"The very basic core of a man's living spirit is his passion for adventure. The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun."
—Christopher McCandless, aka Alexander Supertramp
Last minute travel might be one of the greatest pleasures in life. One day you're on your couch channel surfing and the next, you're on a plane to Iceland, waking up to someone else's sun. It's magic.
I recently indulged in such an adventure...to Istanbul, though. Iceland will have to wait. "Istanbul in the summer" happened to be number 67 on my 101 in 1,001 list (a short-term bucket list of sorts—101 things to do and places to see in 1,001 days). That means I'm practically obligated to say "yes" when a list item presents itself. That's how the list works...you get to say "yes" before you talk yourself out of it.
The minute we land it’s off to the old city to explore the Grand Bazaar. Truth be told, the Grand Bazaar—said to be the world’s oldest shopping mall—lives up to its moniker. Much of the space is devoted to knockoff designer goods you can find on Canal St. To get to the interesting stuff, we mine deeper into the center of the Bazaar in search of the Old Bazaar, a maze of antiquities, objet, and Turkish rugs nestled in the heart of the Grand Bazaar.
Locals have been setting up shop here for over 550 years. We spend the better part of an entire day getting lost in the labyrinth of side streets and alleyways. At a particular quaint jeweler's shop, my eyes light up at the sight of some sterling silver cuffs. Inspired, I scoop them all up.
The rugs in Turkey are simply breath-taking. Rich in history, craftsmanship, and beauty, buyers from all over the world descend upon the rug shops in the old city in search of antique pieces (rugs over 100 years old). It is not uncommon for these rugs to start in the thousands of dollars. After drinking more than enough apple tea than we both can handle, a little shop outside of the Bazaar called Noah’s Ark catches the corner of my eye. Curious about the name (I mean, Noah’s ark is said to have been found on Mount Ararat in Turkey), we duck in.
A gentleman welcomes us immediately with a smile as warm as the Turkish sun. In typical fashion, he offers us tea, a seat, and his name. He goes by Hamza…and he discreetly discloses with a wink that only tourists opt for apple tea. We nonchalantly opt for the locals’ cup of tea. His English is very good…so good in fact that his jokes and timing are spot on. Turns out he spends six months a year in the States hocking his carpets to the well-to-do. We spend the next several hours in conversation about Turkish rugs, their provenance, their significance, and most importantly, their beauty. At some point in the evening, a bottle of Jack Daniels makes its way out (as well as some chocolate). All the trade-secrets come spilling out like a busted piñata after two or three pours. The Tennessee whiskey eventually seduces Hamza into sharing his own story of his nomadic childhood and his subsequent journey to Istanbul at the age of 14. I’m loving this guy.
While we certainly hit the highlights of Hagia Sophia, Grand Bazaar, and Sultanahmet Mosque over our six days in Istanbul, it’s the moments and relationships we share with the locals we meet that will travel back with us as souvenirs of our time in this vibrant city.