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Turkey Tag

27 Jun

Istanbul

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I know, I know, I say this about almost every new city I discover- but believe me this time when I say that the vibrant and sprawling Turkish metropolis of Istanbul has become one of my favorite places on earth. I was so impressed by the city’s unique fusion of ancient and modern as it effortlessly intermingled with the traditional and trendy.

The decision to visit Istanbul was ultimately a difficult one for my husband and I. He wanted to go and I did not.

The Syrian War and the rise of the Islamic State to the south of Turkey’s border coupled with the recent conflict between Erdogan’s government and Kurdish rebels has lead to a rise in terrorist attacks targeting military and tourism. Just a few weeks prior to our trip, there was a suicide bomber that killed several tourists in Sultanahmet square. There was also recent conflict with Russia, when Turkey shot down one of Russia’s fighter planes near the Syrian border leading to cold thaw in relations between the nations. I remember telling a few friends Soley and I would be traveling to Istanbul, and receiving “be safe” text messages and calls. (Read my blog post regarding our brush with the Syrian crisis here

Having spent three days in Istanbul, I guarantee you that it is still definitely worth traveling to, despite the danger. With traveling there is always a risk, anywhere you go.

Istanbul is comprised of three areas- there is the European side which includes the Beyôglu district, ancient Sultanahmet and the Golden Horn, and the Asian side with its multitude of Istanbulli suburbs. The Asian and European sides are connected by the only bridge in the world that connects two continents- the Bosphorus.

Flying over the Bosphorus bridge

Flying over the Bosphorus bridge

We stayed at the Four Seasons Sultanahmet for two nights and it was more than we could imagine. We went to Saudi Arabia after our trip and detoured back into Istanbul before we started our travels to Greece. On our third night, we stayed at The Witt in the Beyoglu district. Fell in love with Istanbul so much we canceled our Athens trip to stay in the city of seagulls a little bit longer.

The Blue Mosque in Sultanahmet

The Blue Mosque in Sultanahmet

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Views from Suleymaniye

Views from Suleymaniye

Pottery at the Grand Bazaar, also located in historical Sultanahmet

Pottery at the Grand Bazaar

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Tea & Sofia

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Inside Sofia

Blue and Sofia facing each other

Blue and Sofia facing each other

The Spice Bazaar

The Spice Bazaar

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Topkapi cielings

Topkapi ceilings

Inside Topkapi

Inside Topkapi

Inside Suleymaniye

Inside Suleymaniye

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Galata tower

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Faint view of the Bosphorus bridge

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Hotel room view at The Witt

Street art in the Beyôglu district

Street art in the Beyôglu district

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You guys know how I feel about breakfast and views by now ✌?️

You guys know how I feel about breakfast and views by now ✌?

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12 Jun

Syrian Delight

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Our recent adventure to Turkey was full of new cultural experiences as well as breathtaking visions of the beautiful world in which we live. However, we were also exposed, indirectly, to a hint of the hideous evil in this world. A lot of you saw the vacation portion that I posted on Instagram and Snap-chat, but there is a part that I kept private because I needed time to truly reflect and process how to share it with everyone.

The impression was made on our first full day in Istanbul. Sohail and I had just flown in from London. We checked into our hotel in Sultanahmet and went for a walk around the local area. Our adventure began at the square, where the brilliant Blue Mosque and Aya Sofya face each other. Afterward we progressed further into the Grand Bazaar.

It was colorful and vibrant, crowded full of shops displaying mosaic pottery and lamps. The atmosphere was accompanied by an intoxicating aroma- a mix of spices, tea and Turkish delight. There was one shop in particular that struck my curiosity. I’ll be honest with you guys- it was no different than the myriad other shops in the bazaar but I walked in because I heard Dr. Dre and Snoop Dawg playing on blast. I was greeted by a polite local shop owner who asked if I was interested in pottery. I protested that we didn’t have any room in our luggage, so he countered: “You… like the Turkish delight?” with his broken English and motioned his arm toward his second shop.

We walked into the second shop, which was full of different trays of dessert. Here we were greeted by a young man who spoke perfect English. He had thick eyelashes, a bright smile, and a scar between his eyebrows and nose. We began sampling the pastries as he told us about the different varieties. His vocabulary was surprisingly fluent and extensive. He was obviously well-educated. I kept wondering why he was working in a simple shop in the grand bazaar. I asked him where he was from, and he replied: “Syria.”

His name was Ibrahim. And although he never referred to himself as one, he was a Syrian refugee.

Ibrahim talked about how life had been good in Syria. He mentioned that when… if the war was ever over he would go back to his hometown of Aleppo without thinking twice. He was a Doctor of Pharmacy student back home and he had a bright future in that world. We spent so long in conversation that he eventually gave us chairs to sit on. His personality was full of life, with a warm smile adorning his face the entire time. While sampling the fruit and nut laced Turkish delights, we discussed the Syrian crisis and the scar between his nose and eyebrow. The wound was suffered when he was kidnapped while trying to escape Aleppo during the assault on the city by the forces loyal to Bashar al Assad. At this point his warm demeanor hardened, he stopped talking for a moment before mentioning how it hurt to remember those times.

We then transitioned to how he traveled to Turkey, and his life working in Istanbul. I asked him how the Turks treated him and he replied: “Well, when you come into a country that isn’t yours and you are willing to do the same work for half the wages, then you can imagine how the people living there would feel about you.”

It broke my heart. He was no different than us, except that he had lost everything he had. At the point of a knife, he abandoned his country, friends, and family, because he was not safe living in his home.

I’m sharing this with you guys because it hurt me so deeply. People like Ibrahim had real lives back in Syria, where he should have been looking to settle down and preparing to start his career as a pharmacist. My brother is roommates with a guy in Houston who was a well-known surgeon in Syria. Can you imagine having to leave everything you have: your career, family, lifelong friends, and the home you grew up in, after watching it blown into a million pieces? Imagine losing your identity, your dignity, and then traveling to a strange and unwelcoming land to begin a new life from scratch? It’s heartbreaking. And then I see on twitter, people smearing refugees as terrorists and ‘rape-fugees’.

Syrians are leaving their home country because they’re trying to escape the terror there, only to cross deserts, forests, and oceans and be exposed to varying levels of mistreatment everywhere they stop. All across Europe there are signs that read: “Refugees Not Welcome”, while in camps they are treated like animals. Have Bashar’s barrel bombs destroyed humanity as well?

I think about Al Assad, and how he’s robbed children of their childhood. Children that are 6 years old are going to remember the gunshots, bomb shells, airstrikes, buildings torn into rubble with their only salvation being a terrible migration through hostile land and sea. Bashar Al Assad is responsible for the death and suffering of so many in Syria. This is not meant to judge him as a leader or as a man, but I will say this – he will have to answer to God.

As the bazaar began to close down, and without knowing any other way to say goodbye, we offered him some money, but he flatly refused. He insisted with pride that he had a good job, and that the pain was behind him. We asked him what his favorite version of Turkish delight was, and bought the pomegranate flavor that he suggested. As he handed Sohail our dessert, he wrapped his hands over his and whispered with a smile and wink: “The dessert in Aleppo was much better than this.”

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Some videos I found informative regarding the Syrian migration are on YouTube, by Field of Vision productions in collaboration with The New Yorker . There are 6 episodes which document the refugees’ journey from Syria, Turkey and then into the E.U. I’ll add the link below.

Worth the watch.

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