Knock knock. A creak, a pause, a click. Knock knock knock. A creak, a pause, a shuffle. “Someone’s playing in the hall”
Dale stepped aside, and Mom stepped up. Operation Turkey Time had commenced, starting with momma-daughter hugs and tears. Less than twenty-four hours before, we didn’t think this moment would happen Even as they boarded their flight from Lyon to Istanbul on Thursday afternoon, I had been without a passport. A lost Visa (not by me, mind you) and overall slow-going business ways of the Middle East tested my patience time and time again over the previous two months as HR held on dearly to my passport while waiting for my residency permit. Yet somehow the Wasta worked and our HR Department Head squealed “You Go, Girl” as she handed back my passport Thursday after work.
Just 7 hours after the return of that beautiful blue book, a flight was booked, bags were packed, and I was on my way to Turkey to surprise those loves at their hotel. After we finished our sobby hug, I knocked on the door to Ben’s room to tell him we’d all meet upstairs for breakfast as soon as he was ready. Did he know it was me? I’m not quite sure, but after I knocked and said a quick ‘let’s go’, Mom, Dale and I headed to the hotel’s upstairs cafe for a fresh breakfast and steaming coffee.
We sat down and Ben soon joined us. It was so refreshing to see them all again! It had been since that summer since we’d seen each other… and it had been since Christmas 2013 since Mom, Ben and I had been together. I don’t want to say it was worth the wait, because I never want to wait that long to see family.. but I will say the wait made our reunion that much more precious.
The three of them had secured a tour guide for the city through their hotel, and she was scheduled to meet them downstairs just thirty minutes after I’d arrived at the hotel. Luckily I made it there in time! After our breakfast, we all headed downstairs and announced to the guide that she would actually be bringing four of us around instead of just three. No worries there of course, it just meant one more head to count as we would make our way around town.
We walked toward the sea from our hotel and soon found ourselves in front of the Sultan Ahmed Mosque, more commonly known as the Blue Mosque. With six minarets, one large dome and eight smaller domes, the Blue Mosque, as it is more commonly known, cannot be missed. The minarets are used for call to prayer five times daily. This call to prayer also cannot be missed, not even if you tried. Living in a Muslim country, I am used to hearing the lovely sounds drift through my bedroom window in the morning, seep through the school’s open air hallways, and lull me to sleep at night.
But the Blue Mosque offers something entirely different. Maybe it’s because the six minarets are all blaring the same call to prayer from their spirally tops. Maybe it’s because the minarets stand so high above the surrounding buildings. Or maybe it’s because Istanbul’s amplification systems are state-of-the-art. Whatever the reason, the Quran’s recitations wafting through the air serve as a constant reminder of your stay in the land where East meets West.
Because of the timing of our tour, we were left to admire the Blue Mosque from outside only, as Friday is the Islamic Holy Day and therefore the mosque was closed to the public in consideration of this spiritual time. We admired the magnificent building from the outside not only once, but twice. After the mosque opened again to the public, we recognized our time was short and decided to leave the mosque’s interior for others to cherish while we discovered the rest of Istanbul.
Throughout the day, we explored many of Istanbul’s historical places, each within a very close proximity to the others. Topkapi Palace served as the main residence of the Sultan and his court during the Ottoman Empire. The grounds are expansive, with several courtyards, private chambers and mosques, art and treasure galleries, and a plethora of outdoor terraces and gardens. There is even an ornately decorated Circumcision Room, covered in blue, white, and gold tiles from floor to ceiling.
One of Topkapi Palace’s main attractions is also perhaps one of its smallest: The Spoonmaker’s Diamond. This 86-carat diamond is a brilliant stone with a name fit for speculation. The exact story about its becoming is debatable, but irregardless of the backstory its beauty is entrancing and will cause any woman to think back to her childhood days of playing dress-up with sparkly plastic jewels. We all imagined to have worn something so stunning back in the day, did we not? We stopped to rest our busy feet, sip on steaming Turkish coffee and rose water Turkish delights before moving to another of Istanbul’s iconic structures.
The Hagia Sophia is another of Istanbul’s great architectural stories, and one with one thousand and one names to match. Throughout its 1500 years of existence, it has served as an Eastern Orthodox Church, a Roman Catholic Cathedral, a Mosque, and finally today as a museum. A salmon-pink facade and four towering minarets make the structure easily recognizable from the outside. Inside, the richly decorated floors and ceilings act as tell-tale signs of the building’s conglomeration of past identities. Islamic calligraphy decorates a wall above Catholic relics. Gold paint covers most of mosaics of the church in order to assist in its conversion, leaving glimpses of Mary and Son as the paint slowly chips away.
Continuing on our way, we left the brightly lit interiors of the Hagia Sophia and ventured below ground to the dimly lit waterways of the Basilica Cistern. Marble columns of varying finishes stand in straight rows covering nearly 2.5 acres beneath the Turkish streets. To allow visitors to see and create a visually appealing effect, each column is set aglow by golden lights, fragmented by the still waters below. At the far back corner of the cistern sit my favorite columns, with bases mimicking the afros each of us family members sports on a regular basis: Medusas head is carved into two of the supports. It was meant to be that our curly haired trio made our way there that day.
Exhausted after a full day of site-seeing, we slowed down a bit after the Basilica Cistern and practiced our haggling skills at a Turkish Rug boutique and later at the Grand Bazaar. Somehow our adrenaline was still pumping into the afternoon from the excitement of being reunited for the first time in nearly a year, and we managed to make it all the way through the market’s crowded walkways, down to the river, and back up to the city’s main square for dinner.
To sit down with my family and enjoy a warm meal, a few Turkish beers, and couple laughs was the most incredible feeling. We were each overwhelmed at the notion of being in this foreign country together, but took not a single moment for granted. Turkey served as a perfect introduction to the Middle East for my family, each who had traveled in North America and Europe, but had not yet journeyed further East toward the land I now call home.
Istanbul proved to be the perfect blend of each of our homes and allowed us all to explore another culture, and to appreciate the most ridiculous of circumstances that brought us together at a final moment’s notice. Turkish rugs, Turkish delights, Turkish beers, Turkish coffees, and last-minute Turkish reunions at their very best.