Sunny days.

Twelve-hour bus to Cappadocia tonight. Bus to Ankara this weekend before a Tuesday flight to Sofia, Bulgaria. Having a hard time believing I’ve been in Europe for two weeks, though half the time the thought is “already” and the other half it’s “only.” Either way, all positive thoughts.

Every once in awhile, I forget I’m wearing my sunglasses. They’ve become a wardrobe staple- a way to ward off headaches. A way to look where I want without giving away what has caught my attention. A way to avoid eye contact.

And so I find myself walking along the Bosporus, watching men fish as their young sons, an assumption, swim in only their briefs (though one wears jeans). Waves of the high water crash up against the wall, showering the fisherman, the children unaffected. A stray dog lays along the sidewalk as the street food vendors heat their grills. Count their change, chop their vegetables, shape the meat in their hands. All with the same gloves.

And I think it’s beautiful, this Wednesday afternoon, this last afternoon in Istanbul.

And then I remember I’m wearing my sunglasses. I take them off and immediately all is more colorful. The water bluer. The tomatoes on the street carts redder than those in the organic section at home. The grass the dog lays beside greener, fuller. The day warmer, the daylight less seemingly near its end.

And as you stroll along the Bosporus, you have a lot of time to think. And so you think about sunglasses as you think about life.

And really, isn’t it just a fact of living, of being human- though you risk creating a headache, a little eye contact, awkward sometimes, is always worth the brighter view.

And, sometimes, it creates a new lens to see through entirely.

An Istanbul Affair to Remember

I wasn't kidding about all the cats.
Six months ago, I told Andrea we’d meet (“honeymoon”) in Paris. Late June, in a frantic “I can only be in most of Europe for a collective 90days max with my visa, and I just booked flights 122 days apart from each other” panic, I bought a $97 Barcelona-Istanbul plane ticket on my cell phone at 1a.m. Honeymoon in Istanbul, we called it.

What a cool, cool choice that was.

Yesterday was the first day I think we were together anxious/angsty/homesick for people at home. The fact we’ve got things to send to the states and a trek around town only told us post offices are closed for holiday for a week and Fedex locations just don’t exist (nor really work for things like postcards) played into feelings of being far, far away.

Afternoon is hot and humid. The siestas were not left in Spain. After our nap, we decided to have a comfortable, like-home, night. Yes, it included a Starbucks splurge (dont judge, you cant tell me Turkish coffee does the trick, it’s not like I’m sippin Starbucks in Italy), and going to see Harry Potter.

I'd made this wordplay earlier in the day, then found this place. Life's weird that way.

We arrive at the theater I’d seen Harry Potter 6 at two years ago. The movie posters hang outside. Online, we’d seen a 9p.m. showing. But at the ticket counter, “Harry Potter?” is met with “no.” It’s not there. We look at each other. Mr. Popper’s Penguins? Sure! “Penguins?” we ask. “Is the talking in English? Turkish subtitles?”

“Screen two is English.” Okay!!!

Except wait. A glance as she plugs in our ticket order- looks like penguins are in five and six, but…

And that is how we almost ended up with two tickets to the Green Lantern.

We leave the movieplex and agree a stroll around town at night would be great.

Great was an understatement.

It’s the end of Ramadan. The Blue Mosque is lit up like Cinderella’s Castle. Food vendors, artisans, performers are out. Children are watching two male puppets fight in a puppet show- we have no idea what is being said, but you know it’s good because the kids would alternate yelling out “yeah!!!!!!!” and “no!!!!” so you would hope the good guy was winning.

The Blue Mosque

It was beautiful. And as we strolled, we talked about how crazy it is we’re both in Istanbul, and on a night like this. So far from the $2 burgers at Chucks we bonded over every Monday.

We look around for dessert. Something cheap, but maybe something with a view. Plus, something sit-down always includes a bathroom. One you can sit-down in as well- we’re not big on the public stalls of just porcelain holes in the ground.

Somehow, we got ourselves ushered up five flights of stairs to the ritziest restaurant in Istanbul, on its rooftop terrace. To my left, the Blue Mosque. Behind me, the Hagia Sophia. And there are candles and mood lighting. We are far, far too backpacking scummy to be at this restaurant.

But, forgetting the obscene amount we paid for heart-shaped desserts, there was nowhere else we should have been last night. Though it looked like a date, it was just two very happy girls discussing life, once again, on their best-friend honeymoon in Istanbul. Our waitress, Giselda, went to take a picture of us. Raises then lowers the camera, laughs. “Your smiles.”

Giselda was the best.

There are so many places I want to be and miss right now, but last night, we were in the right place. A brand new experience… And a pretty stellar one.

“Do you need diamonds? Because I will SO haggle for diamonds.”

Somewhere in the past five days we flew to day five in Istanbul. Does that make sense? That’s how it feels, anyway.

Istanbul 2011 trip is different from Istanbul 2009. Quieter. I’m much less nervous. I quite enjoy sitting down to lunch with a waiter who calls Andrea and I “Shakira and Jennifer (Lopez).” Our days have been spent being tourists, sightseeing, haggling in the Grand Bazaar (“Spend your money, please, I need money, I want to get married”) talking, spending low-key time in our honeymoon suite. Sleeping until too late, staying up laughing until the morning call to prayer is heard throughout the city.

The big-mimed beers.

Andrea and I travel SO well together. We’re on the same budget, we want to do the same things. And when we don’t, that girl is just fine going into the palace museum while I fall asleep on the palace lawn and get to watch a snuggling couple get the midday sprinklers turned on them. We both like afternoon naps, we both like Skyping each other’s friends and we both quite enjoyed karaoking “Truly Madly Deeply” at midnight in a Taksim Square bar after my miming “the big ones” got us obscenely large .7L beers the size of our faces.

We’ve had our share of mishaps and adventures. The Topkapi stop? Not where the Topkapi Palace is. Actually, about four miles and twenty minutes past it. Also good, trams that reverse direction mid-trip. “Uh, hey Andrea…” And waiter, I’m no dummy, I can do math, I’ll take that five in change you still owe me.

We laugh a lot. We laugh until we cry, a lot. We picnic with the hostel’s cats. We both kinda smell like we need to do laundry, and we’ve accepted that.

“Somebody to Love.” Singing me has a face for talk radio.

Today, just outside the city center, we stopped to grab our daily lunch of doner kabobs. A woman stopped to talk to us. She’s Turkish, but comes here this time from Canada. She is Muslim but married to a Christian man, and tells us nowhere in the world do the religions and cultures melt together like Istanbul. Her name translates to “Star,” stemming from her birthday being December 27. She is 47 years old.

Her eyes widen at our travel plans. She tells us to stick together, be careful, have fun. She tells us to check out the Turkish men. “I am married, I cannot. You are young.” (you can look! We say) “Who wants to look?? I want to eat them up! They are just so good! And you can be skinny, fat, blonde, brown, it doesn’t matter they will love you. Nowhere in the world are the men like here. They didn’t used to, but now, they respect women.”

“And listen to me girls, let me tell you, when you pick one you want to marry, you have to do this. Watch him with his mother. Because, the way he takes care of his mother, that’s the way he’ll take care of you.”

Noted.

Reunited and it feels so good. And hot, and kinda sticky.

With my bi-coastal living and tendency to change locations frequently and make dramatic decisions like backpacking for four months, I successfully create opportunities for movie-worthy emotional airport reunions. The latest, with one of the loves of my life, Andrea.

I burst through the sliding customs door and saw her. Shrieked. Ran toward her (and the glass partition that would continue to separate us). Moved in an awkward slow-motion run along the partition looking sideways at her and seeing that she’s in tears already. Laughing as we hug. “I did this wrong!! I should have been taping! There should have been a sign for you!”

My new friend Malia laughs at us. We’d met on the plane- she’s working for room and board for a family in Turkey after just doing the same for three months in Spain, through workaway.info. She recently broke up with her boyfriend of three years because three years ago she told him of her intentions to do this and he thought she was all talk. Whoops. Anyway, Malia and I will travel together soon (“I looked back at you on the plane and you’re just sitting there grinning. I thought, ‘this girl is cool.'” I’m such a weirdo sometimes).

Andrea and I had an epic reunion and took the forty-five minute back to the Stray Cat Hostel. My plane had landed at “Istanbul’s second airport,” on the asian continent. Did I mention she’d sent her day going to the airport and waiting to pick me up? What a pal. We grabbed kabobs at Bambi Cafe in Taksim Square and walked the ten minute steep decline down to our place.

The Stray Cat Hostel. There are kittens in the common room. I shared my breakfast spot with an orange tabby cat this morning. In our honeymoon suite, Andrea and I have a double bed, and our own bathroom. Outside at night, a bar nearby plays “Moves Like Jagger” often.

I was last in Istanbul in July 2009. I remembered it being frantic, intimidating, in your face. People always yelling at you, downright emotionally exhausting. Reading my SAS blogs from back then, I often realize I’ve forgotten so many stories, that I worried I hadn’t absorbed anything in my previous fast-paced trip abroad.

Not the case at all. I find myself remembering streets, restaurants, where the visitors entrance is to places, hills to avoid, what is near where, etc. And it makes me relieved, because I traveled well, not just as a tourist, but an observer. That is, after all, the most important goal this time around.