A few months ago I read Orhan Pamuk’s Istanbul. I’d been meaning to read something of the Nobel laureate’s work for years, but I’d always expected to start with something like My Name is Red or Snow. I read Istanbul on a whim and was instantly fascinated by Pamuk’s description of a city coloured by the experience of hüzün, or ‘melancholy’.
Then, a few weeks ago my sister and I began planning our trip to Greece, and though neither of us had proposed it, somehow we found ourselves deciding to stop in Istanbul for a few days. Both of us being fans of preparedness when it comes to travel (i.e., paranoid) we spent days reading about the city and its environs. By the time we actually landed we were so full of travel articles urging caution for female travellers in Turkey that we were beginning to regret our impulsive decision to go at all. Pickpockets, harassment, avoiding the city at night; it’s probably not surprising that we scurried back to our hotel as soon as dusk fell on our first night there.
The next day we stepped cautiously outside and began our wanderings. The city was peaceful. The talkative salesmen and restaurant owners had yet to emerge from their respective establishments. Most of the tourists were still sleeping and the stray cats were almost the only company we had that first hour of the day. It only took a little while for us to relax. The tourist area was lovely; beautifully spaced out, you find yourself standing with the ancient Hagia Sophia on one side and the regal Blue Mosque on the other. We spent the morning visiting these main sights and, sufficiently confident by lunchtime that we would make it home alive, crossed the Galatea Bridge.