Just this morning, whilst I was power-walking about the hills of Manayunk, I let my mind drift back to Sultanahmet. Often I imagine what it would be like to live there, temporarily. I ponder the logistics of the move (would we stay in Sultanahmet, the heart of the old city? Or should we perhaps move to suburban Uskudar, on the Asian side of the Bosphorus?). I picture my family coming to visit, and ushering them through Aya Sofya, watching their eyes widen at the sheer magnitude of the site: the gorgeous, massive ancient structure.
My yoga instructor always urges the class to visit our "happy places" at the beginning of each "practice". Oftentimes, I find myself sitting, with J, in Sultanahmet Park, in between Aya and the Blue Mosque. Sitting and staring at the two buildings; at the perfectly manicured lawns; at the people walking by. I can't remember a time when I felt more at peace.
Of course, the great irony is that when J and I ventured to Turkey last October, the country had just invaded Iraq. The Armenians were pressuring the U.S. government to pass a resolution claiming the Turks' killing of Armenians during World War I was the first genocide of the twentieth century. Our wedding travel agent, Nicole, had raised the prices for our up-to-this-point-set-in-stone packages. Our accommodations were less than stellar, and the moment we stepped out of our hotel to explore the country on that first afternoon, a military jet whirled just above our heads, nearly deafening us.
J and I at the park. The Blue Mosque is in the background.
"Hmm," J said, clasping my hand in his. "That was a little unsettling."
The city we experienced was so warm, so inviting. We trekked throughout the streets each day, from the Blue Mosque (where we were given an expensive lesson in Islam), to the Galata Bridge (where the stench of fish nearly killed us), to the gorgeous harem at Topkapi Palace, to the Grand Bazaar, arguably the world's oldest mall, where we admired carpet after carpet, and purchased 8995 pashminas and gorgeous Ottoman-style tiles, for good measure.
Learning to worship inside the Blue Mosque.
Inside the Grand Bazaar.
The cuisine was excellent; and we sampled different dishes each night. Part Greek, part Middle Eastern fare; the Turkish pizza was my absolute favorite. And after each delicious meal, we'd sip warm apple tea and marvel at our good fortune.
Most evenings, we'd find ourselves at the Cozy Pub, watching rugby with Englishmen or smoking a hookah with new friends Mehmet and Ahmet.
And then there was this one time.
We'd spent most of the afternoon walking the streets, shopping at the Grand Bazaar and sampling Turkish delight candies at the Spice Bazaar. As the sun was setting, we meandered through Sultanahmet Park, then found ourselves once again on the main strip in the old city, at the Cozy Pub. Ahmet worked the door, enthusiastically encouraging passers-by to come in and have a drink or a snack. Mehmet ran a small gift shop behind the pub, but was typically hanging out at the bar, chatting up the ladies. We called him Turkish Scott Baio, as he looked and acted like Mr. 45 and Single.
On this particular night, we sat at a small table outside, talking with Ahmet and Mehmet. An Australian jewelry and bag designer named Julie soon came into our circle, as did English couple Nick and Amanda. Amanda was a school teacher; Nick wrote books about mountain biking.
So we ate and we drank. For hours and hours. At one point, Mehmet and I ran to his shop to prepare a hookah, which we filled with apple "tobacco" and brought back to the rest of our group.
Man, did I have a love affair with that hookah. If you are ever in Istanbul (Or even Le Souk, in Manhattan) , please, please sample the apple tobacco.
Mehmet and me, and my beloved hookah.
The night wore on, and soon it was time to retreat back to Hotel Mina. Julie was staying on the same street, so we walked her back to her place and crept back to our room, turning on the television to take advantage of the late-night English programming.
It wasn't until the next morning, while I was in our miniature shower, that J noticed something was missing.
The Bag is where we keep our Valuable Stuff. It is a virtual man purse that never leaves J's side when we are out of the country. He protects the bag like a child. And as if we had lost our first-born, J was nearly hyperventilating.
"Stay calm," I tell him, as I dress quickly. "It's got to be at Cozy, and they are good people. They'll have it for us."
I suppose I only half believe this myself, but I am intent on keeping J calm. We dart out of the hotel and run to Cozy, a two-minute jog.
The bar is empty, but Amir, last night's waiter, is straightening up.
"Amir!" I shout. "Please: where is our Bag?"
I describe the bag to Amir, but he only stares at me blankly. I run to our outside table, desperate for The Bag to be there.
It is not.
"You must have it, Amir," I say. I describe the bag in detail and tell him it is full of Valuable Stuff.
Another staffer overhears this conversation, and opens a safe behind the bar.
"Is this it?" He asks, holding The Bag.
"Yes!" J and I cry. I hug Amir. J checks The Bag. Not a single item is out of place.
"Thank you thank you thank you," we repeat, as we skip outside. We both exhale.
"Turks," I say. "I knew they'd come through. They're good people."