MY PANDEMIC TRAVEL ADVENTURE TO ISTANBUL, TURKEY
PT I: THE BRAINSTORM
And so it begins. One fateful evening in the early Fall of 2020, after much lamenting, complaining, and venting about the level of stir crazy we had all become, something had to be done- and soon. We’re not talking about the kind of racket crazy we’d all been experiencing since Covid first hit when we were all of a sudden confined to our rooms and then given the immediate position of beloved “teacher.” Nope, the kind of stir crazy as in, next level, the kind one gets from not being on an airplane, traveling far, far away, where English is not the first (or even the second) language spoken. Where cultures are so different from ours, and where we cannot “find” the seemingly familiar comforts of our daily lives. When it took minutes to recall the last time I was even on an airplane (September 2019) and the details of that flight (NYC- Nashville), I knew it was time to act fast. Indeed, a country had open borders somewhere on the global Map and available to Americans. And there was.
PT II: ACT NOW OR FOREVER REGRET
(I’ve personally never had regrets in life). Fast-forward some minutes, and our trip to Istanbul, Turkey, was in the works. I could barely keep my cool. Not only were we about to embark on an international journey, but we were also going at a time when we should have been feeling guilty for having these thoughts (or so I thought we were made to believe this). After all, shouldn’t we be happy to be so content at home and happy planning for this trip to happen in 2022 (?!). NOT. I felt a constant rush of rebellious excitement. Istanbul had been on my bucket list for years and years (pretty much since I was old enough to know what bucket list meant). And here I was, planning such a trip during the pandemic. It was a whole new set of rules, an entirely new set of challenges—a full new world book of travel to be learned. I was determined to tackle it and hard at that. And for once, I was excited to be jet-lagged as hell.
PT III: PANDEMIC CHALLENGES
When it came to packing, I had the intense feeling of being a first-time traveler. In actuality, there was some truth to that as I legitimately do not remember that feeling. According to my parents, I was the prime age of five when they put me (and then my sister, followed by my brother, at this same age) on an airplane solo to visit my grandparents in Michigan. But back to the packing. Covid packing takes extra time, and believe me, it’s different. Take toiletries. Remember the days of keeping the travel-size bottles stocked/ filled? After all, who wants to bring the extra weight to the trip and not utilize every available ounce for the return trip? Too many road trips equal too many large size bottles—end of story. And then there are the masks. And more masks. And the latex gloves. And the face shield. And the safety goggles. And more than enough hand sanitizers. And the rules/ latest updates on the airline terminals- what is open (restaurants? shops? restrooms?)-whether we could wander into the other terminals, and which airports allow layovers without quarantine (Detroit and Atlanta, at that time).
It was quite abnormal for me- for the first time in a very long time, every travel question came up, ranging from the norm to the modern-day/ pandemic era – What would the weather be like? The religious and cultural respect and expectations on our end as visitors? What happened if we got a simple cold and were pulled aside and quarantined until proven safe from having Covid? And on and on, overkill, to be precise (as it ended up). Finally, I ended my questions with what I really wanted to know (as opposed to needing to know)- what was the Istanbul style? As soon as I googled “Istanbul street style,” I was both blown away, yet not so surprised. After all, Istanbul has historically been the spot for the hottest interior designers to draw inspiration from and shop. So, it seemed natural it would be similar to fashion.
PT IV: N95 MASKS AT 35,000 FT
From Nashville to Detroit, our first leg of travel was the shortest yet probably the most challenging. I brought the disposable N95 masks to wear onboard (enough for each flight- three legs each way), and about an hour into the first flight, I turned quickly to talk and felt the plane swoop downwards. I asked about it, and nobody thought it but me. I turned my head, and another swoop downwards. I was trying to figure out what was giving me vertigo (or as I thought) and eventually looked out the window opening the side of my mask ever so slightly. I immediately started to feel better and thought it must have just suction-cupped to my face. No biggie.
Upon landing and on the NY Post’s immediate hunt, I switched masks and wandered into a newsstand in the Detroit airport. It was there that the lovely store clerk informed me of an announcement that KLM had made just that morning. All personal non PPE N95 masks were prohibited immediately (as of that very same morning). My eyes lit up, and my head jerked backward- had I heard correctly, or was I still lacking enough oxygen to think straight? And if I heard correctly, indeed it wasn’t the N95 mask I had just worn? Well, it was the exact one. And as it ends up, I had indeed almost passed out from lack of oxygen. The “no biggie” was actually pretty “big biggie.”
PT V: THE ARRIVAL
Three flights, and a full 24 hours later (or so it seemed and so I’m saying), we landed in Istanbul, Turkey, local time 5:00 PM. Just in time to experience the fantastic and vibrant city by night. Our fabulous (and unexpected but not unusual in the slightest as I quickly saw throughout my trip) light hair & light-eyed, good-looking driver extraordinaire was at the ready, presenting us with an excellent playlist and colorful flashing interior lights. It was most certainly a ride I will never forget- the beginning of my love for Istanbul.
PT VI: THE STAY
We arrived at our most gracious and hospitable host’s flat in the Chihangir neighborhood of the Beyoglu district. In this artsy Bohemian area, artists, movie stars, and foreign ex-pats alike pass you on the narrow streets, brimming of street style and dripping of cultural cool. The flat itself is a large contemporary style interior with walls of windows overlooking the Bosporus Strait, colorful rooftops of residential homes, the Dolmabahçe Palace, and a drop-dead view bridge that connects Europe and Asia- called the Bosphorus Bridge. I thought I had done my homework before arriving, but clearly, I did not. Or somehow, I missed that chapter. I was blown away not only by the beauty and length of it- and the somewhat resemblance of the Brooklyn Bridge (where was I again?!), but that it connects Europe and Asia– two major continents.
PT VII: MEGACITY
Well, and the rest is history. Since we arrived early evening, going to sleep was an absolute no-no. We stayed up dancing, way past the “okay, you’re good jet-lag-wise, you can go to bed now” while wearing ancient Roman Gladiator helmets (legit, for real- handed down through our host’s family generations). We woke up to our incredible view, this time in the morning light, some few hours later. As much as we (well, I) could have lounged around, watching the vibrant energy from the balcony, sipping Turkish wine, there was not a moment to lose. After all, we were in Istanbul. Bucket list trip. During a Pandemic. Call me crazy, but when would this opportunity arrive again? Nope, not a nano-second to miss. Of course, we were sure not to forget our masks! And our hand sanitizers.
The only place we could be mask-free was inside our personal spaces, by law. And walking around, it was easy to understand why. Istanbul is one of the most cosmopolitan cities globally, and with that comes population and density. It was amazing to see a bustling megacity, everyone going about their day-to-day, fully masked, living their lives. From the beginning, Turkey has taken a strict approach to the Pandemic, being part of a relatively small club of countries that responded reasonably quickly with testing, tracing, curfews, and movement restrictions, which had, in fact, been very effective at reducing the spread of the virus. And while there, it was evident of this (and inspiring to see), that with the correct precautions and measures in place (and with everyone abiding by them), life doesn’t have to stop. That’s right! Make those travel plans. Start checking off your bucket list while there’s still time– the airplanes are not full (international that is), the crowds are not there, and life at home is not back at 1000rpm.
PT VIII: THE STYLISH AND THE CITY
But back to the fun talk. Since I had done my homework – well, the chapter on street style, restaurants, and shopping, I was excited to experience it all, including, of course, Istanbul’s massively rich cultural heritage (see above paragraph, natch). But…back to the Istanbul style. It was pure eye candy in every sense of the words. It was so good. So chic. So stylish. So….individual. Everyone had their style, regardless of which neighborhood or district we were in. It was enjoyable to see, not to mention incredibly inspiring. I decided that Istanbul would have to become an annual style pilgrimage for me (shhh….let’s continue keeping this trip a secret).
PT IX: OFF THE BEATEN PATH
One of the many grateful privileges that come with fabulous hosts is being shown the hidden gems. On that note, I have included a few of my favorite spots in Istanbul- my little black book if you would…
- No.1 – Greecology, in Chihanger. So fresh and just delicious. Enough said!
- No.2 – Lucca, in Bebek. Palm trees and great nibbles. I think my obsession with hand sanitizers grew from this hot spot.
- No.3 – Mellow, in Chihanger. Great food, excellent street ambiance.
- Mozk, in Chihangir. For unique vintage design and fashion.
- Atelier Rebul, Istanbul. For Turkish Kolonya.
- Grand Bazaar, Istanbul. For…everything!
HISTORY & CULTURE
- Hagia Sophia
- Blue Mosque
- Sultanahmet Square
- Kiliç Ali Pasa Hamami – An absolute must.