanbul- a pleasure because our next adventure had begun.

It has been said that the best-laid plans often go awry. Therefore, when we realized that a miscommunication between the concierge and my poor early-morning translation of TurkEnglish resulted in the missing of our boat the following morning, we weren’t the least bit surprised. We took everything, as we did with Istanbul, as it came. We were driven along the coast by the apologetic hotel owner and sympathetic tour operator towards the boat that we never ended up catching.

The drive itself was breathtaking- we stared out the windows of the car astonished by the contrasts of the deep blue of the see with small islands rising up into the cloudless sky. Our escorts played local music and we swayed along to the exotic yet soothing sounds of a language we hadn’t even begun to understand. 

We made our way across the stretches of coastline, town carved out of the mountains, winding in and out of villages untouched by the traffic of tourists- until we hit Marmaris. We walked along the Turkish Riviera stopping to view the boats, snap the photos that will never do the location justice, and snack on pastries- salty and sweet- while playing backgammon with the locals.

Needless to say- the cruise didn't happen- which we found was a blessing in disguise after learning that we would be packed like sardines in dark wooden cabins with six French couples for five days. 
Instead, we threw caution to the Aegean wind and took in the region’s charm and palm-lined waterfront while indulging our senses in everything the blue bay of Bodrum had to offer. We strolled the paths under the shadows of the medieval castle and at night, we drank wine amongst the silhouettes of the darkened elegant Gullets. 

Bodrum is a mix of a lively Bohemian air and subtle sophistication. Seafood caught daily mixed with local drinks leading to boisterous clubs and bars- some with live music reminiscent of Parisian haunts- lent to the atmosphere of the enchanting peninsula. We spent our days exploring the coastline as it unfolded before us leading to quiet bays. We discovered the solitude in surrounding towns, we sunbathed aboard private sailboats- while the captain and crew prepared multiple salads and fish caught just that morning. We ate, we drank, we danced, we laughed- we discarded all of our plans and relished the pleasures of Turkey- the pleasures of not having a plan at all.

We savored each passing second and then as quickly as it began- the whirlwind tour ended. We left Turkey revitalized with broadened minds and bronzed skin. 
In our bags, we carried with us glass evil eye beads meant to protect us from all future evils. And in our hearts, we carried the new colors that were introduced into our worlds- something that will never leave us- that we will take with us wherever we may go.

Turkey far exceeded everything I had hoped it would be. Maybe the experience was intensified because of the profound necessity to escape- if only for a week. Or maybe it’s because it was one of those magical experiences where everything just comes together- the place, the people, the energy- like a miraculous harmony- completely unexpected. 

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I wish I could write about my travel experiences the way you do...actually, I wish I were there with you. sounds amazing!