Hagia Sophia, Istanbul, Turkey

All Is Well In Istanbul, Thanks To Shakira

Derek Perspectives, Turkey 100 Comments

Hagia Sophia, Istanbul, Turkey

Here I am…in Istanbul, where my first two days have been filled with visits to some of the major landmarks of this great city, many of which are within a mere 300 meters of where I happen to be staying. I spent time wandering through the too-impressive-to-describe Sultan Ahmed Mosque (Blue Mosque), the massively-domed, basilica-turned-mosque of Ayasofya (Hagia Sophia) and the mind-bogglingly endless labyrinth that is Kapalıçarşı (Grand Bazaar), entering each with an intense level of curiosity that was quickly transformed into an overwhelming sense of sheer awe.

However, whether that awe and wonder were actually the result of the history and inspiring atmosphere that surrounded me or of the fact that Istanbul itself was no longer a distant and hopeful destination, I do not know. All I do know is that it felt damn good to be exploring a new land once again.

But of course, there is much more to exploring than simply enjoying the sights and so it came as no surprise that when I climbed into bed at 6pm on my second day in Istanbul, too exhausted to remain awake, I realized that something was indeed missing. It wasn’t an extra pair of boxer shorts or a rain jacket (which would be nice given the daily downpours) that I longed for, but rather, a deeper connection to this city. It is true that I had been here for only 48 hours, yet I was eager to reach that level of comfort that helps turn one’s outer observations of a destination into inner exploration and growth.

I knew that connection would come eventually, but I ended up falling asleep in fear of wandering around the Middle East for a few months as only a quiet and distant outsider.

As luck would have it though, Istanbul did not want my day to end on this note and only a few hours later, at 9pm, I suddenly woke up, incredibly hungry and restless.

TIME FOR A WALK

Blue Mosque, Istanbul, Turkey

I ventured outside once again, strolled around the Blue Mosque, picked a random street and began walking. For a long time I walked, quite rapidly in fact, glancing around at the people and places I passed but not once slowing down. At this point, I realized for certain that I was stuck in that initial stage that travelers go through upon arrival in a new place, that stage where we have yet to ‘click’ with our destination. We’re not necessarily overwhelmed or unhappy, but we tend to walk around in a state of extreme self-consciousness, lacking confidence in our ability to immerse ourselves in the culture around us.

This state may cause us to avoid crowded places, such as restaurants, local gathering spots or anywhere that we know would offer a unique glimpse into the daily life of a city. We often remain silent, barely speaking to or interacting with anyone. We sometimes walk abnormally fast, put things off until another day, spend too much time on the internet at our hostel/hotel and ultimately try to convince ourselves that despite all of the above, we are loving every minute of our adventure.

In reality, we’re simply trying to avoid sticking out as ‘that tourist’, but we end up engaging in behavior that makes us much more ‘that tourist’ than if we simply followed our inner tour guide. We become suffocated by the thought that people will whisper about us, stare at us, wag their fingers at us…the uncomfortable foreigner so clearly out of place and on their own. And so we practically run past that seemingly interesting and popular local cafe, inexplicably shaking our head as the waiter calls out to us and left to wonder why we’re being so foolish.

Well, I was perfectly aware that my first two days here were fully controlled by all of these silly fears. I won’t even begin to try and deny that! It was only natural, but I was ready to find a way to shed those fears that were keeping me from connecting with Istanbul. Therefore, after having walked halfway across the Old City on that second night, in what must surely have been a record time of about 29 minutes, I suddenly stopped, turned around and headed back towards the small, bustling local restaurant that I had passed earlier.

This time, as I approached the restaurant, I actually slowed down, made eye contact with the waiter and summoned all of my strength to greet him in Turkish. I then took a deep breath, stepped inside and began to tackle my fears.

“Yes, table for 1, please.”

JUST ANOTHER TOURIST

It took only a few minutes. Well before my delicious plate of stuffed eggplant and bell peppers was served to me, I had already found my groove. My confidence had quickly grown enough for me to begin muttering the ten Turkish words I’d been practicing and to ask endless questions about everything on the menu. No longer did it bother me that locals were indeed looking in my direction and even laughing at my apparently odd decision to drink a hot tea before my meal. Instead, I greeted all those around me and simply joined in the laughter.

I continued to get even more comfortable and I felt the difference. The connection between traveler and destination that I had sought, had finally begun to form. After an hour or so, I was completely relaxed, knowing full well that I was now prepared to explore this culture more deeply.

All it had taken was one meal in a restaurant. One moment of not caring that I am a foreigner in a foreign land. Once I accept the fact that, no matter what, we are all tourists or travelers or whatever word you wish to use, and that there is no avoiding it, I find that traveling becomes much easier and infinitely more rewarding.

And it doesn’t matter if we’re exploring Japan, sitting on the beach in Mexico or going on holidays to Turkey, and it doesn’t matter if we travel with an organized group, travel with our family or we travel independently. We all stick out, all the time.

Who cares if we look silly? Truthfully, we probably do look silly to those around us. So instead of using that knowledge to keep our distance from a particular people and culture, why not use it to connect with them instead?

THANK YOU SHAKIRA

Yes, that Shakira.

The highlight of my evening meal came when the television screen in the corner of the restaurant started showing a Shakira video. As she began shaking her hips, as only she can do, I felt a tap on my shoulder. As I turned around, I found the elderly woman next to me (who I had earlier learned was from Lebanon), pointing at the screen and asking me, “She Shakira?”

Baklava, Istanbul, TurkeyAfter I confirmed that it was indeed Shakira, she quickly turned to her husband and with a huge smile on her face said something in Lebanese that included “Ahh, Shakira!”, to which her husband excitedly clapped his hands twice and repeated “Shakira, Shakira, Shakira” over and over again.

Now I really have no idea if this Lebanese couple was simply a huge Shakira fan or if they had made a bet as to who the scantily-clad woman on the television was, but either way, it was a spectacular moment. And once their excitement died down, we all ended up ordering some more tea and sharing some baklava. Then, before they eventually left, they invited me to visit them once I make my way to Beirut.

On my walk back to the section of Sultanahmet where I am currently staying, as I practically skipped down the street with happiness, I popped into a pastry shop for some more baklava (Okay, I went into 3 baklava shops. It’s important to compare quality!), spent some time chatting with a grilled corn vendor and found myself helping a Turkish couple, who were visiting Istanbul for the first time, find their way to their hotel. I ended up interacting with Istanbul more in those thirty minutes than I had in my first two full days!

And when I climbed back into bed shortly after midnight, I was a much different person than the one who had taken an uncomfortable nap earlier in the evening. At this point, without being controlled by needless fear, I knew that nothing was going to stop me from diving into every aspect of Turkish culture and loving every minute of it, regardless of the outcome.

The adventure had officially begun…

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Comments 100

  1. Pingback: 5 Challenges of Solo Travel and How to Overcome Them | How to Travel SoloHow to Travel Solo

  2. Andrew

    I enjoyed my time in Istanbul. I lost all self consciousness very quickly. I realised that mostly people would not try to talk but I was glad for the ones who did. A shoeshine man who pointed at my new trainers as I sat in the tourist area and said “you don’t need shoe shine!” and gave up his afternoon showing me round and teaching me Turkish, visiting places like small mosques and back streets with amazing views of the Golden Horn, where I would not have dared go normally. Why did I trust him? People ask, well because the vibes told me he was a decent man from the country and wanted to help a lost soul appreciate his town better. He was well respected in the shoe shine world and walked with an confident gait and many younger street vendors paid him respect. I felt under his protection as a guest in his city- on his streets .. I like to think I would be the same in my town but I know that somehow I would walk on by…. Thank you Ali for making that day so interesting…

  3. Sierra

    Great post. Nice to hear that other people get the “oh god oh god I look like such a tourist, they can tell, don’t slow down keep walking” feeling too… and that you can conquer it by just ignoring it and making the decision to have fun anyway. Self-consciousness: my travel enemy.

    1. Earl

      Hey Sierra – I think most people go through this stage when traveling, whether or not they want to admit it. In the end, we are all tourists so we might as well accept that fact and start enjoying our travels!

  4. vago

    lofl Earl about the drinking hot tea before your meal. I remember in Spain how annoyed all my Italian and Spanish friends would become when I would order coffee with my meal…they didn’t care it was a cold day…you just don’t drink coffee with food…lol, unless you don’t care about slaughtering sacred cows….

    Great post,

    ~vago

    1. Earl

      @vago – I’ve learned my lesson now and even on these cool nights, I wait until I’m finished eating before ordering my tea. It’s not easy, but I’m managing.
      Sometimes there are just social rules and it doesn’t matter where those rules came from, we just need to follow them 🙂

  5. Nuno Moreiras

    Ah Istanbul…! The blue moske in the distance, as solemn and beautiful as Hagia Sofia is excentric and the great bazaar energetic…

    Nice documenting, brother.

    This post was quite the walk through the memory lane! =)

  6. Kan

    Hi Earl,

    A stunning entry! I love how it all summed up very well in the end and whole-heartedly agree with the issues of major self-consciousness when we find ourselves in a foreign country. Yet I can’t wait to find myself in that situation as well in China at the end of the year. Will be following your travel adventures closely.

    1. Earl

      Hey Kan – That’s the great part of it all. Even though we know we’ll be uncomfortable for a while upon arriving in a new place, we still look forward to it all! That’s when we really know that travel should play a role in our lives 🙂

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  8. xixerone

    Weirdly enough as I started reading this post a Shakira song started playing on the background at work… and I’m going to Istanbul in December… I’ll consider that as a sign of good luck 😉

  9. Pingback: Travel in Turkey- Top Blog Posts | Turkish Travel Blog

  10. Jeremy B

    Hey Earl-

    Glad to hear you’ve started your journey and I think it would be hard to beat having Shakira as a Guardian Angel of sorts! When I was in Colombia I met someone working for her foundation there.
    Jeremy B

    1. Earl

      Hey Jeremy – For a minute there I thought you were going to say that you met Shakira! I certainly won’t complain if she’s the one looking out for me on this trip 🙂

  11. Little House

    I’ve only traveled outside the US a few times and always with a family member or my husband. It’s hard to imagine traveling to unfamiliar areas by myself. The closest experience I had of being by myself in a foreign country was when I was a teenager and traveled to Scotland with my parents. I was mostly alone during the day, walking all over Edinburgh from theater festival to festival. However, I immediately felt “at home”, but I think it was because I had a bizarre notion that my ancestors were from there (only to find out later that this notion wasn’t true!) It must be an amazing feeling to get into the groove of different cities. I’m sure Istanbul will be quite an experience.

    1. Earl

      @Little House – That’s quite interesting that simply having the idea that your ancestors were from Scotland helped ease you into the foreign culture. I should try that one. When I arrive in Syria I will try to convince myself that it is where my ancestors came from 🙂

  12. Brad

    Thanks for being real. It’s encouraging to read that a pro like you still has struggles like this, and to see how you finally got into the groove. We all have lots to thank Shakira for, right? : ) Thanks again.

    1. Earl

      Hey Brad – I think that people would be lying if they said that their travels always went perfectly, even people who have been traveling for a long, long time. It would be hard to uncover the rewards of travel if we are always completely at ease.

      And yes, Shakira has indeed given us many reasons to be thankful for her!

  13. Dina

    Shakira for melting down the barrier, eh, so socker is not the only universal topic it seems 🙂
    Istanbul, mmm… I will go there again someday. And Turkey in general. I still can’t believe how did I miss out Ephesus when the ship visited Izmir, I bet you didn’t make this same mistake (I assume your ships stopped in Izmir when you were in it, bunch of times?)

    1. Earl

      Hey Dina – I did make it to Ephesus once while working on board the cruise ships, but of course that was a quick visit. Pretty much anywhere I visited on ships needs to be visited again for some more in depth exploration!

  14. Audrey

    Sounds like you’ve got your travel mojo on again after just a couple of days. Leave it to Shakira to be a bridge across cultures and languages 🙂 I love how music and food seem to be universal uniters. Even if you don’t share a common spoken language, you can still communicate through body language.

    And, sometime being the outsider gives you a great excuse to ask all those “silly” questions and do all those “strange” things. Enjoy it!

    1. Earl

      Hey Audrey – Music and food always do seem to play a role, no matter where we may be in the world. Both have that magical ability to put a smile on everyone’s face. And I can now say that Turkey is a very good place to be an outsider as the people have shown nothing but warmth and kindness no matter what strange things I’ve been doing!

  15. Adam

    I’m sat a work on my lunch-break with a big smile on my face after reading this post. Shakira! Shakira! I love traveling vicariously with you 🙂

    I know the exact feeling you mean -I felt the same in Venice when I visited arlier this year. I did the same thing…prepared to speak Italian before coming out with “Table for 1 please” -Alas I didn’t have Shakira on TV to break to tension 🙂

    1. Earl

      Hey Adam – What would we do without Shakira? She was definitely the last person I thought I’d be relying on here in Turkey 🙂

      Getting over that “Table for 1 please” hesitation is a big step. As soon as we stop caring about being a foreigner on our own, we find ourselves able to stroll right up to the most crowded and popular of places and take a seat. It’s not worth missing out on great experiences just because we’re on our own!

      1. Adam

        I actually prefer travelling on my own as I can go wherever I like, whenever I like. When travelling with groups its always a nightmare to decide where to eat or what to visit next.

        But you’re right, it has its own challenges and it can be harder than you think.

  16. Shannon OD

    I had this exact same awkward feeling when I arrived in Bali – oddly uncomfortable with the act of travel, the little details that help sink into the culture – I had been in the US for months before Bali and it was once again strange to be in such a foreign place that, like you, I kind of hid for a couple of days.

    I’m glad that you’ve got your groove going now, who knew that Shakira would be that bridge for you 🙂

    1. Earl

      Hey Shannon – I think it’s only natural that we hide for a little bit. It’s always a little strange to land somewhere new and even more so if you haven’t been traveling for a while. But we wouldn’t decide to travel if couldn’t do it and so it’s always comforting to know that we’ll break through that initial period at some point!

  17. Mimi: Sleepless In KL

    I’m also in Istanbul right now but we are flying back to KL today. How I wish I can stay longer and see Istanbul in greater depth and see everything else that lies outside Istanbul.

    Like you, I had the same ‘detached’ feeling on my first day. An afternoon of immersion in Istanbul’s historic Topkapi Palace allowed me to make the connection with this historic city.

    Ironically, I *truly* fell in love with Istanbul only yesterday, after taking the 1.50-Lira ferry ride from the European side to the Asian side, a lump in my throat as I watched the midday sun make the rippling waves shimmer like a carpet of diamonds before the city that straddles the East and West.

    1. Earl

      Hey Mimi – That sounds like such a wonderful moment you had on the ferry! That’s what it’s all about as they say. Those are the moments that keep us traveling, even if they happen the day before we leave a particular destination. I’m heading over to the Asian side tomorrow so I shall make sure I sit outside on the ferry and enjoy the view.

      Have a safe trip back to KL!!

  18. Amanda

    Great post, Earl! Glad to hear you found your groove in Istanbul. I can relate to those self-conscious feelings; I think we’ve all been there at some point.

    Istanbul sounds amazing. I’ll admit, I’m jealous! Istanbul is at the top of my list of places I’d like to see. Hopefully some day…

    1. Earl

      Hey Amanda – I’m sure you’ll make your way to this great city at some point. It really is a unique destination with endless opportunities for exploration…so keep it at the top of your list for sure!

  19. chel hamilton

    Earl! Get an umbrella and leave it when you go already. 😉 I had a wool coat when I lived in Istanbul. So sorry again I didn’t catch you on your packing post before you left. That’s funny about your baklava obsession. I gained 30 pounds the first 6 months I lived in Istanbul so I understand! i loved the pistachio baklava – with 3x the filo as the filling – though the savory borek was SO my downfall.

    One thing they always said about Turkey (and I agree)… no matter where you go from Istanbul you will always long to return to both the city and the warmth of the Turks.

    Happy Travels!

    1. Earl

      Hey Chel – Ha! The pistachio baklava has been some of my favorites as well 🙂 But I actually haven’t found any that I haven’t liked yet. That could become a real problem.

      And I did buy an umbrella in the end, but instead of using it, I found myself walking around in the rain holding it. I don’t know what my problem is but that’s what I always seem to do.

  20. Forest

    One thing I love about this blog is you describe things that all us who have traveled experience but don’t often share… That feeling of kind of nothingness on arrival is an odd one.

    When i first arrived in Cairo it was so overwhelming I found myself ducking for cover more often than I would have liked as you describe but I was a little quicker to force myself to interact and we headed for the slums on our 2nd day or so. That day gave misery from stares and nasty comments to my partner but also a shop owner sat us down and fed us then refused money for the food and the overall experience was invaluable.

    1. Earl

      I appreciate the comment Forest. I don’t feel the need to hold anything back and hopefully by talking about what I go through on a trip, it helps others get a little more comfortable with their own travels.

      On a side note, going straight into the slums on your second day would indeed be one way to quickly interact with a culture. And even with that example, it should come as no surprise that you ended up having such a rewarding experience!

  21. szaza

    Oh, and don’t worry about looking like a tourist— people are super friendly here. I’ve been running around Istanbul for almost two years now asking for tables for one in broken Turkish— and I’m a girl (I mention that because it’s not a common thing for young women to go out to eat solo). Staring is not considered rude in Turkish culture, so people will look and watch, but it doesn’t really mean anything.

    Enjoy!

    1. Earl

      @szaza – I can’t agree more…every person I’ve met here has been absolutely wonderful. And now that I’m in my groove, I don’t mind at all asking for a table for 1! I’ve been quite comfortable no matter where I’ve been so far…glad to know you experience the same as a single female in this city!

  22. szaza

    Hi Earl— hop on a boat from Eminönü to Kadiköy on the Asian side, get off the ferry and cross the street, walk around the building that is directly across from the docks, then cross the street— the whole time, keeping your back to the docks. Turn right and take your first left (should be by the big bookstore with a picture of Victor Hugo on it).

    Walk straight up the hill to the second main pedestrian only street. Along this street you will find a row of restaurants, three of which are called Çiya. Go to the Çiya on the corner (that isn’t called Çiya Kebap) and sit down for the most delicious experience in Anatolian cuisine.

    Seriously, do not miss the opportunity to eat at Çiya! I would take you there myself if I didn’t have two papers to write. There’s also a great Turkish coffee place called Fazil Bey that’s around the corner. They roast their own beans and it’s oh so yummy.

    Kadiköy is a wonderful place to visit in Istanbul.

    1. Earl

      @szaza – Excellent! I will not miss this opportunity I promise 🙂 I shall look for Ciya tomorrow when I head over to the Asian side. I love food recommendations from people who have lived in a place for a while. It’s much better than choosing at random.

      Thank you for the specific instructions by the way…it gets me even more excited to check it out!

      1. szaza

        Yay! I’m so glad you’re heading there. Also, for baklava… There’s this dee-vine baklava house in Karaköy— if you can take the ferry back from the Asian side to Karaköy (you have to take a ferry from the other ferry station on the right), you can have Çiya for lunch, a Turkish coffee at Fazilbey to get you going, then hop on a ferry to Güllüoğlu Karaköy. This Güllüoğlu has been serving baklava to the masses since 1949, and I tell you, it’s probably some of the best I’ve had in the city. It’s a whole café of baklava!

        When you get off the ferry, turn right and walk along the water until the path curves up to the right (my goodness my directions sound insane!), you’ll see a large ugly carpark with a delightful-looking deli underneath it called Namli— this is also a great place for brunch! Right next door to Namli is Güllüoğlu.

        They even have the unorthodox chocolate baklava.
        Some scoff at it, I do not. It’s divine with çay.

        1. Earl

          Hey Samantha – Well, all I can say is thank you! I followed your recommendations and had a wonderful day out and about…mostly eating of course. I don’t want to say too much now because it was all so good that my day deserves to be written up as a post, but I am quite happy this evening, especially as I’m stuffing chocolate baklava into my face right now. 🙂

  23. elsa

    Earl,
    I’m amazed at your writing and sense of adventure. I found your blog in Stumble Upon and enjoy it very much. The other thing that impresses me is that you reply to almost everyone who writes to you! I look forward to your next entry … elsa

    1. Earl

      Hey Elsa – Thank you for stopping by 🙂 I do try my best to reply to every comment as the community that has formed around this site is what motivates me the most to keep on writing!

      Have a great night!

  24. Gary

    Just found your blog earl, and I love it. I visited Istanbul in
    April this year and experienced a couple of “take my breath away” moments. One in front of the Sultanahment mosque and another up at the entrance of the Bosphorus to the black sea. What an incredible city. I can tell that you are enjoying your visit as much as I enjoyed mine.

    1. Earl

      Hey Gary – Thank you for commenting and welcome! Istanbul is a great city, there’s no denying that. And no matter how many times I walk past the Blue Mosque, I still find myself slowing down and often taking a seat on a bench for a few minutes just to soak in the atmosphere. It’s hard to describe really, it just pulls you in!

  25. Janet

    LOVE your post and LOVE Istanbul – addicted to the city – like so many others!

    As a regular traveler/travel company owner, I actually prefer to touch down in as many countries as possible to continue feeling that “new city high,” but Istanbul is the one city that has kept me coming back numerous times.

    It’s constant liveliness and the Turkish people’s friendly and welcoming attitude is 2nd to none. Try Hala Manti (Istiklal Cad. 131/D, Beyoglu, Istanbul) – about 3/4 ways to Taksim Sq from Tunel for some fantastic eats and atmosphere.

    Janet
    @WorldTravelWH – Twitter

    1. Earl

      Hey Janet – Thank you for your comment and suggestion of Hala Manti! I have added it to my list of things to do, and I should make it up that way in the next couple of days. Never do I ignore a place that offers fantastic eats!

  26. Ashley

    Yay, glad to know everything is going well in Istanbul, and am super excited to hear the rest of your stories from the Middle East! I’m sure it’s going to be amazing. I think going into a restaurant for the first time in a new country always makes me nervous and self-conscious. I always find it rather intimidating, but once I conquer that, it’s like my trip is really starting.

    1. Earl

      Hey Ashley – All I can say is…EXACTLY! Conquering that layer of self-consciousness changes everything and sometimes we just need to force ourselves to take that step. It’s funny though. We know what the result will be, yet we’re still afraid to just go for it!

  27. Dave and Deb

    Wonderful. It is true, at the beginning of every journey we tend to feel a little out of sorts. It is those first moments when we connect with the people that make everything OK. I am glad that you fell into the rhythm of the country so quickly. Looking forward to following your travels through the Middle East.

    1. Earl

      Hey Dave and Deb – It’s all just a part of traveling and sometimes it might take a couple of days and in other places it might take a week or more to find our rhythm. And you’re absolutely right that it almost always involves a conversation or some kind of interaction with the local people. And usually it happens quite unexpectedly, which makes it even more rewarding!

    1. Earl

      Hey Fabian – I generally spend 50% of my day exploring the city and the other 50% of day testing baklava. And I have no plans to change that pattern any time soon!

  28. Kim

    We just left Istanbul. We probably passed you in the street or a mosque and didn’t even realize it! We found a great little kebab place with seating on a corner in the middle of no where that we visited twice. Loved it! It’s always the little things that make a place memorable.

    1. Earl

      Hey Kim – Ha! I’m sure we did pass by at some point 🙂 I assume you had a great time here? I’ve also found that those middle of nowhere places that we randomly stumble upon are always more satisfying that the more popular places on the main streets. Do you remember the name of the kebab joint??

    1. Earl

      Much appreciated Randall! I’m thrilled to know that you enjoyed the story!

      On a side note, what on earth is Guimara? I guess I’ll have to read and find out 🙂

  29. Caz Makepeace

    Such a great post Earl. I was really surprised by how much I loved Istanbul. We spent days wandering around her streets and had such a fantastic time. After spending the first day or so in fear (thanks I never realized this was what it was) we let go and accepted many of the invitations to come inside for some apple tea -“no need to buy, just come sit and drink tea” We really got to know the Turkish people and found them to be so warm and open. Australians and Turkish people have a very unique connection due to our experience fighting each other in Gallipoli during WW1. Once enemies, we are now united as friends. It was such a incredible experience for us to visit Turkey and learn more about our own culture as a result.
    I really recommend you take a trip out there to learn more about it. I think you would really enjoy it.

    1. Earl

      Hey Caz – Thank you for the recommendation. Once I return to Turkey after my visit to Syria, I shall hopefully make it over to Gallipoli.

      I loved that you accepted the invitations from people that many travelers often immediately shoo away and ignore. Sure, their main goal might be to sell you something, but in the end they are often interested in learning from you as well. And these are the kind of interactions that can lead to some of the most wonderful memories. So far, I’ve also found the Turkish people to be incredibly kind, open and honest and not even once have I had any reason to think otherwise!

  30. Maria Staal

    Really enjoyed reading this post. Great that you have finally made it to the Middle East and now have found your groove.
    I think it’s every travellers aim to blend in and not be a tourist. I always try to achieve this by using public transport instead of taxis and touristy sightseeing busses.
    Good luck with finding the best baklava in the whole of Istanbul! 🙂

    1. Earl

      Thank you Maria! There are of course plenty of things we can do to help us ‘blend in’ and not stand out as much when traveling. And when we do the things you suggested while understanding that we are still going to be a tourist no matter, we’re able to make the most out of our experiences.

      As for the baklava, I will keep on searching until I’ve visited every shop!

  31. Natalie - Turkish Travel Blog

    I have been waiting for your post to find out where you ended up Earl. Was delighted when you said Sultan Ahmet area, that is where I stayed when I went to Istanbul. Ended up in a bar smoking nargile pipes which I totally did not expect.

    I have never traveled solo but can imagine your feelings on that first night. Any destination that I go to, for the first few days I am very apprehensive until I size up whether the place is for me or not.

    As for baklova!! Urgh. Too sweet. LOL

    1. Earl

      Hey Natalie – That’s perfectly fine, more baklava for me 🙂

      The Sultanahmet area has also surprised me as it’s much more laid-back than I imagined. And despite there being a decent amount of foreigners, the sight of the Blue Mosque lit up at night is one that I’ll never get tired of!

      And that apprehension we feel is only natural, but at least we recognize it and force ourselves to do something about it…I can’t imagine wandering around in fear for an extended period of time.

  32. conrad

    There are 2 cities in the world I feel completely at home, Bangkok and Istanbul.

    Bangkok I had to learn to love, but with Istanbul it was love at first sight. Like a perfect mysterious lady it just oozes with history, amazing beauty, hidden stories, different identities and rejected lovers.

    As with you at start I circled around her for a while wondering what to do with all this, until I got that smile back and knew it was all right.

    By the way, I recommend you reading The Black Book by Orhan Pamuk.

    1. Earl

      Hey Conrad – Thank you for the book recommendation! I’ll be heading up towards Taksim again tomorrow and will stop in one of the English book stores.

      And I can see how you fell in love with Istanbul at first sight. Surprising to me is how easy everything is over here. It’s easy to navigate through the city, there’s almost no hassles, the atmosphere is so calm….the intensity often associated with such big cities seems to be missing. And as a result, it’s difficult not to love this place!

    2. conrad

      Exactly! Even Sultanahmet seems like a small village at times… tranquil almost.

      About Pamuk, you know he didn’t only write that excellent novel about Istanbul and it’s people, but also a great non-fiction book about his childhood in Istanbul, called, tada, Istanbul. Maybe worth to check out too?

      1. Earl

        Thanks Conrad! I will check them both out. Didn’t make it to Taksim today, but hopefully I’ll get to those bookshops tomorrow!

  33. Migrationology

    Glad to know you made it and have now officially begun the adventure! Just like yourself, a good solid satisfying local meal gets me warmed up and ready to begin feeling more comfortable.
    The part about Shakira is hilarious, I probably would have rejoiced with the couple!

    1. Earl

      Hey Mark – Yeah, who doesn’t get excited about watching a little Shakira?!

      And a nice local meal is the perfect way to get adjusted. It allows us to not only sit down and stop running around for a moment, but to interact with locals in a more comfortable setting. Clearly you did plenty of that in Hanoi!

  34. ciki

    aww, this is a really cool story, and written so succinctly too. I love the way the story took a turn and the people welcomed you into their fold! Who would have thought Shakira would be the ice-breaker;) And Baklava..? my total favourite. One can never have too much Baklava i tell ya:)

    Great post:)

    1. Earl

      Hey Ciki – Why am I not surprised that a food expert such as yourself is so fond of yummy baklava??! Hopefully there’s some good places to buy it in KL!

  35. Lis

    I love Istanbul – its definitly on my must visit list – to start with you spend a week and never move more than 500m from your hotel – the density of sites is just so crazy.
    I must admit though I move at a fairly fast pace – you just get so over the “mister you want guide” touts which hang out near the Blue Mosque.

    1. Earl

      Hey Lis – Thank you for your comment! I will agree that you can easily spend an entire day in a very small section of Istanbul given all of the sights and interesting streets to explore. And I’m not sure if I’ve just been lucky, but I’ve yet to have a single person approach me or try to give me a persistent sales pitch for any goods or services. Even around the Blue Mosque it’s been quite calm and peaceful each day!

  36. rose

    … and please keep us posted on your most delicious baklava-eating spots, so I don’t have to go through all that hard work when I make it over there someday 🙂

    1. Earl

      Hey Rose – I have some favorite baklava places already but I still have a feeling I could find some better ones. By the time I leave, I hope to have found the best the city has to offer 🙂

  37. Phil

    Earl, your description of hurried aimless wandering is spot on. I think this is a feature of solo travel that is hard to get around when we first arrive, but like you say it just takes one decision or one interaction to change everything. Really enjoyed this. Take care, Phil

    1. Earl

      Thanks Phil! You have no idea how happy I am to know I’m not the only one who partakes in speed-walking during the first couple of days! It’s that period of adjustment where we just aren’t comfortable enough yet to try and figure out how the culture works. Luckily, it all falls into place eventually.

      I hope you’re well and having a great weekend…

    1. Earl

      Hey Andi – I doubt there’s a single person on the planet who doesn’t have a crush on Shakira! And there’s nothing that any of us can do about it 🙂

  38. Moon Hussain

    Earl, this sounds pretty damn exciting! Istanbul sounds so exotic! I know what you mean about not sticking out like a tourist. I’m pretty self-aware that I don’t “look or feel” like a true Californian–though the sun has given me an even deeper tan and the situation is nothing compared to yours.

    Looks like you’re already enjoying Istanbul and I hope to hear more about this!

    1. Earl

      Hey Moon – It’s true, even within one’s own country it is quite easy to stick out! And sure, there are things we can do to blend in to an extent, but we’re only kidding ourselves if we think we can blend in to the point of not being recognized as an ‘outsider’. That’s just how it is, so we might as well accept it and carry on!

      Thanks for the comment as always. And I am very jealous of your tan!

  39. Shane

    Glad to hear you are beginning to get your Istanbul groove on. We’ll be there in a few hours, though sadly only to change planes this time. Give us a wave if you see a plane going west at about 8am.

    1. Earl

      Hey Shane – It was a bit cloudy out but I did wave nonetheless 🙂 I hope you had a smooth transfer in Istanbul and a smooth onward journey as well!

  40. Connie

    Hey Earl! Istanbul will always be my home away from home! I spent 7 months there last year and simply FELL IN LOVE with that vibrant city! You should venture out of Sultanhanet and check out the other neighborhoods for a more authentic and “real” Istanbul! The side streets off Taksim Square, just follow Istiklal Caddesi down toward the Galata Tower will offer you superb choices in cafes, restaurants and shops. The area called Tunel is also there for excellent nightlife. Ohhh, I’m so jealous you’re in Istanbul! I can’t wait until I go back! Enjoy your time there and eat lots of good food for me!

    1. Earl

      Hey Connie – Wow! You lived here for 7 months?? That must have been one incredible period of time. I’ve been staying in Sultanahment but exploring every corner of the city. Just got back from wandering around those narrow lanes between Galata and Taksim Square and will head back to that area tomorrow for another round. And I’ve been eating plenty. Now that I’ve started to understand the cuisine, I want to eat every few minutes. Any favorite places to eat that you recommend??

  41. Ozzy

    Congrats on finally finding your rhythm Earl. And I completely agree once you lose all shame and run with whatever happens regardless of how you look life takes on a whole new aspect that you never knew existed.

    Ozzy

    1. Earl

      Hey Ozzy – You said it…we just need to run with it all without caring about standing out. Once we can do that, then we can get down to some real traveling!

  42. Adam

    Great post! I know that feeling all too well. It’s an odd one but one that every traveler has had and will have again. Glad you found your travel legs and are now truly enjoying yourself. Turkey is at the very top of our list of places we want to visit soon. Sounds like an amazing place. And keep track of those baklava places so you can share them with us. We’d like to verify the deliciousness when we make it there. 😉

    Have a blast!

    1. Earl

      Hey Adam – You’ll have no problem finding baklava places to test out! It’s been a challenge not to pick up a piece or two from each shop I pass. I’m actually eating some right now as I reply to comments 🙂

      I’d wait until after the winter is over, but then you should definitely make your way here!

    1. Earl

      Hey Michael – I’ve only been here for less than a week, but I can easily see how this city would be a favorite of many travelers! Despite the cold and rain, I’m starting to love this place as well 🙂

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