I imagine when living abroad in Portugal or Japan or someplace comfortably exotic, everyone promises they’ll come visit you, use the opportunity, see the world. When living abroad in Kuwait, people say…. Huh… Well I’m sure that’s nice for you.
Except Michael. Michael is my eightieth cousin forty-three times removed. He’s also the first person to put me in the unique position of having to actively dissuade someone from visiting Kuwait. The conversation made it a whole thirty-five seconds until I came out with the reliable right hook “It’s a dry country” argument. There’s no recovering from that one. Compromising, we settled on a rendezvous Istanbul.
Four days, a bijillion miles of walking, and a significant amount of hookah later, Istanbul is firmly entrenched as a happy memory. It has European civility but also manages to retain the raw complexity of Islamic tradition in architecture and daily life.
My main impression from Istanbul: they never destroy anything. If a church happens to exist in a time of Islamic governance, they leave all the iconography, add some Arabic, and call it a mosque. When Christians come back, they leave the Arabic, slap up another crucifix or twelve, and it flips right back. Feeling secular? Just leave everything in place, put a plaque outside, and BAM! Instant World Heritage Site.
The Hagia Sophia was stunning, and the prime example of the churmosqueum hodge podge.
We saw Istanbul from the Bosphorus, and until then I hadn’t comprehended how colossal the city is. After an hour of sailing the river, the city kept sprawling on either bank with beautiful old homes right up on the riverside. Tankers and fishing boats shared the water with us, and Istanbul really felt like a port city.
While there, we met up with Adnan, an old soccer teammate of mine from DC, who took such good care of us showing us around his home country. He was the one to take us on river tours, Topkopki Palace, the Hagia Sophia, the best baklava of life, just to name a few. He is so kind and went all out for us; without him we never would have experienced Istanbul as we did.